1991 was when Tori Amos unleashed Little Earthquakes on to an unsuspecting public. A fiery red-head who could play the piano like it was her bitch, spawned from Debussy and Rachmaninoff and inspired by Zeppelin and Bowie, she unleashed a torrent of feelings on the universe. I will be speaking about songs from Little Earthquakes later- it is an IMPORTANT album in my life, not one of the most beloved one.
But 1994’s Under the Pink is beloved by me. It felt more thought out and controlled than her début, less messy, more direct ( in the way I can expect Tori to be direct, which is to say not at all direct, but I think I get what she’s trying to get at. Tori fanatics know what I mean). My favourite Tori songs are all on Pink, and “Cornflake Girl”, her biggest hit, and best known track not involving an EDM remix, is the magnificently bizarre centerpiece.
The song is clearly about women. As in, women, being the mercurial creatures we are, hating and betraying other women. Men I know are always baffled by the evidence that women are so vicious to each other. Spend a day with a group of women ( preferably not related to each other- that’s a different dynamic, though the betrayals there are just as frequent and often cut deeper). Really observe them, their body language, their verbal language. You’ll pick it up quickly if you aren’t completely dense. There are hints about girls denying their true selves in order to fit in, the disbelief in the actions of the betrayer, and yes, female genital mutilation (the ultimate betrayal in the eyes of most women is the mothers of the girls who are put through this horrific and unnecessary brutality). The song was inspired by an Alice Walker novel, and use of the word “Cornflake” continues to divide Tori fans. I always found the use of “Cornflake” and “raisin” to be interesting- Tori has suggested that raisins are the ones that hide while the cornflakes overwhelm to consciousness. There is also the fact Cornflakes were created by Kellogg to diminish sexual desire ( women who want sex are whores, dontchyaknow), which is a theory that intrigues me.
Tori has always been vocal in her feminism and her support of women. Her goddess worship persona is not an act, it’s a real thing. Even bringing in legendary backing vocalist Merry Clayton (still best known for singing “Rape, murder, is just a shot away” on “Gimme Shelter”) is a feminist move. One only needs to see the Oscar-winning doc 20 Feet From Stardom to see that. The song rocks when it rolls, zigs when it is supposed to soar, zags when it’s meant to centre. There are melodic choices that make no sense, and then what is up with Rabbit and the keys. ( I have ideas, but my dad may see this one day…)
As a teenage girl on the verge of adulthood (I was sixteen when I heard it for the first time- it was given to me by a boyfriend. Piece of advice- be wary of guys who think a Tori Amos CD is a good after sex gift), Tori Amos was a god-send. She was frank and open about love and sex in a way most women are not and in a way I think we should all strive to be. As the mother of daughters, I believe it’s one of the ways we actually protect the forthcoming generation from the sins of the past.
And for God’s sake, lets all be a little nicer to each other. Please.