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Fiona Apple’s 10 Most Badass Moments

Throughout her career, Apple has redefined stardom on her own terms

Fiona Apple will release her first album in eight years with the brilliant, mesmerizing Fetch The Bolt Cutters, a masterpiece that is an early candidate for album of the year. In so many ways, it is emblematic of Apple following her other critically acclaimed albums such as Extraordinary Machine and When The Pawn… 

Though she started off as a pop star based on the stunning success of “Criminal” and her stunning debut Tidal, Apple has carried her career in the vein of artists like John Lennon, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, those artists who make their own rules and seemingly answer to no industry standards or what is expected by fans. 

Apple puts out music when she wants, says what she wants, gets behind the causes she wants and plays live when and where she wants. And though others give the impression of doing that, few have adhered to that as honestly as Apple has. Time and time again since her 1998 debut she has proven to be a total badass, the late ’90s pop star who has become a true rock star in her independence, in her musical spirit and defiance and in her activism. In celebration of Fetch The Bolt Cutters, here is a look at 10 moments where Fiona Apple reminded us again and again why music is so lucky to have her rock star spirit in 2020. 

Canceling her 2012 tour to be with her dying dog 

In 2012 Apple released her fourth album, The Idler Wheel. It was her first new album in seven years. That November, she was scheduled to tour South America when she posted a devastatingly heartbreaking note that any dog parent has experienced and can relate to. She explained in an achingly beautiful fashion that she needed to cancel the tour to be with her dying dog, Janet. For a major label star to put the kibosh a tour right before it begins is not ideal. But Apple made what every dog lover agrees would be is the right call. “Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed. But this decision is instant. These are the choices we make, which define us. I am not the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship. I’m the woman who stays home, and bakes Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend,” she wrote at the time.

“Trump’s Nuts Roasting On An Open Fire”

While some artists have been afraid to speak out politically for fear of alienating fans, Apple went after Trump shortly after his election. Singing to the tune of Nat King Cole’s “Merry Christmas” she starts the song: “Trump’s nuts roasting on an open fire/As he keeps nipping at his foes/You’ll cry creepy uncle/Every time he arrives.” The song ends, “Donald Trump, fuck you.” She followed that just a month later with the equally hilarious and eviscerating anti-Trump track “Tiny Hands.”

Dueting with Johnny Cash

When the “Man In Black” endorses you, that is badass validation. Apple sang not once, but twice with Johnny Cash, joining him on covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son.” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” appeared on American IV: The Man Comes Around, which also features Nick Cave and Don Henley. When you are on the same album with Cash and Cave, you are given a free pass into the badass hall of fame. 

From Her 1997 MTV VMA Acceptance Speech To “Kneel, Portnow,” Shirt

Of course, you can’t talk about Apple’s defiance without referring to her infamous 1997 MTV Awards acceptance speech, “This world is bullshit” moment.

At the time, Apple was widely criticized for the speech. That’s what perspective is for. For all those who criticized her at the time (like Janeane Garofolo, who recorded a parody for Denis Leary’s Lock And Load album), that moment set the tone for more than 20 years of speaking out. In 2018 Apple joined Garbage’s Shirley Manson to perform at a show for L.A.’s Girlschool wearing a shirt that read, “Kneel, Portnow,” in reference to the Grammy controversy with former CEO Neil Portnow, who had been criticized for tone-deaf comments about women not stepping up.

There was no public outcry this time about Apple speaking out. And the shirt got Girlschool trending on Twitter on Super  Bowl Sunday. Apple knew exactly what she was doing. 

“So Sleepy” for Chickens In Love 

Having the guts to sing “I’m a gummy bear, I stand up on the chair,” for her first new music in five years, as she did in 2010 on the Chickens In Love benefit album, is already badass enough considering how image-conscious many artists at her level are. They would come out after a long absence with some carefully constructed song and video to show their coolness, not their goofiness. Doing it to benefit Los Angeles students in their creative writing endeavors takes it to another level — which at the time, she served on the advisory board for the 826 LA nonprofit.