Song Analysis

Ophelia

Sunday 2 October 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

Coming Soon! In the meantime, read Tori’s quotes about the song.

Q: Are there any songs on this album that were written that way (all at once?

"Well, I was in Ireland, and I had gone to this museum with my friend Vincent, who was one of the art directors on the album cover of Boys for Pele. Within a few days all these pictures of the preraphaelites we had seen went through my head again, and I just found myself at the piano, and my daughter Tash came in to see me, and said ‘mommy, what’s that?’. I said ‘I don’t know, but it’s taking over’. By the time I left, the song « Ophelia » was intact. That’s just one of those things. You get led to places, people and experiences, and then somehow you’re triggered and able to combine them into a song." (Gay & Night, June 23, 2009)

"I’m trying to be very clear about what I define as powerful, and what I’m attracted to. Even though we’re in the 21st Century, there are a lot of women who choose to be in violent relationships, or just in a relationship where you’re not respected or treated well. The song, ’Ophelia’, is exploring when a woman doesn’t feel powerful within herself. Songs such as, ’Strong Black Vine’ and ’Police Me,’ are about where she feels really powerful; enough to take on a government, much less a guy. And ’Curtain Call,’ is really exploring how you value what you do, opposed to, maybe, how the outside world values what you do. And we go back to the idea of valuing yourself, the idea of valuing your choice of sexuality and spirituality in a relationship. The question that I think it raises is, ‘When are you in control, and still in a mutually powerful place?’, or ‘When are you being subjugated?’’(Blackbook Mag, May 15, 2009)

CAD: And so that’s being drawn to the Dark Side as it were? That it’s maybe not a choice, but perhaps it’s something genetically inbuilt, or predisposed?

"Well, I don’t know. I think we’re all drawn to [it]. There’s so many answers in the dark, but it doesn’t have to be malevolent; it can be a place where Shadow exists [the Jungian Shadow, presumably], and you find… you bring your candle, and you bring your flashlight with you, and you try to find consciousness in the unconscious. I kinda see the darkness as the unconscious; a metaphor. It doesn’t have to be about… again, violent behaviour towards another creature – it doesn’t have to be about harm – and I’ve always sort of seen a different definition of Lucifer, the Light-bringer, as… it’s a tough job to hold, but a consciousness that holds all of that – of Humanity – that we don’t collect into ourselves, the sides of ourselves that we don’t claim; the things we do, how we manipulate, that we kind of lie to ourselves.

Because, you know, nobody wants to really think – most people anyway that are sort of walking my line, that I am going to intentionally belittle somebody but it’s sometimes from friends... it’s sometimes the people we pull into our circle, [when] they don’t say ’God, you did a great job today’, or ’Congratulations or I support you or those things’. [Instead] they leave you with very little, so you start to crave… and you’re attracted to their acceptance, approval, support… that they Just-Never-Give-You, and the way they keep you there is by withholding it. And so in ‘Ophelia’ [a track from the new album] which is the classic song, it’s like, ’Why would you want people like that in your life’?" (Drowned in Sound, May 20, 2009)

To change subjects slightly — okay radically — is it true that Ophelia, on the new record, is inspired by young women with a history of self-harm approaching you after concerts?

"Yes. A lot of those women have been coming to the shows on and off for years. I think it’s so complicated, because they are trying to find some control and if they can control their own pain then sometimes that is the only control they feel they have in their lives. I think the song is really looking into the fact that there have to be other ways instead of harming yourself to find that control." (Independent, May 15, 2009)

"Ophelia’ is a story where younger girls choose self destruction over creation, whether it’s scarring or being in abusive relationships. And in the song, it talks about breaking a chain, a pattern." (VenusZine, May 26,2009)

"Well, as a woman it’s hugely important to know what you’re attracted to and just to be honest with yourself about it. Because the song “Ophelia” is about a woman who is drawn to situations—I would say not just men but situations—where somebody needs to have control over her in some way, and she hasn’t been able to break the chain of these people. They seem to come in different forms in her life. So until you yourself begin to know, "Why am I attracted to people who are like this?", then you can’t break free. Sometimes you’re not willing to look at this characteristic in them; you’re not willing to see it for some reason. And that’s the story of ’Ophelia.’"(Amazon.com, mai 2009)

"Ophelia is a group of young women that are tangible, that actually exist. I do think that there are moments when you think that you’re out of that stage. But you can fall back into that self-destructive place. It’s almost a chain of being drawn to rejection. Have you ever wondered why some women, some people, are drawn to that regressive, invalidating sort of a relationship? There’s a lot of it and maybe Ophelia, along with the idea of breaking this chain, where for people to feel powerful, they have to have power over somebody else. Sometimes that isn’t a lover, sometimes it’s a boss, or you may have a parent like that or some other family member. You just have to find ways, once you’re not under their roof anymore, to decide, ‘Am I drawn to this for some reason, is there a pattern in your life where you’re drawn to people which you had never realized?’ It’s this chain or pattern that you have to break.

(…) I think in ’Ophelia,’ she’s not even aware of that because the traits are never exactly the same. Sometimes it’s pretty well disguised at first, because it’s not necessarily overt. It’s more covert, that idea of power. Something really simple, like the withholding of compliments, that her work doesn’t get encouraged, nothing she does gets supported. There’s that little seed of doubt that gets put in the ‘coffee’ everyday. Just a little, a li-little bit so that you don’t even notice. Sometimes I think that we take examples, as songwriters, we always take the most obvious examples instead of the examples that a lot of people experience. It’s never these harrowing stories and tales. It’s the details in life that as an observer, as a songwriter, you watch. You watch people in a coffee shop or at dinner you watch how they relate to each other. Usually it’s the subtlest thing. » (American Songwriter, May 8, 2009)

"Well, this self-harming mind tries to gain control that they feel has been taken from them. And to try and feel powerful, it’s this very strange paradox where by doing the wounding on yourself, you’re in the power position. Althought the idea that you’ve become your own abusor, it’s not necessarily being crass and so you can step into that a few various states of mind, however old you are, where you start that downward spiral and you’re not on the frontfoot anymore or in life, you’re on the backfoot. And there’s a victimization energy around you. This is where the hocus is: it’s that it can be very seductive. we’re talking about how you’re drawn to people who withhold any kind of praise, support... You do something, it never gets acknowledged, nothing you do is quite enough. They plant these little seeds of doubt so that the person becomes splintered. And they get harmed so much emotionally or even physically, that they’re trying to find a way to be in that power position of the harming. And it gets... there’s a strange addiction that can begin to happen and it’s the cycle, like any addiction." (Pure.de video interview)