As we learned last Thursday, Fiona Apple was kidnapped by Chipotle corporate and forced to sing covers of our favorite childhood songs in the voice of Lindsay Lohan’s cigarette butts (scared, crushed, taken for granted, but vital.) Sure, the argument could be made that this is “old news.” But that discounts the fact that this is probably the most significant cinematic moment certainly of 2013, if not the whole decade so far– art and commerce and activism have all met on the back of America’s favorite sad vegan necromancer! Every time we’ve re-watched the video– which, running at three minutes and twenty three seconds is more of a “Short Film With Strong Product Placement” than it is a “Commercial”– we’ve come away with more questions than answers. Maybe you can help us out:
1. What was the meeting like where Fiona Apple sat down with Mr. Chipotle (their CEO who also runs all of their marketing)? Where did they meet? Did they meet at a Chipotle? Did Fiona order an off-the-menu quesedilla and then send it back and just be like “Oh, no, you know what? It’s fine, can you just give me my money back? I’m actually in kind of a hurry.”
2. Who pitched this? Was Mr. Chipotle just like “Okay, so we want to sell people Tacos, but we also want to condescend to them about Factory Farming (or whatever) while also ruining any fleeting happiness they may remember from a childhood film that brought them a little joy, the kind of joy that now eludes them as they go through the motions of average, dull, adult life. You got anything that works for that?”
3. Did it ever occur to them to just take the Hot Knife video and photoshop Tacos into Fiona and Maude Maggart’s mouths?
4. Was PT Anderson consulted? Did Fiona ask him if he thought she should do it or not and was he like “I told you not to call me on this number, Maya is in the other room… I’ll meet you at In-N-Out in fifteen minutes.”
5. WHO AT CHIPOTLE CORPORATE SOUGHT OUT FIONA APPLE? Did some intern google “musician passionately making a statement” and find this and then go like, “That’s our girl!” and high five everyone else in the office?
This is the fundamentally confusing thing about this whole– LET’S CALL IT WHAT IT IS– incident. Look, allow me to be frank with you: Let me take off my journalism mask and slip on my 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 Tour Shirt. Fiona Apple is my favorite musician of all time. Every time I have seen her live, I’ve cried through the entire experience. If I could go back to any moment in time it would be when she walked off the stage at the Roseland Ballroom. I make a point to watch her episode of Iconoclasts with Quentin Tarrantino once every few months to remind myself that sometimes the world we live in doesn’t adhere to what we think of as “logic,” and that magic is possible if you are completely fucking insane.
I obviously love this song and have been listening to it on repeat and am, more than anything, grateful that Fiona came out with new music only a little over a year ago and now we have more (even if it’s just one song, and a cover at that, and a crazy cover at that at that). It’s a beautiful, haunting, chilling rendition of the song, because of course it is. I don’t need to explain to you why Fiona Apple covering a weird song about wonder and flights of fancy intended to be sung to a sad poor kid by a creepy older dude who will make all of your dreams come true for a price is great and scary and if you listen to it at the wrong time of night you might have to sleep with the lights on.
What’s so distressing, not only as a Fiona fan but as a Citizen of the World, is not that Fiona Apple recording a classic song for weirdly corporate purposes doesn’t make any sense—it’s that it makes perfect sense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fiona Apple is the best response we have as a culture to the question “What is Punk?” (@ the Met). Her VMA acceptance speech, her obnoxiously long album titles, her look and her performances are all a giant fuck you to what we expect a singer-songwriter/angry girl with a piano to be. Sure, songs like “Criminal” may in fact be the template upon which we parody that very 90s confessional woman scorned, but have you heard her sing the song recently? Fiona is a diva unlike any other because she re-invents herself without trying. Every album she puts out, every time you see her, everything looks the same, but actually everything is completely different. She will not let anybody, especially not Paul Thomas Anderson, pin her down and so OF COURSE she recorded a horrifying version of a kid’s song for Chipotle.
6. Is the video actually good? Well, yeah, sure. It’s a cute story about some scarecrow from some iPhone App (is that what the guy under the Grindr mask really looks like?) who discovers the evils of unnatural eating and opens up a Chipotle stand at Smorgasburg while Fiona Apple croons. Chipotle’s high horse can be a bit annoying, but there is no denying that the video is well made. However, what’s revolutionary or cool or incendiary about it is not using the powers of advertising to promote a so-called social message, but rather that the angsty 90s teenager who refuses to die is in your ears, freaking the living shit out of you, and probably making you think of what a mess any of your choices– be they consumption of food or media– are at all times. SHE’S A HOT KNIFE SHE’S A HOT KNIFE/ SHE’S A HOT KNIFE CHIPOTLE’S A PAD OF BUTTER.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post indicted McDonald’s in the production of this strange video. As pointed out by a helpful commenter, McDonald’s and Chipotle no longer have anything to do with one another. We do wonder if Fiona ever had a Happy Meal as a child, and what Toy she hoped would be inside.
Image by Alex Bedder