The pouty bee-stung lips. The taut, pierced belly exposed by a flouncy shirt. The cascading honey-brown hair. And those eyes. Is this the next waif supermodel?
No. Turn up the volume on MTV loud enough to hear Fiona Apple sing. She may look like a cross between Christy Turlington and Kate Moss, but Ms. Apple, a 19-year-old singer and pianist, has a voice -- and a message -- that make her looks irrelevant.
"Tidal," her debut album, was released last summer during her first tour, which consisted of a few concert dates in Europe. But it made her a star. The songs on it -- stark, confessional and rife with emotional torment -- are arranged simply, with piano and percussion framing her voice.
In less than five months, she has gone from being a complete unknown who had never performed in public to a fixture on MTV. Two years ago a friend passed along a tape containing three of Ms. Apple's songs to Kathryn Schenker, a New York publicist. Ms. Schenker gave the tape to Andy Slater, a Los Angeles producer and manager whose clients have included Don Henley and Lenny Kravitz.
Mr. Slater liked what he heard, and soon Ms. Apple had a contract with the Work Group, a new label under Sony Music.
When Mr. Slater finally met Ms. Apple, he thought someone was playing a joke on him. "I was not entirely convinced that this person sitting in front of me -- who was clearly 17 -- had written those words," he said. "At first I thought it was a Milli Vanilli thing."
Ms. Apple's first gig was in August in Paris, before an audience of 800; by November she had appeared as a featured musical guest on "Saturday Night Live." Last month "Tidal" was certified gold (with more than 500,000 copies sold).
It's not just the jaded outlook Ms. Apple brings to her subjects that makes her stand out; it's also the rawness and honesty with which she reveals herself. A line in the song "Sullen Girl" includes a reference to having been raped at age 11. "Is that why they call me a sullen girl?" she sings. "They don't know I used to sail the deep and tranquil sea/ But he washed me ashore and he took my pearl/ And left an empty shell of me."
"I don't want to be like the rape poster girl," Ms. Apple said from Los Angeles before a recent concert. "It's part of who I am, and it was a personal principle of mine to say something about it because it shouldn't be like something I should have to keep secret from the world."
Ms. Apple, who uses her first and middle names, grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Her father, Brandon Maggart, is an actor; her mother, Diana McAfee, is a former dancer and singer. Her parents never married, and they split up when she was 4 and her sister, Amber, was 6. She was so depressed as a child that her mother sent her to a psychiatrist. She attended a high school for students with learning disabilities in New York. Her studies were interrupted when she moved to Los Angeles to record her album.
Ms. Apple's interest in songwriting grew out of a fascination with writing in general; she kept a journal and wrote poetry and essays largely to give her an emotional outlet. It was a desire to express herself, not the allure of the rock-and-roll life style, that led her to a career in music. "I didn't think of it as a fun thing to do," she said. "I thought it was the only thing I could do."
For Ms. Apple, success has been double-edged. "When I was raped," she said, "I told myself I'm never going to ask, 'Oh, why me, God?' because all I could think was, 'I'm alive, thank God.' But when I found out I was going to tour the world, I went home and asked, 'Why me?' Because I didn't want to go on the road. But I can't stop writing, and I can't not make another new album, because I've already written new stuff and I have to let it out."