The Fiona Apple Appeal

Released this Spring, Apple’s ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ has widely been proclaimed the perfect album for 2020. Befitting a year of lockdowns, this album was a work of self-imposed isolation, produced from the elusive singer-songwriter’s Venice Beach home. Amidst swathes of critical acclaim were repeated cries that this was the album to ‘save us’, within the thirteen tracks Apple offering us the escapism we needed. 

The opening song, ‘I Want You To Love Me’, is euphoric. Its piano loop and lyrics about getting ‘back in the pulse’ reflect the album’s sonic vitality. In the context of 2020, this sound embodied freedom: the feeling of wanting to scream, ideas of impulse and fulfilment. 

‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ is unconventional in its unpredictability. A heavy homemade percussive sound pervades the album – at least five dogs featuring in the album credits. There is, thus, a degree of irony to the album’s entirely deserved praise, Pitchfork giving it the rare, perfect score of 10/10. Apple’s mastery of an at times jarring sound somewhat accords to the cliché of the perfection of imperfection, in an alternative indie way of course. 

The album’s unconventional sound and vulnerability are also distinctly feminine. Apple sings to the new girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend in the song ‘Ladies’, asking her to ‘Please be my guest!’. Here Apple’s humour lies alongside an honest enquiry into why women are always pitted against each other. Meanwhile, the song ‘For Her’, written shortly after the nomination hearings of the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, is defined by female rage. Noisy and uninhibited, this album is an ode to female experience and a rejection of female stoicism. Apple endorses the very hysteria and notions of irrationality which were weaponised against her by the press earlier in her career – as Emily Nussbaum states instability became “her ‘brand’”. 

Whilst such a rebellion is a product of Apple’s genius, this rejection of the everyday could hardly feel more liberationist. As Apple said in a feature for The New Yorker, this is an album of “primary colors” – she paints a life of vitality and autonomy which resonates with all.

Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Music For Hope’

With venues being shut and no clear guidance on when audiences could return, 2020 became the year of streaming. From cellists on the rooftops of Paris to balcony duets in Italy to orchestras playing to click tracks in their bedrooms, streaming became “the new normal”. Even the weekly ‘Clap for the NHS’ meant that everyday streets became a concert hall.

There have been many standout virtual concerts but one that stood out early on was Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Music For Hope’ concert. Streamed live from an empty Duomo Cathedral on Easter Sunday, the short, simple concert became the largest classical music to be streamed live on Youtube with 3.4 million viewers. At the time, Italy had become the centre of the pandemic in Europe and the concert now marks the first religious holiday to be affected by the pandemic.

Whilst I am not religious and technically Bocelli demonstrated indifference to timing and at times good tone, especially during the opening of Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’, that was not the focus of this concert. The aim here was to bring people together for a moment of peace. As we moved from the imposing cathedral to Bocelli taking the long walk to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ on the steps of the cathedral, Bocelli did what he has mastered over the years. With little show and a simple stage presence, Bocelli makes people stop, listen to the music in its simplest, purest form, and think about the words.

Let Music Live Protests Live On

Though not a traditional musical moment, the Let Music Live protests are helping to ensure that music can continue into 2021. After Rishi Sunaks comments saying that jobs in the arts were not ‘viable’ and that they should consider changing profession, hundreds of furious musicians descended upon Parliament Square to protest the government’s lack of support, warning of an impending cultural desert if not supported. Dressed in black and sporting red face masks the socially distanced orchestra blasted out ‘Mars’, Holst’s war anthem from ‘The Planets’ to an unsympathetic Westminster.

The call for action has yet to be met by the government. As we move closer towards the one year mark of coronavirus infecting our lives, more and more musicians are leaving the industry they’ve dedicated their lives to. According to the Musician’s Union, a third of musicians could leave the industry with 70% doing less than a quarter of their regular work.

2020 has seen musicians adapt to new technologies, raising our spirits and still producing groundbreaking new work. Without government support and a Whether musicians will still be out in force this time next year remains to be seen.

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Cleo Murphy-Hogg

Cleo (she/her) is in her first year reading history at St Catherine’s. She enjoys 90s hip hop, Linda McCartney and preaching about the healing qualities of ABBA.

Carol Jones

Carol Jones writes 'The Good Grief Notes' column for the Oxford Blue, where she also writes about culture and women's rights. She studies DPhil Music Composition at St Catherine's and works as a freelance...