Fiona Apple is a firecracker, and that is no secret. After emerging onto the music scene with her first album, it was the breakout singles ‘Criminal’ and ‘Sleep to Dream’ that began to catapult her to success.
Fast forward to 1997 and Apple was accepting her award for the single ‘Sleep to Dream’ at the MTV VMAs, a song that won her the Best New Artist gong. Amid the eye of a media storm, Apple went off the cuff and gave a memorable acceptance speech about her feelings on the industry.
By this point, Apple was already jaded from industry pressure, especially after the controversy and criticism surrounding her ‘Criminal’ music video. She was still hardly out of her teenage years at the time, but in her speech, she had plenty of choice words about the music industry.
After apologising for not preparing a speech in the way everyone else had done that evening, Apple started off by quoting Maya Angelou: “See, Maya Angelou said that we, as human beings, at our best, can only create opportunities. And I’m gonna use this opportunity the way that I want to use it,” she said.
Apple continued: “So, what I want to say is, everybody out there that’s watching, everybody that’s watching this world? This world is bullshit. And you shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself. Go with yourself…And it’s just stupid that I’m in this world, but you’re all very cool to me so thank you very much. And I’m sorry for all the people that I didn’t thank, but man… it’s good. Bye.”
The most memorable part of the speech, and perhaps the most shocking, is when she blurted out with defiance: “This world is bullshit”. It’s the line most people remember out of the entire speech, and it sums up the moment of pop culture history pretty well in a nutshell.
However, a section of commentators didn’t love this sentiment at first. Although looking back on it now, it seems like a relatively logical take that you shouldn’t base your life on celebrities, but people took it as bratty and ungrateful. You can even hear some people beginning to boo her in the background.
Later Apple would clarify: “When I won, I felt like a sellout. I felt that I deserved recognition but that the recognition I was getting was for the wrong reasons. I felt that now, in the blink of an eye, all of those people who didn’t give a fuck who I was, or what I thought, were now all at once just humouring, appeasing me, and not because of my talent, but instead because of the fact that somehow, with the help of my record company, and my makeup artist, my stylist and my press, I had successfully created the illusion that I was perfect and pretty and rich, and therefore living a higher quality of life. I’d saved myself from misfit status, but I’d betrayed my own kind by becoming a paper doll in order to be accepted.”
Even looking back on her own feelings following the speech, Apple clearly had a lot of guilt around her success. Nobody wanted to let her have it both ways, but she also couldn’t seem to have it one way either. Her album, her music, her voice—they made her famous and there was no turning back.
Some years later, it’s clear that the words she said at 19 were simple, but still wise beyond her years. You can find Fiona Apple’s VMAs speech down below.