By the time she started referring to herself as “the elusive chanteuse” in 2014, Mariah Carey had put out 14 studio albums in 24 years.
It’s now been 24 years since Fiona Apple’s debut, however, and she has heretofore only released four albums. According to the Mariah Carey scale of elusiveness, Apple is nonexistent, or perhaps imaginary.
That’s why, for fans of the piano-packing melancholy songstress, the eve of a new Fiona Apple album feels like a national holiday.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters—available to stream as of midnight, April 17—is the artist’s first new long-form work since 2012’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. (All apologies but it’s Fast Company house style to print only the full titles of Fiona Apple albums. Bear with us.)
Apple hasn’t remained dormant for the past eight years. She recorded a cover of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka for a Chipotle ad, a sentence that sounds like something I just made up but I promise you is real. She also created the theme song for Showtime’s The Affair, and collaborated with Andrew Bird. But none of these projects packs anywhere near the same wallop as a full new Apple album.
And with a new Fiona Apple album comes new music videos.
One or two of the artist’s clips may be in the conversation for pantheon status, but overall Fiona Apple is not generally discussed for her incredible accompanying visuals.
The reality, though, is that she has produced consistently daring and fun music videos throughout four album cycles spanning three decades.
As we wait to see what kind of aesthetic she’ll bring to the 2020s, here’s a look back at seven fantastic clips from one of the truly groundbreaking artists working in the medium.
The video that jump-started Apple’s career, director Mark Romanek takes the suburban interiors of Apple’s first video, “Sleep to Dream,” and runs off in an incriminatingly lascivious direction whose cultural echo reverberated all the way to a Jennifer Lopez striptease set to the song in 2019’s Hustlers.
“Fast As You Can”
The video that started her working relationship with auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, which resulted in five videos. (The two also dated for three years, and in a recent interview with The New Yorker, she described him as “coldly critical” and “contemptuous” and recalled an unflattering story about the director snorting rails with Quentin Tarantino one night.) The lead single from her sophomore offering, 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), this video plays with visual distortion, creating a wall of distance between the artist and anyone trying to perceive her accurately.
Again working with Anderson, this is Apple’s most ambitious video to date, filled with Old Hollywood glamour, rope play, and meticulously choreographed dancing.
“Not About Love”
Four years before Zach Galifianakis broke out big with The Hangover, he appeared in this video from Apple’s third album, Extraordinary Machine, lip-syncing to the song as she stares at him uncertainly.
Filmed aboard the RMS Queen Mary, by director Floria Sigismondi, “O Sailor” is a dreamy, dance-filled return to the style of “Paper Bag,” but with a maritime feel.
“Every Single Night”
Can an octopus be iconic? It can, it turns out, when Fiona Apple uses one for a wig during her first music video in seven years, as she did on the kickoff single for The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.
Like the rest of the album surrounding the song, “Hot Knife” is largely just comprised of Apple’s vocals and softly tinkling piano keys. She’s also joined by her sister, the cabaret singer Maude Maggart. Anderson’s camera trains tightly on Apple, hair in a bun and makeup-free, as she pounds a drum at the outset. Soon, though, the screen cuts in thirds with the drum-pounding singer in the center and her sister and, uh, a clone on either side. Sometimes she’s shot in color; sometimes, it’s luscious black and white. Sometimes backing vocalists Maggart and Fiona No. 2 appear in silhouette; sometimes they do not. “Hot Knife” proves the degree to which Apple remained as inventive and vital in her mature video work as she did when she was first starting out.
Bonus: Please enjoy the video of Fiona Apple watching a flash mob perform her song “Hot Knife,” below.