Ever since her acclaimed and controversial debut at the age of nineteen, Fiona Apple has remained something of a mystery. Fiona is outspoken yet reclusive (she virtually disappeared for six years between her second and third albums). She is self-assured, yet vulnerable. Her defining characteristic seems to be her elusive, enigmatic nature. Heck, she even dated a magician (David Blaine)!
"Criminal" – Fiona Apple's first single and her most commercially successful song to date – embodies the very essence of Apple's persona. The song, which casts the crooner as a reckless but contrite lover, is not a clear-cut proclamation of female liberation. Nor is it a straightforward plea for forgiveness. Apple vacillates between the poles of self-righteousness and repentance. In the process, she keenly encapsulates the complexities of what it means to be a young woman in our time.
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With its creeping piano riff and girl-power lyrics, "Criminal" would have made a nice theme song for the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Picture Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott singing "I've been a bad, bad girl." Like Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) and Edna Pontellier (The Awakening), the song's narrator is a woman who defies convention, choosing to place her own desires and wishes above those of a man. But Apple's lyrics do not depict a woman without remorse. Following in the footsteps of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Fiona Apple creates a nuanced, angst-ridden protagonist, one plagued by a lingering sense of doubt and compunction.
On the Charts
"Criminal" reached #4 on the U.S. Modern Rock Chart and #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997.
The song earned Fiona Apple a Grammy in 1998 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.