After a dormant three years with no new music released, English singer-songwriter FKA Twigs has given me the first song of my playlist titled, “Banshee Vibes: I want to rip my heart out and scream, but in a good way.” Her hit single “Cellophane,” an extremely vulnerable piano ballad, centers around leading a relationship in the public eye and the toll it takes on one’s self-esteem and image. With a Grammy Award nomination for Best Music Video and named the best song of 2019 by Pitchfork, “Cellophane” unravels the raw human emotions that envelop love, loss and everything in between. Twigs’s delicate and soothing voice offers a stark contrast to the song’s heart-wrenching lyrics; uncomplicated words dripping with complicated feelings, pushing and pulling at all of our hearts.
She opens the song with a series of emotional questions seemingly directed at her former lover, The Twilight Saga star Robert Pattinson.
“Didn’t I do it for you?
Why don’t I do it for you?
Why won’t you do it for me
When all I do is for you?”
It seizes our heartbroken souls from the start, ensuring Twigs is getting her point across without drawing it out while also engaging the slightly psychotic — like me — who listen to sad songs, especially at the height of their joy. Littered with rhetorical questions, accompanied only by the majestic keys of a piano playing in D major, the song paints Twigs in an anguished state, begging the question, “Why was I not enough to be worthy of your love?” She goes on to repeat the chorus twice more in the middle of the song, pinpointing this message of worthiness in the face of adversity without explicitly stating it.
Throughout the remainder of the song, Twigs uses very powerful yet simple diction. Using repetitive verses like, “They wanna see us, wanna see us alone / They wanna see us, wanna see us apart,” she’s able to highlight the pain and vulnerability that accompanies the meddling and scrutiny of the world’s selfish eyes. During her three-year relationship with Robert Pattinson, she received constant criticism and hate from Twilight fans who were upset that Pattison was no longer dating his white co-star, Kristen Stewart. The criticism turned into racism, and fans all over the globe began targeting Twigs’s biracial background, comparing her to a monkey regardless of what she did. She also spoke on how this constant racist barrage made her feel dysmorphic for close to a year, especially when she saw photos of herself.
Her seemingly effortless word choice and repetition gives the illusion of simplicity, while her groaning, cracking voice bears the weight of the world and all its problems. The contrast between the delicate piano playing and her vulnerable vocals shine through, and they allow us to relate to her heartbreak, even if not at the same level as that of A-list celebrities. Twigs’s word choice, while reveling in the phrase “short, but sweet,” is extremely impactful and never overstays its welcome. She leaves us yearning for more, while capturing her pain in as few, simple words as possible.
Although the use of metaphor doesn’t play a major role in “Cellophane,” the only verse in the song that isn’t repeated happens to be one:
“All wrapped in cellophane, the feelings that we had.”
The single time FKA Twigs mentions the song’s title is during this verse, which is very fitting since cellophane is a thin, transparent plastic wrap material used for food preservation. Her use of the past tense for “wrapped” and “had” are an indication that the relationship is over, and the feelings packaged and stored away. Twigs also sings about not wanting to share their love with the world, but regardless of how she feels, although protected by the cellophane, their relationship is still transparent for the world to probe into and pick at. In this way, she is exposed and vulnerable to the ridicule and racism that went hand in hand with loving her partner, eventually driving them apart.
FKA Twigs does an alarmingly good job of eliciting the feelings of pain and heartache that accompany love in “Cellophane.” Twigs is able to connect with her audience over her self-doubt, brought on by a cruel and meddling world as she uses rhetorical strategies that help her song resonate more deeply with her listeners. The song’s verses and its unconventional yet simple structure intertwine to create a beautifully heartbreaking and relatable song, leaving its listeners gasping for air, as FKA Twigs is while ending “Cellophane” with “I’m not enough.”
MiC Columnist Mariam Odeh can be contacted at email@example.com.