Many a songwriter’s been spurred to write about Valentine’s Day, whether in the throes of infatuation, heartbreak or vengeance. It’s inspired artists from
Paul McCartney to Lloyd just about everyone who did “My Funny Valentine.”
Lately, though, it’s inspired two artists with upcoming albums poised to be big and possibly quite good. First: British singer-songwriter Charli XCX, whose “Valentine” made it online for free and who (to self-insert; I’ve seen her live) will probably release a fairly massive dance-pop album. Now, second: Fiona Apple, who needs no introduction and who’s debuting several new songs at SXSW in advance of her long-due fourth album. Both tracks are called “Valentine.” Do you really need more grounds to compare? Probably, yes, but that’s not stopping us. The following criteria aren’t necessarily our Valentine’s criteria for life, but they’re ours for music:
Charli: “Valentine,” dropped on Valentine’s Day. Boom. Right in the news cycle.
Fiona: March 19 is not Valentine’s Day. It is, however, SXSW during a spree of sold-out, locked-out performances nobody is going to see, which is almost as good.
Victor: Charli, by default, although to be fair, if Fiona wanted to be timely she’d be stuck with a St. Patrick’s Day love song, which would be an entirely different thing.
Charli: Synths carefully stitched together like a secret crochet project and If “Valentine” were an actual valentine, it’d be a carefully handcrafted one that the best crafter in the class made from leftover materials: rickety but heartfelt, charming if he’s into it and utterly confusing if he’s not.
Fiona: Drowsy (think “Red Red Red” if half came from the Jon Brion version and half from the Mike Elizondo version) and intricate, every lyric crafted over and every string and piano arranged with care. This is an antique letter, yellowed and lace-trimmed.
Victor: Fiona, although this is entirely personal preference.
Charli: A shudder of words, almost stream of consciousness and definitely too fast to follow, for the listener or for the guy she’s apparently addressing. This works really well.
Fiona: Pretty simple: “I root for you, I love you, you-you-you-you,” and not much else.
Victor: Charli. Fiona almost definitely wasn’t trying for a super-underwritten chorus like “We Found Love” or “Make Me Proud,” but it sort of comes off that way anyway.
Charli: “I’m starting to worry that I’m sounding like The Fray.”
Fiona: That chorus again: “I root for you, I love you, you-you-you-you.”
Victor: Charli again. I’m a sucker for disses on The Fray.
SINGLES AWARENESS LYRIC:
Charli: After sorta-trying a move: “When you opened your eyes, it was like you didn’t wanna see my face in your personal space.”
Fiona: “I’ve made my peace, I’m dead, I’m done / I watch you live to have my fun.” That this comes during the comparatively upbeat portion makes it even worse.
Victor: Fiona, although this really isn’t a fair contest. “Stay Away” might have a better chance, but really, Fiona’s owned this space since the ’90s.
POTENTIAL TO LAST:
Charli: Well, it wasn’t on her setlist, and it really does seem like a seasonal tie-in that just happens to be unusually good,
Fiona: This could be her next single. I have no idea whether it will be, but it could. (It’s got roughly the same structure as “Fast As You Can,” if that’s a point in its favor).
Victor: Fiona, on these and on intangibles. After more than ten years, you develop a certain gravitas, you know?
OVERALL VICTOR: A tie. Fair; if you’re comparing people’s valentines, or comparing a great upcoming artist to a great veteran artist, you are doing it wrong. There’s room for more than one “Valentine” in this world; it only gives you more mixtape options. (Just, uh, don’t put them both on the same tape. That’d be a relationship too complicated to understand.)