Whitney Ballen Tackles FKA twigs' "Cellophane" With Emotionally Wrecking Results (KEXP Premiere)

KEXP Premiere
Jasmine Albertson
photo by Brandon Harrell

Last year, FKA twigs returned after three years of musical silence with “Cellophane,” the stunning lead single from one of 2019’s best albums of the year, Magdalene. The song is a masterpiece hinged on twigs’ devastating vocal delivery of unrequited love and the insecurity that follows. Ranging from gasping bursts of breathy soprano to a soaring falsetto, the song takes guts and a whole lot of talent to even attempt to cover. Cue Whitney Ballen.

For those unfamiliar with the Issaquah musician, Ballen has been disarming listeners with highly vulnerable and emotionally dense lyrics expressed through her otherworldly vocals. Often compared to Joanna Newsom in its eerie, almost child-like tonality, Ballen’s voice is the haunting center of any song she makes. Carrying the weight of the world in a single note is her specialty, making Ballen a perfect candidate to tackle twigs.

Fairly straightforward in its arrangement, Ballen changes little about “Cellophane” for her version. “Didn’t I do it for you?” she desperately pleads in a whisper over the sparse piano line. A smattering of gentle guitar strums joins the piano, with other instruments slowly layering on but never taking the focus away from Ballen’s fragile vocals. Going from whispering to soaring to trembling, she pushes her distinctive voice to new heights of emotional wreckage. Ballen had this to say about the cover:

“When I first heard Cellophane by FKA Twigs, I was in awe at how such seemingly simple and straightforward lyrics could be yet so heavy and so emotional. I just knew immediately that if I were to ever record and release a cover of someone else’s song, this would be it — I felt connected to its vulnerability and to be real honest, I also thought — who else do I know that could reach those high notes (further challenging me to cover it and do my best to hit them. I sent a rough recording of it to Andy Park, who also produced my latest album, You're A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship, and we spent a Friday afternoon last month to track it. I wanted to release it on Valentine's Day because ~feelings~.”



Ballen’s latest record You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship was one of KEXP’s favorite local albums of 2018. She’s embarking on a short run of dates opening for Pinegrove this Saturday, February 15 in Salt Lake City. Check out her 2018 KEXP in-studio performance below and read Martin Douglas' 2018 Throwaway Style with Whitney Ballen here.



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