This is the first single from British singer-songwriter Beth Orton's fifth album, Sugaring Season. The record was recorded in Portland, Oregon and helmed by long-term Laura Veirs producer Tucker Martine. Speaking about the album, Orton said: "I stretched myself as a singer on this record and used voices I never have before as a writer."
"A lot of the writing on this record happened in the dead of night," she added, "when spiders mend their webs, with an infant asleep in the next room... as a result, my writing became a secret again: illicit and my own."
The inspiration for this song came from Orton observing the birds that gathered outside her window, in particular two blue jays that followed her about. "These birds hold wisdom for me. They are also oblivious to the fear they raise in others," Orton told Rolling Stone. "All the time people are inventing stories to justify actions that often have no bearing on reality. I have experienced being silenced and this song came out of that. It was my way of keeping my voice and a sense of freedom alive."
Sigur Ros collaborators Arni & Kinski directed the song's music video. The clip takes its influence from Derek Jarman's short film In The Shadow Of The Sun. "Inspired by Beth's song and feeling this film needed to be pushed into an unexpected, new, mysterious and exhilarating place, we took a trip to the high altitude desert of the great Colorado sand dunes," the pair explained about the video shoot. "A trip of trust, a trip into the unknown, heat strokes, hallucinations and magic."
Orton told The Sun that the main thread of inspiration for Sugaring Season is "the theme of nature." She continued: "I use images and ideas from nature in 'Magpie' to talk about stories and superstitions. The core of the song is about taking a position and standing firm."
Blue Jays are relatively rare in urban environments, preferring woodland habitats. "But wherever I've lived," railed Orton to The Daily Telegraph, "in east London, west London, the bloody centre of King's Cross, a pair of blue jays set up shop in my garden. It's bizarre the way they follow me around!"
The song finds Orton quietly addressing the birds, before rising into a fierce challenge against their power over her: "Blue Jay, Blue Jay, I don't think you mean quite what you say," she sings. "I don't think you're the friend you claim to be."