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What I Learned about Style from Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”

Did you know naked is a style? These are just some of the lessons Fiona teaches us in this video which continue to influence what we wear to Trader Joe's.

by Hazel Cills
Oct 16 2013, 3:29pm

I’ve been a bad, bad girl… JK. I’ve just been watching Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” video one too many times. She's the poster woman for raw and rebellious singing and songwriting, with her jazzy, grunge-y rock reaching a level of autobiographical soulfulness that few (or none) of us will ever reach. Not to jump to conclusions, but Fiona Apple is kind of untouchable.

She hit the music scene with her 1996 debut album, Tidal, and ever since she’s been preaching her personal gospel at the 1997 VMAs, after getting arrested for pot possession, and while breaking down on stage during live shows. But maybe that’s because people are heckling her. Seriously: who is heckling Fiona Apple at shows? Are you a monster? Okay, rant over.

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In addition to being talented and feeling a lifetime's worth of emotions in an endless, and probably exhausting, five-minute cycle, Fiona Apple is also drop dead gorgeous. This is just one of life’s ultimate truths. Apple certainly has the fashion game down pat, but her fierce (and I know people overuse that word in a fashion way, but if anyone is literally fierce in the purest definition of the word, it’s Apple), attitude transcends style in terms of just clothes. Nothing exemplifies this more than her controversial video for one of her earliest hits, “Criminal.”

You know when someone snaps your pic old school, with a film camera, and the flash reflects on your eyeballs and makes your eyes glow a crazy red? Well, usually this makes everybody look like Satan’s spawn, or cosmically stoned, but of course, not Fiona. It only adds to her sexily strung-out and spotlit presence in this video.

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This sort of goes without saying, right? But something about Apple writhing on a mountain of naked limbs, on an Exorcist puke-green shag carpet, makes this sweaty scenario insanely stylish and hella sexy. Yeah, that’s right, even the carpet is a turn-on, and that carpet is majorly fugly. Was this vid the aftermath of some bacchanalian orgy? Or maybe all these babes were playing an innocent game of spin the bottle? The point is: if you’re not regularly caught in the legs, arms, and the pelvic areas of at least a dozen guys and gals then maybe you need to rethink your hang-time situations?

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The video is grunge-y and a dELiA’s catalogue this ain’t, but Fiona’s style game here is pretty rad. I feel like everyone thinks of “Criminal” as being like SKIN SKIN NUDE NUDE, but the clothes she wears are just as important as her bare skin. Apple’s wardrobe in this video is very 70s, though you might not be able to tell on first glance. Following the vintage, softcore porno theme of the vid, Apple dons knitwear reminiscent of the swinging, Boogie Nights-era 70s, from a macramé brown circle skirt to a glittery blue off-the-shoulder top. It’s subtle, I’ll admit, but in wearing stripped down signifiers of the disco and drug-heavy party era of the 70s, long-haired Apple looks like a haunting and troubled Partridge-era Susan Dey. It’s a nod to a decade of free love, but the dark tone of this vid suggests that it’s all free love until it’s not.

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You know how everyone is always talking about layering? Everywhere I look it’s layering this, layering that, put this tank top under a t-shirt with a scarf and a blazer and, just, stop. But maybe we’ve all been layering the wrong way. Apple’s on a lingerie double-up steez in this vid and maybe that’s the way to layer. Just put on some silky underwear and grab the drawers off one of your many, many sexual partners lying around, and you’re good to go!

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The stretchy knit sweaters and low-rise jeans are cute, but why not just get totally naked, right? Apple peels it all off until the only outfit she needs is a really crowded bathtub. And if you’re not down to get totally nude, fake it with some inconspicuous, gauzy, skin-toned lingerie. Naked is totally a style. If it’s not, it should be. I suggest this look for: the office, your local PTA meeting, or for plain old grocery shopping.

“Criminal” is sexy, but it’s sexy in a way that makes you question its purpose in the first place. In an era of bare-bellied pop stars and overtly sexual music videos ('sup Rihanna), Apple’s dark take on super-seXXXy videos turns the genre on its head. Through fuzzy VHS tapes, photobooth snaps, and a stone-cold glance directed at the viewer, Apple’s operating on some Laura Mulvey-level internalized gaze vibes. “Look at me,” she says, “This is what you asked for. But is it totally what you want?” Ultimately, it’s powerful, because Fiona Apple is pretty damn fucking powerful. A lot of people write off “Criminal” for being exploitative and creepy, but Apple knew what she was doing.

“I decided if I was going to be exploited, then I would do the exploiting myself,” she said in a 97 issue of Spin. What might come off as a hyper-sexual portrait of a waif, is really an exercise in Apple asserting her sexual agency. After all, she can break a boy just because she can.

Has Hazel been grocery shopping in the nude? Ask her on Twitter - @HazelCills.

Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.