"Shadowboxer" was Apple's first single. Released ahead of her debut album, Tidal
, it's a good representation of her sound, with a piano-and-strings arrangement framing her jazz-inflected vocal. Listeners were shocked to learn that Apple was just 18 years old - her lyrics and musical sensibilities indicated she had many more miles on her.
Her label, Work (a division of Sony), knew she was a rare talent and pushed the song, but it was a tough sell: "Shadowboxer" runs 5:24 and doesn't have the big hooks that appeal to fans of pop music. Also, the video (directed by Jim Gable), was bare-bones black-and-white, more suited to VH1 than MTV. The song got some airplay on Adult Contemporary radio, but Apple's true appeal was to a younger audience that could absorb her pain. Most listeners found Apple through her song "Criminal
," which came with a controversial video that earned her lots of airplay on MTV.