I am a huge fan, it is not a secret. I have been since I was 15 when I first listened to her music. It was like a slap to the face, a burst of my middle-class safe upbringing bubble. It was right then that I first realised the world was a much bigger place, full of possibilities. It was 1994 and I was listening to a cassette version of her 1994 album “Under the Pink”. I do not remember how I discovered it, but I never looked back. I have bought all her albums, and tried to go to all her London gigs since.
Exactly 25 years ago, today, her debut album “Little Earthquakes” was released in the UK. 14 albums later she remains the same. A fighter, an artist who refuses to compromise, still remaining the most original female artist of all time. She is still fighting for women’s rights, against violence, and religious oppression.
This post is about her work, the inspirational imagery that accompanied her musical landscapes (a few images used in this post), and the issues she addressed throughout her career. It is nice to think that artists like her could inspire creativity in principles such as fashion designing. Where have the days of muses inspiring fashion designers gone? Being inspired by how people choose to wear and combine their clothes on the street is great, but I get the feeling that fashion is at a “what-came-first-the-egg-or-the-chicken” crossroads. Time to look elsewhere for inspiration.
1990s: Her Formative Years
Her debut album “Little Earthquakes” (1992) shocked with how frank and direct it was. Talking about her rape she tackles a much bigger issue; violence between men and women. Fighting self-worthlessness and empowering the listeners is the biggest success of the album; reinforcing that everyone has a voice. This album was an advance notice to the decade’s angst and the rise of female rock artists. Key tracks are the a cappella “Me and a Gun” about her rape, and “Precious Things” where she is tackling rejection, and how the latter can undo layers of shields put up over the years.
The expectations for her follow up were high and with “Under the Pink” (1994) she does not disappoint. After her cathartic debut album she turned to more universal issues; our relationship with religion (check “God”), sexuality, betrayal and most importantly violence between women (look beyond the cheekiness of “The Waitress” and get shocked by its violent nature). In “Cornflake Girl”, borrowing from a personal experience, she addresses the pain of being betrayed by your best girlfriend, and how uniquely violent such act is.
Dealing with a relationship breakdown gave birth to “Boys of Pele” (1996). The title of the album is very meaningful. It refers to Pele the Hawaiian deity of fire, wind, and volcanoes, the creator of Hawaiian Islands. The female energy, passion, and fire celebrated and accepted in the past but challenged and ignored today. In addition, the title demonstrates playfully an interesting relationship that exists between boys and their idols; the men they respect, whether these are footballers or politicians. Men always admire other men, and women never other women. Food for thought…
If you only listen to one song from this long album make sure it is “Caught a Lite Sneeze”; magical, unique, spooky, poignant. The first ever song available for a free internet download. Watch the video and take in how desperation to keep something alive feels and looks like!
Two years later she serves another shocker; “From the Choirgirl Hotel” (1996). An album inspired by her miscarriage, and all the feelings associated with it. The guilt, feeling incapable, feeling empty. For the first time, she talks openly about her relationship with song-writing. She calls her songs ‘girls’ that choose to visit and let her in, and the mainstream media label her ‘crazy’. Listening to “Hotel” with its complex arrangements and nightmarish description of a woman on the verge of a breakdown, can justify media’s short-sighted view. Only for a second.
By 1998 Tori realises that Atlantic record label was not promoting her properly and was refusing to release her to another record label. She was still contractually expected to produce 3 more albums with them. The idea of giving them more of her ‘children’ (songs) made her sick. She cleverly releases the double CD “To Venus and Back” (1999), and “Strange Little Girls” (2001). For “Venus” she turns to more “engineered” sounds with new songs on CD 1 and live versions of old songs on CD2.
For “Girls” she covers songs written by men about women. Although the two albums were her way to free herself from the constrains on the music label, she still offered top quality music. Check the very short “Josephine” from the album “Venus” and see how Tori interprets Napoleon and Josephine’s relationship. A man invading, destroying, cheating, but still needing the woman he left behind. On “Girls” listen to her cover of Eminem’s “ ’97 Bonnie and Clyde”. She spoke of her disgust when she first heard this song in a club. She was shocked watching people dancing to what is a description of a killing. As if people “were dancing on this woman’s blood” she said. Eminem is extremely disconnected when rapping, Tori is sensitively and freakishly whispering the words in your ear, giving the murdered woman a voice. Eminem-Tori: 0-1!