Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Little Earthquakes

I'm rubbish at those quizzes that make you pick your favourites - I don't have a favourite anything. Not a book, or a colour, or a food. How could I choose just one out of all the possibilities? I can do favourites plural, though. One of my favourites musicians is Tori Amos. I certainly wouldn't qualify myself as a member of EWF (Ears with Feet) for she herself kinda irritates the crap outa me, but man, that chick can play a piano. Oh, and a random piece of trivia for you readers - listen to 'Tear in my Hand' from Little Earthquakes for a reference to author Neil Gaiman.

So, brace yourself, because here’s the bit where I try to sound intelligent:

Amos is a contemporary female pop-rock singer/songwriter, and is noteworthy as one of the few popular musicians of recent times to utilise the piano as her main instrument.

Although at times lyrically opaque, her songs are intensely emotional, and tackle a vast breadth of subjects, including sexuality, patriarchy and the personal tragedies that have occurred in her life. The lyrics also often include religious symbolism and references, particularly pertaining to the patriarchal system of organised religion.

She is famed for her intensely emotional songs and the feminist stance she takes on the controversial issues which she routinely addresses in her work. Perhaps as a direct result of this, the majority of Amos’s fans are women. While she has enjoyed limited chart success, both in her adopted home of Britain and her native home of America, she has a large cult following. As a result of this, it appears that within popular culture, Amos and feminism seem to have become inextricably intertwined. Amos deals with many issues directly relating to her own sense of feminism within her work, including such issues as sexuality, patriarchy and sense of self as a woman.

Above all else, Amos’s gender is central to both the creation and interpretation of her work. These issues of gender impact heavily on the criticism of Amos’s music, as her carefully constructed performance persona could be viewed as an attempt to create a new image of female sexuality, and to craft a new and strong female voice for both men and women to respond to. It seems as though her intention for this new voice is to challenge the long established roles for women within what she regards as a patriarchal society, and also to be a voice with which her predominately female audience can identify.

Her stage presence is a carefully crafted blend of the seemingly intimate and spontaneous. Despite this, her performances also have an air of the operatic or theatrical to them, perhaps in part due to the various mix of elements, aside from the music, that help to shape her performances – the costumes, lighting and visual effects are all carefully selected by Amos to help her present an image and experience that the audience are going to partake of.

In all aspects of her work, lyrically and visually, Amos’s sexuality is ever-present. It is commented upon often with perhaps more vigour than her musical work is critiqued. While it is true that all women in the public eye have a sexual image to some degree, sex and sexuality appear to have become inextricably linked with Amos as a woman, as well as a performer. With regards to her on-stage performances, her sexuality is clearly displayed in acts of what could be termed as simulated masturbation, as she writhes on her bench while playing. These displays seem in part designed to be seen as an act of defiance of the well-established sexual roles for women within society. As well as this, their meaning is also perhaps to acknowledge the self-consciousness she feels of being subject to the audience’s stare.

Although there are the aforementioned scenes of apparent sexual defiance, it is important to note than Amos does not appear to use her sexuality as a tool for manipulating her audience in the same manner that other female performers, such Madonna or Britney Spears, appear to. While they use their sexuality to achieve their own ends, while perhaps sacrificing something of themselves along the way, Amos seems more keen for her sexuality to be acknowledged as an innate part of her a woman, not just a performer, in the same way as a man’s sexuality is currently regarded within our society.

Phew. This is a very heavily edited (also known as hacking the crap out of the original) version of an essay I wrote last year. Thinking I might go back and expand on the original once I’ve had a bit of distance from it.

Oh, and I would upload a track or two, but I haven't got round to figuring out all the technical dooley-bops necessary for that one.


At 10:20 PM, Blogger Inspector Monkfish said...

See, I said you were cultured. ;)

I'd like to sound clever and cultured meself like, but unfortunately I just don't know enough nor have any strong enough opinions to say anything :)

I'm not very good with music. I just know when I like something - and when I like something but really don't want to ;)

Although, I do have Cornflake Girl in my collection!
I remember liking it ten-twelve years ago or something, which is partly why I have it now.
Which may go some way to explaining why, when I just looked the lyrics up, I have NO IDEA what it's talking about ;)

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Suz said...

Yes, her lyrics are, er, cryptic at times! Impressed you have Cornflake Girl, though. Everyone knows that song, if none of her other stuff.

The trick is not knowing stuff, but *sounding* like you know stuff. Only way to get through higher education :-D

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Suz said...

Ick - I've just noticed a glaring mistake in my editing. Oh, well. The whole project was quite nifty, if I do say so myself! :-P


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