Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

Fiona Apple – Shameika

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Tobi Tella: Fetch The Bolt Cutters was ascended to classic status by The Discourse as soon as it was released, and it doesn’t surprise me that so many people find value, because Fiona’s writing always functions on eight different layers of aware. What I connect with most about this is the self-awareness that Shameika probably truly could give less of a fuck about this petty middle school drama now, but the comment was so internalized that a whole song has stemmed from it decades later. Everyone has moments that are insignificant to everyone else that have informed your entire life and flare up constantly. The fact that the statement is encouraging makes it even sadder; negative comments feel designed to stick in your brain, but pumping yourself up with backhanded compliments given to your 12-year-old self is pathetic in a way most artists would never share with their listeners. 

Alex Clifton: A whirling hurricane of a piano line combined with doses of humour and emotion, jazzy and inventive and just plain fun to experience. We all have our own Shameika experience, buried deep — some comment from another kid that definitely does not remember you now, as an adult, but the words stick forever. There’s a really lovely tenderness in the way Apple recounts this memory, the fact that Shameika was never a friend, but bolstered her confidence in a way few others ever could. Small acts of kindness can go a long way, and that’s a lovely nugget to remember these days.

Katherine St Asaph: The Fiona Apple Discourse has arrived, and as is increasingly common my stance isn’t any of the usual Am I The Asshole voting options. My stance: The Idler Wheel is Fiona Apple’s masterpiece, the genius coronation should have happened then, and in happening belatedly it happened for an album that, while good, is lesser. It’s not that nothing sounds like Fetch the Bolt Cutters, it’s that people forget the stuff that sounds like it exists. (The artist most obviously musically influenced by Fiona Apple is Amanda Palmer, but the culture isn’t ready for that conversation. Mostly.) “Shameika” is experimental perhaps, but more than that it’s theatrical, like a dramatic monologue. Apple writes another runaway-calliope piano line, kin to “Left Alone” or “Fast As You Can,” and structures musical cues and lyrical asides written as vaudeville — on lines like “that just made the bullies worse,” you can practically hear the spotlight and the phantom ba-dum-tish. She vamps, gives herself a Greek chorus, toward the end almost raps; there’s the sense that she’s just barely keeping up with the tempo and the clatter, a straightforward metaphor for the tempo and clatter inside her mind. Normally I love all these things and wouldn’t mind millions more, so why does “Shameika” feel slightly lesser? Some of it is subjective — I’m a cat person, so “my dog and my man and my music is my holy trinity” hits roughly the same way as “heckin’ doggo.” But some of it may not just be me. As Apple as a composer and vocalist has grown more freewheeling, less predictable, Apple as a lyricist has grown more didactic, not always for the better. This is most apparent on “Under the Table,” but the bridge here does it, too, as does the titular Shameika, here to dispense affirmation. It’s one thing for Apple to write about specific but anonymous men (see “this guy, what a guy”) and something else when it’s a named, likely black kid from middle school whom she barely remembered beyond a blessing that doesn’t entirely sound like a compliment. Apple doesn’t idealize her (“Shameika wasn’t gentle and she wasn’t my friend”) or turn her into a reaction GIF (the memes, though…), but for an artist whose writing is usually hyper-meticulously examined, this feels a bit un-examined. One senses, palpably, another side to the story.

Edward Okulicz: It’s the Fiona Apple origin story! Well, it’s a Fiona Apple origin story, as good a place as any to come to know this iteration of Fiona Apple. Her piano is, in isolation, a bit of a rollicking good time, and in context, like a rimshot trailing behind every word picture. They’re good pictures too — crunching leaves, the sound of a riding crop on her leg — making “Shameika” a crisp, well-paced vignette. Google reports a 500 per cent increase in searches for “is the piano a percussion instrument or a stringed instrument” in the last month.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Fiona Apple’s songwriting most commonly focuses solely on her own self– or at most, her self and some invisible, off-stage figure of longing or derangement. So the strangeness of “Shameika” is in the way it hinges so much of its emotional weight on more coherent others– the title character, who is defined solely in the context of Apple’s reaction to her, but also Tony and Sebastian and her dog and her man. It’s a strangeness that’s not entirely productive. The way the track slows down and clangs around whenever Shameika gets brought up feels weighty and unproductive, especially given the chaotic grace with which Apple navigates the rest of the song. And at the end of it all, “Shameika” feels like a tokenized figure, not allowed to exist outside of Apple’s grand cosmos of the self. It’s still thrilling, but there’s a certain hollowness at its center.

Alfred Soto: To what degree listeners will accept — never mind forgive — the Magical Negro Dictum at work depends on how compelling they find Fiona Apple and Amy Aileen Wood’s talent for playing drums as if it were a piano and how the chorus piano line hints at a cha-cha. If taken at face value, which I don’t, “Shameika” depicts a teenage woman confronted by sundry opinions about her self-presentation. Everyone mentioned she assimilated as every artist must.Whatever else, Shameika or whoever was right about Apple’s potential. 

Juana Giaimo: I listened to Fiona Apple’s album only once. It was alright; I didn’t not enjoy it, but neither did I love it. Listening to “Shameika” on its own is a whole different experience: it sounds unique, while on the tracklist it is just like another song. The changes of speed, her trembling voice and the sudden piano arrangements construct an organized mess in which every element is in a designated place. The surface is captivating, but I wish I could hear more than just that. 

Leah Isobel: Fiona constructs a rattling, screaming subway car of a song around a single moment of warm clarity. It’s a little better as a meme than it is as a hook, but it works regardless.

Ramzi Awn: The world might be ready for Fiona Apple to don her best Frank Zappa. Still, Apple’s goofy composition falls short of exuberant. Her commitment to the off-kilter is welcome, but it is unclear what emotions the single aims to inspire. At times, it brings to mind Liz Phair’s latter-day stabs at eccentricity. Music has no responsibility to be beautiful, but at its best, it connects the human dots of experience. I’m not sure what Fiona Apple has been experiencing, and I don’t know if she is either.

Jackie Powell: After the first drum roll, chaos ensues on “Shameika.” Chaos and jitters are synonymous with a middle school experience, a time when young women become hormonal and just so damn difficult to deal with. I imagine Apple skipping and walking to school to only be thrust into the social hierarchy. It’s degrading. I was also the kid “not chosen.” Apple knows her audience and she portrays a moment in time that’s felt deeply by only half of the characters involved. People enter our lives, impart simple yet profound wisdom, and then they disappear. The memories, depending on their delivery and timing, can stick like an epoxy. Apple accepts Shameika’s rejection or indifference to friendship with the repeated line: “She got through to me and I’ll never see her again.” But when you are young, that idea of never seeing someone again sounds pessimistic. Both Apple and I refused to accept that reality in the moment. The last 20 seconds of the track, the bluesy bassline, and the saw-like distorted crackling illustrate how that one-sided moment felt inside. So thankful, but confused and empty. Does potential come with emptiness? When I first heard her album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, I immediately envisioned it as easily adaptable into a one-woman show on or off Broadway (whenever live performance comes back). “Shameika” is a monologue sung.

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3 Responses to “Fiona Apple – Shameika”

  1. It’s a decent-enough song but I was hoping more people than 3 would say something about using a black person as a prop for a white woman’s self-esteem.

  2. katherine otm about the idler wheel being her true masterpiece but that’s how these things often go

  3. The whole Discourse that’s been talked about here has constantly made me wonder whether the much-talked-about Pitchfork 10 is a blessing or a curse, but I think I might lean towards the latter.

    While on one hand it’s great to see a great artist recognized for great work, it’s become hard to listen to and talk about Fetch the Bolt Cutters without that little voice saying “but what Opinion® do *I* have about this? Is *every single element* here the greatest thing ever, as the critics seem to be saying?”. And obviously that kind of thinking takes the enjoyment out of everything. Many of the takes on the album seem to be colored by that, both the positive and the negative. Some of the takes here as well.

    I’m, of course, a huge Fiona fan, and as I listen to the album more I do think it’s one of her best; “Shameika” might be a whirlwind and a half, certainly one of its best songs, but in truth the whole album feels like a hurricane, this wild entanglement of anger and joy that feels like lightning in a bottle. As in every album, there are weaker songs, but they don’t feel like filler; there’s at least a little bit of that excitement and unpredictability sprinkled everywhere.

    It is also notable that it’s the most direct she’s ever been, and there’s a lot of appeal in her directness – “Under the Table”, which Katherine mentions, is actually for me a good example of that. It depicts a feeling you can wrap in metaphors in a million different ways, but well, sometimes you’ve got to break it down for a mf.

    That approach feels especially fitting for this album, but my one criticism of it is that in its intensity it does sacrifice some of the usual intricacy of Fiona’s lyricism, and on that I do agree with Katherine. Ultimately it leaves the listener with a little less to unpack in the long run.

    That’s hardly an issue with “Shameika”, though. I find it brilliant.