Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek

The perfect song to weep and wallow to. It’s been my earworm of the last few days after it popped up on the BBC’s new adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The song first aired to a similarly angsty scene in The O.C. in 2005, and then of course there was Shia LaBeouf’s SNL skit

For a mega hit, it defies all predictability. If anything, it’s closer to a 16th-century a cappella madrigal than a Dido chart-topper. There’s no backing, no drum beat, no hook, no real verse-chorus structure. It’s just Heap’s own voice, tuned and manipulated by a vocoder, a device invented in 1938 as a communication device, and used by groups like Kraftwerk in the 1970s, finding an artistic use for an antiquated piece of kit. So as a piece of technology in the 2000s, when Heap wrote this song, it was positively pre-historic.

But that’s what gives the song such a distinctive, haunting sound. This veneer of synthetic, alien sound masks the fragility of the naked voice, somehow making it even more affecting. Everyone can relate to that stage of losing someone when you put on an artificially brave face, but feel on the verge of crumbling.

She told the Guardian in an interview soon after, “One night the computer died on me and I wanted to leave the studio having done something positive. I just played the first thing that came out of my head, and four and a half minutes later everything was there.” Perhaps it would be nice to think there’s more toil behind this song. But at the same time it captures Heap so well, as the multi-skilled performer and producer.  Everything in this song is her.

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