Singer, songwriter, pianist
Confident of her own creative abilities and sure of her originality as a female solo pop artist, singer-pianist Fiona Apple began her career at a young age. Her bluesy-pop sound of naked emotion was unique in a developing field of mid-1990s female artists. Continually compared to Tori Amos and Alanis Morrisette, Apple's wise-for-her-years maturity helped her maintain her composure as an artist. She smoothly launched into the vanguard of contemporary pop at age 19 with the release of her first album, Tidal, and her sultry, soulful voice pushed the release to outstanding commercial success. She won a Grammy for the single "Criminal" off the album. Following this success, Apple released When the Pawn … in 1999. She took a self-imposed hiatus from music for the next few years, eventually emerging with the well-received (and muchdelayed) Extraordinary Machine in late 2005.
Apple grew up in New York City, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, as the daughter of artistic parents. Her father, Brandon Maggart, was an actor and her mother, Diane McAfee, was a multi-talented singer, dancer, nutritionist, fitness trainer, and cook. Apple began playing piano at eight years old. As for singing, she explained in her recording label (Epic Records) biography that it seemed as if she had always sung. "I'd come home from school and hang up my keys on a key chain that was right beside my mirror. I would look in the mirror and realize I was singing. I sang all the time." The sounds of jazz standards influenced Apple's style, and some listeners recognized reflections of legends such as Nina Simone, Carole King, and Billie Holiday.
Early Emotional Turmoil
The concepts for her songs were forged amidst domestic conflict in Apple's early home life. She began her expressive exercises by exiting from household fights and writing letters about her feelings. In addition, Apple has admitted that she was a victim of sexual abuse as a pre-teen, but found some relief by talking about it. In an interview with Jane Stevenson of the Toronto Sun she said, "I remember hesitating and thinking this is probably going to ruin me…. I just didn't want to keep it a secret." Apple fell into turmoil without any escape except her creative imagination. Like many artists, she survived frustration and pain by writing and composing music. Piano scores and emotional letters were the outlets which later became her lifeline.
Apple moved from New York to Los Angeles when she was 16. She wanted to spend time with her father, finish her high school education, and make a demo. She planned to record lots of copies and distribute them widely. However, her entrance into the pop music scene was sudden. She traveled to New York to visit friends over the Christmas holidays, and gave a three-song demo tape to a friend who was baby-sitting for a music industry executive. The executive heard the demo and played it for producer and manager Andrew Slater. Slater contacted Apple soon after, and they ended up working together for more than four years.
Tidal, her debut album, was released in July of 1996 on Clean Slate/Epic. Apple ignored reviews because she refused to gauge herself by anything she was hearing or reading. Even though the album's title described how life's experiences ebb and flow like the ocean tides, Tidal hit like a tsunami on the pop scene. "Shadowboxer" received heavy videoplay on MTV and VH1, and landed Tidal on the top 40 albums chart. "Sleep to Dream," and "Criminal" formed the other primary components of the wave that hit the United States. The album went gold within six months and triple platinum within three years.
In the Spotlight
The instant success surprised the young singer. Despite playing the piano from her early years and writing songs about many of her personal experiences, Apple had yet to perform. She met that challenge by doing her first gig in Paris, appearing on Saturday Night Live guest spots, touring with Chris Isaak, performing as a headlining act on the 1997 Lilith Fair tour, and singing to sold-out audiences at concert hall performances. Apple spoke to Alan Light of Spin magazine about her confidence on stage and her performance style. "I feel totally in control when I'm singing the songs. As soon as I'm not, I don't know how to act. But I would rather not be contrived, even if it makes me look better."
Apple won the 1997 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video, for "Sleep to Dream," and went on to win other awards, including the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and the 1998 MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography for her "Criminal" video.
Apple sought to further clarify her thoughts on her sophomore album, which was released in late 1999. Responding to a November 1997 article in Spin magazine, she wrote a poem that she began reciting onstage during the Tidal tour. Following her own advice to the youth of the day, she chose the 90-word poem as the title of her 1999 release, which was the longest album title ever. When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights And if You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land And if You fall It Won't Matter, 'Cuz You'll Know That You're Right was a collection of songs describing her anger at what she perceived as the selfish, greedy, self-serving, and voracious part of the world she had experienced. The sound of the second album was more upbeat than her debut, and the album hit gold status within two months. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone described Apple's music as a spiritual sister to Korn and Limp Bizkit. Sheffield further predicted that the artist had a promising future: "[When the Pawn …] makes you hope that she'll find a way to use her talent as a connection to the world…. She's an artist who deserves a shot at growing up."
For the Record …
Born Fiona McAfee Maggart on September 13, 1977, in New York, NY; daughter of Brandon Maggart (an actor) and Diane McAfee (a singer and dancer).
Started playing piano at eight years of age; released debut album, Tidal, in 1996; released When The Pawn …, 1999; and Extraordinary Machine, 2005, all on Clean Slate/Epic.
Awards: MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video, for "Sleep to Dream," 1997; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, 1998; MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography, for "Criminal" video, 1998.
Addresses: Record company—Epic Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, phone: (310) 449-2848, fax: (310) 449-2746. Website—Fiona Apple Official Website: http://www.fiona-apple.com.
When the Pawn … represented a new maturity for Apple's music, but she continued to struggle with her newfound success. In February of 2000, in the middle of a concert at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, she broke down and left the stage. She later issued an eight-page apology (she had apparently been unhappy with the sound system). In interviews she confessed details of her private life, including being raped by a stranger in her mother's apartment building at age 12. In 2002 she began recording her third album with producer Jon Brion, who had also produced her earlier albums. By 2003, however, it was unclear whether the album would be released. When rumors suggested that Epic had refused to issue the album, an anonymous source released the album on the Internet. Apple's fans immediately launched a "Free Fiona" effort, sending Styrofoam apples to Sony (Epic's parent company) in an attempt to force the album's official release. Apple, while touched by fans' efforts, was displeased with the premature release of the album. "It was the weirdest feeling," she told Elysa Gardner in USA Today, "like somebody had taken my diary and printed it."
A Long-Awaited Return
When Extraordinary Machine was finally officially released in 2005, Apple admitted that the delay had been primarily her fault. Dissatisfied with the majority of the original tracks recorded with producer Brion, and believing that Epic's oversight was too stringent, she walked away from the project. Returning in 2005, Apple re-recorded most of Extraordinary Machine's songs with producer Mike Elizondo, resulting in smaller arrangements and a more relaxed sound. Critically, the album received warm praise. "It's the kind of album that makes an artist's previous work sound better," noted Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker, "a record that makes converts out of doubters." Extraordinary Machine also landed on a number of critics' "best of" lists for 2005. Ironically, while many reviewers found the official release superior to the Internet bootleg, Apple's fans continued to complain that the album—as originally conceived—had not been released.
In the wake of her newfound success, Apple exuded greater confidence. On the Blender website she declared, "I'm in a really good place right now. I feel a lot more prepared emotionally to deal with public life than I have before." At the same time, she also expressed ambivalence over her future as a performer. "I can't promise to anyone or myself that I'm going to be putting out albums for the rest of my life," Apple told Chi Tung in Paste. "I don't know if I'll always be inspired to write songs."
Tidal, Clean Slate/Epic, 1996.
When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King …, Clean Slate/Epic, 1999.
Extraordinary Machine, Epic/Clean Slate, 2005.
MusicHound Rock, The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
New Yorker, October 10, 2005.
Paste, December-January, 2005–6.
Rolling Stone, November 25, 1999, pp. 97-98.
Spin, December 1999, p. 82; January 2000, pp. 59-64.
USA Today, September 28, 2005.
"Fiona Apple Bio," Epic Center, http://www.epicrecords.com (November 17, 2005).
"Fiona Apple," Rolling Stone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (December 21, 2005).
"My Happy Ending," Blender, http://www.blender.com (February 19, 2006).
"Apple, Fiona." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/apple-fiona-0
"Apple, Fiona." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/apple-fiona-0
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Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: Tidal (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "Shadowboxer," "Criminal"
The self-proclaimed "Sullen Girl," Fiona Apple was viewed as a contradiction when she burst onto the music scene in 1996 at the age of nineteen. The blue-eyed singer/songwriter with the bee-stung lips, throaty voice, and quirky piano-playing style wrote headstrong songs about the wars of the sexes; but she also stripped down to her underwear in the risqué video for her breakthrough single, "Criminal." It was a pattern the volatile singer followed over the next five years, mixing righteous indignation, cruel self-doubt, and public breakdowns with bitter send-offs of lovers and recording a second album whose title made history before it was even released.
Discovered on the cusp of a popular revolution in rock music that put female-fronted acts at the vanguard of pop music in the wake of the male-dominated heavy grunge rock scene of the early 1990s, nineteen-year-old Fiona Apple quickly distinguished herself. The daughter of the singer/dancer Diane McAfee and actor Brandon Maggart (Dressed to Kill, The World According to Garp ), Apple began playing piano at age eight and writing her own compositions by the time she was twelve.
Traumatized by the separation of her parents when she was four and a rape at age twelve in the Upper West Side apartment she shared with her mother and sister—chronicled in the seething "Sullen Girl"—Apple left New York City for Los Angeles at age sixteen.
The singer gave a rough tape of three of her songs to a friend who babysat for a music industry publicist, who, in turn, passed it on to producer/manager Andrew Slater. The tape helped Apple land a recording contract with Sony Music, which released her debut, Tidal, in 1996. Produced by Slater, the album heralds the arrival of a strong, uncompromising new female singer/ songwriter who is not afraid to spill her emotions, no matter how painful, uplifting, or confused. Like fellow cathartic singer/songwriters Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette, Apple was unafraid to sit at a piano and unfurl intensely personal poetry; she often seemed on the verge of breaking down in mid-song. Apple's voice veers from a breathy, growling low end reminiscent of jazz singer Nina Simone to a quavering falsetto. Coupled with a reliance on arrangements owing more to jazz torch singers than to rock or pop music, Apple's richly textured songs distanced her from contemporaries.
Tidal 's opening track, "Sleep to Dream," is a model of the musical economy employed throughout the album. Compounded of an ominous, booming drum sound; ebb-and-flow piano figures; and Apple's mocking, yet vulnerable vocals, the song is a statement of purpose and defiance, summed up by the line, "So don't forget what I told you / Don't come around / I've got my own hell to raise." The backing musicians on the album—drummer Matt Chamberlin, pianist Patrick Warren, multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz—emerged as some of the most versatile, in-demand session players of the late 1990s. The video for "Shadowboxer" became a staple on both MTV and VH1, while the clip for the song "Criminal" generated instant controversy. Reminiscent of a widely panned series of 1995 Calvin Klein ads that were criticized for sexualizing seemingly underage children, the clip featured the lithe singer crawling in her underwear amid hollow-eyed, young-looking models in a grimy bedroom.
Rants, Raves, and a History-Making Album Title
In 1997 Apple won the Best New Artist award at MTV's Video Music Awards, confounding many in the audience with an anti-entertainment-industry rant that came to be known as the "go with yourself" speech. Apple won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1998 for "Criminal" and recorded a dreamy cover of the Beatles's "Across the Universe" for the soundtrack to the 1998 film Pleasantville.
Apple's second album, When the Pawn . . . (1999), drew attention not just for the length of the complete title, but also for its expansion of her signature jazzrock sound. Tracks such as "On the Bound" and "Get Gone" add lush strings and twisted carnival keyboard sounds to her repertoire. On the album's single, "Limp," an aggressive rock arrangement melds with the sounds of warped metal and junkyard percussion to create yet another bitter kiss-off tirade to an unkind lover. "So call me crazy, hold me down/ Make me cry, get off now, baby / It won't be long 'til you'll be / Lying limp in your own hands," she sings.
In March 2000 Apple had an onstage meltdown at New York's Roseland Ballroom in front of a sold-out audience, leaving the stage after forty-five minutes. Complaining about not being able to hear herself, Apple began crying and stormed off the stage, but not before cursing at furiously scribbling music critics. The appearance marked the beginning of a self-imposed exile from the spotlight for the singer, who was slated to release her third album in 2003.
Fiona Apple opened her diaries for the world to hear, and the results were not always tidy, for the singer or her audience. Her talent and singular voice rose above the willful exploitation of her image to create the indelible image of a gifted singer who was at once sexy and slightly menacing.
Spot Light: When the Pawn . . .
Not known for doing things the easy way, it was hardly shocking that in 1999 Fiona Apple chose to release her second album with a ninety-word title that is believed to be among the longest in pop music history. The run-on sentence, foreshortened by space-sensitive publications to When the Pawn . . . , reads, in full, When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, 'Cuz You'll Know That You're Right.
Tidal (Clean Slate/WORK, 1996); When the Pawn . . . (Clean Slate/Epic, 1999).
"Apple, Fiona." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/apple-fiona
"Apple, Fiona." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved July 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/apple-fiona
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Singer, songwriter, piano
Confident of her own creative abilities and sure of her originality as a female solo pop artist, singer-pianist Fiona Apple began her career young and powerfully. Her bluesy-pop sound of naked emotion was unique in a developing field of mid-nineties female artists. Continually compared to Tori Amos and Alanis Morrisette, Apple’s wise-for-her-years maturity maintained her composure as an artist. She explained to an Associated Press journalist that “I realized over the years that you develop as a human being, you develop your personality, and people get to know you and you make your own name. I think that experience has prepared me for this, because otherwise I might be sitting here going, ‘l’m not Alanis Morrisette’s little sister.’” Apple smoothly launched into the vanguard of contemporary pop at age 19 with the release of her first album, Tidal. The sultry, soulful voice showcased on Tidal pushed the release to outstanding commercial success. Continuing her career, Apple moved through aggravations that accompany life, success of her music, complications of youth, and strove to live with honesty. She continued her career by accepting the aggravations that accompany life and striving to understand the success and complications of youth.
Apple grew up in New York, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, as the daughter of an artistic set of parents. Her father was an actor and her mother a multi-talented woman—singer, dancer, nutritionist, fitness trainer, and cook. She began playing piano at eight years old. As for singing, she explained in her recording label (Epic Records) biography that it seems as if she has always sung. She revealed, “I’d come home from school and hang up my keys on a key chain that was right beside my mirror. I would look in the mirror and realize I was singing. I sang all the time.” Growing up to the sounds of jazz standards influenced Apple’s style, as some connoisseurs recognized reflections of legends such as Nina Simone, Carole King, and Billie Holiday.
Concepts for songs were forged amidst tremendous conflict during Apple’s early years at home. She began her expressive exercises by leaving household fights and writing letters about her feelings. She described her reactions in the Fiona Online biography, “I resorted to not participating in any fighting. I used to leave the room and write a letter that would make my point.” In addition to being born into tumultuous family dynamics, Apple has admitted to sexual abuse as a pre-teen and found relief through pushing her traumatic defilement by talking about it. In an interview with Jane Stevenson of the Toronto Sun she said, “I remember hesitating and thinking this is probably going to ruin me… I just didn’t want to keep it a secret.” Apple fell into turmoil
Born c. 1978 in New York, NY; daughter of an actor (father) and a multi-talented mother.
Started playing piano at eight years of age; released debut album, Tidal, Clean/Slate/Epic, 1996; at age 18; released When The Pawn…, Clean/Slate/Epic, 1999.
Awards: Triple platinum status for Tidal, 1996; MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video for “Sleep to Dream,” 1997; Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, 1998; MTV VMA for Best Cinematography in “Criminal” video, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Epic Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, phone: (310) 449-2746, fax: (310) 449-2848. Websites—Epic Records: http://www.epicrecords.com; Fiona Apple Online: http://members.aol.com/FionaAO/wtpspecial/.
without an escape except her mind. Like many artists, she survived the amazing frustration and pain of her life situation by creating. Piano scores and emotional letters were the outlets which latter became her lifeline.
Apple moved from New York to Los Angeles when she was 16. She wanted to spend time with her father, finish her high school education, and make a demo. She planned to record lots of copies and distribute them widely. However, similar to many of the experiences which Apple had been thrust into over her short life, her entrance into the pop music scene was sudden, almost as if she had no choice in the matter. She traveled to New York to visit friends over the Christmas holidays. A three-song demo tape was given to a friend who was baby-sitting for a music industry executive. The friend passed the demo along to the exec, who then played it for a holiday party guest, producer and manager Andrew Slater. Slater contacted Apple soon thereafter and they worked together for more than four years.
Tidal, the debut album, was released in July of 1996 on Clean Slate/Work/Epic. Apple ignored reviews because she didn’t want to gauge herself by anything she was hearing or reading. A statement from Fiona Apple Online explained her philosophy about art, “The way I feel about music—any song, any style—is that there is no right and wrong, only true and false. If the music and lyrics are conceived out of honesty and if the production of the song goes along with its original message, then what has been expressed is art regardless of what anyone’s opinion is of it. So things are a lot simpler if you just tell the truth.” Even though the album name was drawn from how life’s experiences ebb and flow like the ocean tides, Tida/hit like a tsunami, blasting onto the pop scene. The popularity of “Shadowboxer”’ received heavy videoplay on MTV and VH1 and landed Tidal on the Top 40 albums chart. “Sleep to Dream,” and “Criminal,” were the other primary components of the wave which hit the United States. The album went gold within six months and triple platinum within three years.
The instant success surprised the young singer. Despite playing the piano from her early years and writing songs about many of her personal experiences, Apple had yet to perform her expressions. Boldly taking the next step as a musician, she vowed in the Fiona Apple Online biography, “I’ll be nervous, but what else can I do? I won’t go backwards.” She met that challenge by doing her first gig in Paris, appearing on Saturday Night Live guest spots, touring with Chris Isaak, exciting crowds as a headlining act on the 1997 Lilith Fair tour, and entertaining sold-out audiences with concert hall performances. Apple spoke to Alan Light of Spin magazine about her confidence on stage and her performance style. She expressed that she strived to be authentic while on stage: “I feel totally in control when I’m singing the songs. As soon as I’m not, I don’t know how to act. But I would rather not be contrived, even if it makes me look better.”
Apple’s success soon placed her in yet more disturbing situations. After winning the 1997 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video for “Sleep to Dream,” she turned infamous by blasting the music industry while accepting the award. After quoting Maya Angelou about how humans can create opportunities, she took her opportunity and decried, to everyone watching, “this world is bullshit,” and that everybody knew that to be true. In an interview posted on Fiona Apple Online, she explained her anger displayed while accepting the award. She felt there was too much manipulation of Nineties’ youth through fabricated music star images. She explained that people should think for themselves and not model their lives on what pop stars tell them is cool. “Go with yourself,” she instructed. She went on to win other awards, including the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and the 1998 MTV VMA for Best Cinematography in her “Criminal” video. However, making the video was another experience of violation for Apple. Saying that she regretted doing the video, she revealed her frustration, “what f***in’ bullshit did I really win that night. I won… because it was controversial. I won for being in my underwear on MTV. That made me so ashamed of myself.” She said the videographers were telling how beautiful she looked during filming, but afterward, she just felt stupid. Obviously, Apple was tired of the exploitation and humiliation that had repeatedly occurred in her life.
Angst-ridden Apple sought to further clarify her thoughts on her sophomore album which was released in late 1999. Responding in frustration to a November 1997 article about herself in Spin magazine, she wrote a poem which she began reciting onstage during the Tidal tour. Following her own advice to the youth of the day, Apple went with herself and chose the 90-word prose as the title of her 1999 release. The longest album title ever, When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What he Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights And if You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land And if You fall It Won’t Matter, ‘Cuz You‘ll Know That You’re Right, was a collection of songs uncovering the angst about the selfish, greedy, self-serving, and voracious part of the world she has experienced. The sound of the second album was more upbeat and rocked a little harder than her debut. Rob Sheffield, from Rolling Stone, described Apple’s music as a spiritual sister to Korn and Limp Bizkit. Apple found success in expressing that part of human experience which has been used, hurt, abused, pushed to anger, manipulated, and confused as evidenced by her second album hitting gold status in two months. Sheffield further wrote that she had a promising future: “[When the Pawn…] makes you hope that she’ll find a way to use her talent as a connection to the world… she’s an artist who deserves a shot at growing up.”
Tidal, Clean Slate/Work/Columbia, 1996.
When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What he Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights And if You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land And if You fall It Won’t Matter, ‘Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right, Clean Slate/Epic, 1999.
MusicHound Rock, The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Spin, December 1999, p. 82; January 2000, pp. 59-64. Rolling Stone, November 25, 1999, pp. 97-98.
“Fiona Apple Bio,” Epic Center, http://www.epicrecords.com, (November, 1999).
“Fiona Apple,” Rolling Stone.com, http://rollingstone.tunes.com, (December 21, 1999).
“Happily Ever After,” Fiona Apple Online, http://members.aol.com/FionaAO/wtpspecial/, November, 1999; (December 16, 1999).
“Fiona Apple,” Jam! Showbiz, http://www.canoe.ca/JamMusicArtistsA/apple_fiona.html, January, 1997; October 28, 1997; (December 18, 1999).
“Some Girls,” Miami News Times.com, http://www.miaminewstimes.com, (December, 1997).
"Apple, Fiona." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/apple-fiona
"Apple, Fiona." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/apple-fiona
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The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Singer and songwriter
Addresses: Home—Venice Beach, CA. Record company—Sony Music Entertainment, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211. Website—http:// www.fiona-apple.com.
Landed record deal with Work Group, a Sony Music label, early 1990s; released debut album, Tidal, 1996; released When the Pawn, 1999; released Extraordinary Machine, 2005.
Awards: Best new artist in a video, MTV Video Music Awards, for "Sleep to Dream, " 1997; MTV Video Music Awards, best cinematography of the year, for "Criminal, " 1998; Grammy Award, best female rock vocal performance, for "Criminal, " 1998.
Fiona Apple soared into the rock-world limelight with her 1996 triple-platinum debut album Tidal when she was only 19 years old. She captured a Grammy, then followed with 1999's When the Pawn. Despite her talents, Apple gained more notoriety for her tormented life story than for her music. On-stage and during interviews she was so frank and temperamental that many in the music world refused to take her seriously and instead viewed her as a self-absorbed drama queen who was exploiting her deep-seated emotional wounds. Sick of being vilified and misunderstood, Apple faded from the music scene and at one point quit altogether before releasing 2005's comeback album Extraordinary Machine. This album, released when Apple was a confident and stable 28 years old, shows maturity and depth. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly' s Karen Valby, Apple acknowledged her rocky beginnings in the business. "I was cast in the crazy role and I was perfect for it."
The future singer-songwriter was born Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart on September 13, 1977, in New York City. Her parents, Diane McAfee and Brandon Maggart, had forged a relationship while performing in a musical together. Apple's mother was a singer and dancer; her father was an actor. They never married but had two daughters together before splitting up when Apple was four. Afterward, Apple and her older sister, Amber, lived with their mother. Apple turned to music at a young age and took piano lessons. By the age of eight, she was playing her own compositions at piano recitals. Apple's thirst for musical knowledge eventually drove her beyond her classical training. She learned to play piano chords by taking sheet music and translating the guitar tablature into the corresponding notes. As a result, her piano-backed music has its own unique, robust feel.
Raised in Manhattan schools, Apple had a hard time early on and was teased with taunts of being an ugly duckling. Later on, classmates called her a dog. By fifth grade, signs of Apple's inner darkness and turmoil began to surface. One day, Apple told a friend that she was going to kill herself—and take her sister's life, too. Apple was taken for a psychiatric evaluation, where a therapist recognized her obvious signs of depression. The therapist also said Apple had a problem with thinking too much.
Apple's father noticed her darkness seeping to the fore before she even entered adolescence. Apple always spent summers with her father in Los Angeles and he noticed she was becoming unsettled, even by the age of ten. "She had trouble sleeping at night—and she had written these inaccessible lyrics about darkness, " her father told Rolling Stone's Chris Heath. "It kind of scared me in the beginning."
As a child Apple developed bizarre, compulsive rituals to help with her anxiety. Sometimes she played Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and skated around the dining room 88 times—there are 88 keys on a piano. Afterward, she felt safe and knew she would be OK until someone got home. When Apple got mad she would take her step- father's Boy Scout knife and stab the walls of her closet. Once, she carved the word "strong" on the wall. She wrote poetry and essays as an emotional outlet and was obsessed with journaling. When she grew older, she turned her rants into songs. For Apple, writing was a way to express herself. She did not do it with songwriting in mind—that came later.
At the age of 12, Apple was raped in the hallway of her apartment building after walking home from school. The gripping emotions and lyrics expressed in the song "Sullen Girl, " from her debut album, are a result of that experience. Apple has said that coping with the ordeal became a defining moment in her life and pushed her to excel in music because she needed to express herself and wanted the world to know how she felt. Apple also turned to music because she struggled so much in school she did not feel confident she could do anything else with her life.
Apple's break came in the early 1990s when a friend passed along one of her tapes to a New York publicist she baby-sat for. This woman passed it on to Andy Slater, a Los Angeles-based producer and manager of such clients as Don Henley and Lenny Kravitz. Impressed with what he heard, Slater got Apple a music contract with Work Group, an up-start Sony Music label. However, when Slater first met Apple he was skeptical that someone so young could write songs expressing such a sultry, jaded outlook on life. "I was not entirely convinced that this person sitting in front of me—who was clearly 17—had written those words, " he recalled in an interview with the New York Times' Dimitri Ehrlich. "At first I thought it was a Milli Vanilli thing, " he said, in reference to the 1980s duo that won a Grammy for songs made by pre-recorded studio singers, which they tried to pass off as their own through lip-synching.
Immediately, producers insisted that Apple change her name, believing her given name, Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart, was too long and awkward. At first, when the record company suggested Apple, she balked. Instead, she wanted to find a completely new name—that is what one of her heroes, author Maya Angelou, did. Apple's mother suggested Fiona Lone because she was a loner. In the end, when her contract arrived, it listed her stage name as Fiona Apple so she went with it.
Apple's first album, 1999's Tidal, which had sold three million copies by 2005, contains a lot of angst-ridden emotions bottled up from the breakup with her first real boyfriend. Making the album proved arduous and was a tumultuous affair for Apple. For starters, Apple had so much self-doubt that she believed her backup musicians felt she was wasting their time. In addition, Apple was becoming waif-thin because she was having trouble eating as she began to obsess over the color and textures of her food. Still dealing with the effects of her rape, Apple also felt uncomfortable sitting alongside the men on her production team.
At one point, production stopped so Apple could return to therapy. Finally, Apple was helped though her doubts by a visit from singer Lenny Kravitz, who came to the studio one night. He assured Apple that the album sounded promising. She believed him, and the two forged a close friendship filled with telephone calls whenever Apple began to doubt herself. She made it through and the album became a hit. The quality of the tracks was inconsistent, but the album was well-received and piqued many a listener's curiosity with its stark, sinister and confessional lyrics. The fierce-sounding album clearly captures an adolescent's dramatic take on life.
In an article in the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones noted that the album, despite its drawbacks and awkward pseudo-literary language, was successful because Apple "had a lusciously capable voice, a unique sense of melody, and a percussive style at the piano—her main accompaniment, " which gave the album a unique feel. Apple created some waves in her MTV video for the song "Criminal, " in which she appeared in her underwear, exposing her rail-thin body. Critics said the video did not promote a healthy image for young women, and Apple later agreed and lamented the choice, saying the video ended up being disturbing rather than sexy. It did, however, receive lots of play on MTV.
Apple became most famous for her 1997 MTV Video Music Award acceptance speech for best new artist where she said the world was "bull****." At the time, Apple said she felt superficial, like she had become a paper doll, molded to play the famous rock-star image the world wanted to see. She felt as though she had betrayed herself, and she warned viewers not to play the game. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly's Valby, Apple acknowledged her angst from that time. "I felt like it wasn't my music that had gotten me there, and I felt very resentful of that and of myself for that. It had been so important to me to get to this point, to be in this crowd, and once I got there I saw it wasn't anything I could really feel proud of."
Despite waves of criticism, Apple moved on and followed with When the Pawn in 1999, another album that explores the world of unsettled relationships. Full of feisty, yet humorous lyrics, this album was more sophisticated and clearly showed influences from Apple's love of jazz, the Beatles, and Joan Armatrading. Many of the songs, instead of focusing on relationships lost, delved into the intricacies of maintaining healthy bonds with a signicant other. Despite the more mature sound, it sold one-third fewer albums than Tidal. There were other disappointments as well. Apple's frail emotional state came to the forefront again in 2000 when she ran off the stage in tears during the middle of a concert at the Roseland Ballroom in New York after complaining that she could not hear herself. Fans waited, but she never returned.
Apple has spent her whole life struggling to escape from the grips of depression and at times has taken medication to help with her condition. She also had years of psychotherapy. Speaking to the Rolling Stone#x0027;s Heath, Apple acknowledged her suicidal tendencies. "I truly did want to die before. I remember I would be sitting in my shrink's office, looking at his computer with one of those screen savers on, and they have all these cubes in different colors, and I swear my mood would change.… A purple square would come up and I'd feel, 'Everything's OK, ' then a green one would come up and I'd be, 'Everything's terrible.' It would make no sense to me. I still don't understand it."
Six years passed before the release of her third album, Extraordinary Machine, in 2005. In the interim, Apple spent time getting herself together. For a while, she lived in Venice Beach, California, in a house with nothing but a twin bed, television, VCR, boombox, some green dog pillows, and her Staffordshire Terrior, Janet. She spent the time taking walks and sitting in silence on the lawn. By the time the album was released, Apple felt well enough to end therapy and quit taking her anti-anxiety medication, which she had been on for a decade. She began starting her days with long walks to clear her head and has kept up the routine.
Apple's third album barely made it to release. At one point, during her retreat from the music world, Apple actually called her manager and told him she was done with music. She then spent her days sitting around in her robe at her mother's house watching Columbo reruns and trying to figure out what to do with her life. The problem stemmed from a rift with Sony over production of the album. When Apple began work on the album in 2002, she recorded several songs with Jon Brion, who had produced her second album. After hearing the tracks, Sony did not think the album had been made with radio listeners in mind and wanted the songs remixed.
Apple, herself, did not feel the album was quite right and she wanted to re-record with bassist Mike Elizondo. He had played on her second album and helped produce albums for Eminem and 50 Cent. Apple says Sony wanted her to record one song at a time and then submit it for approval but she felt the company wanted too much control. Part of the album had been leaked to the Internet and fans were eager for its arrival. They were so upset with Sony they created a website called freefiona.com and through the mail bombarded Sony with hundreds of foam apples. Apple was moved by her fans' actions and for the first time in her life felt wanted and needed. She decided to finish the album and worked out a deal with Sony, which said it had all been a misunderstanding.
Extraordinary Machine hit the shelves in October of 2005. This album, full of hypnotic grooves and cabaret piano vamps, reflects Apple's own transformation to maturity and stability. As Frere-Jones noted in the New Yorker, the songs have a nice balance of attacks and retreats: "The album contains many moments both of lushness and of restraint.… Extraordinary Machine is just 50 minutes, and it feels short; you want to replay it immediately. It's the kind of album that makes an artist's previous work sound better, a record that makes converts out of doubters."
Tidal, Sony BMG, 1996.
When the Pawn, Sony BMG, 1999.
Extraordinary Machine, Sony BMG, 2005.
Billboard, October 8, 2005, pp. 47-48.
Entertainment Weekly, September 30, 2005, pp. 28-35.
New Yorker, October 10, 2005, pp. 88-89.
New York Times, January 5, 1997, sec. 2, p. 34.
Rolling Stone, January 22, 1998, p. 30; October 6, 2005, pp. 64-66.
"Bio, " Fiona Apple, http://www.fiona-apple.com/html_content/bio.html (February 1, 2006).
"My Happy Ending, " Blender, http://www.blender.com/guide/articles.aspx?id=1809 (February 1, 2006).
"Apple, Fiona." Newsmakers 2006 Cumulation. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/culture-magazines/apple-fiona
"Apple, Fiona." Newsmakers 2006 Cumulation. . Retrieved July 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/culture-magazines/apple-fiona