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REVIEW: Entitled Fans React to Big Thief's "Vampire Empire"

By Jaden Bowman-- Eagle Staff Writer

Big Thief's cover photo for their controversial song, "Vampire Empire," which was recently released in July 2023. (left to right: Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, Adrianne Lenker, James Krivchenia) (Photo used under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

It’s been over a month since the Indie-Folk band, Big Thief, released their fan-favorite song, "Vampire Empire", on July 19, 2023. The song was originally sung by lead vocalist, Adrianne Lenker in South Asia in 2022, where it first gained recognition.

Once uploaded, the live version of the song gained popularity on the social media platform TikTok, which in turn created a unique fanbase.

Listeners were drawn to certain aspects of the live version like the lyrics, “In her vampire empire, I’m the fish and she’s my gills,” and “I walked into your dagger for the last time in a row.” The airy flute solo was also heavily admired by listeners alike.

When Big Thief released the studio version of Vampire Empire, listeners noticed changes, probably because they were expecting something similar to the live version.

Big Thief teased the release of the song on TikTok multiple times before July 19th, using the live version's audio. There were two noticeable changes from the live version.

First, the flute was removed from the song entirely. No other instruments were substituted for the flute nor is there any solo anymore. It is simply gone.

Second, the lyrics had been changed. It is now “I walked into your dagger for the last time” instead of “I walked into your dagger for the last time in a row.” Personally, the use of “in a row” had such a lasting effect on me, that with it missing, the line seems incomplete. Not to mention the uncomfortable pause after “the last time” since there are no words there anymore.

In addition, one of the most loved lines,”In her vampire empire, I’m the fish and she’s my gills” has been deleted from the song. This was actually a good choice. The song now flows into the repetition of “falling” which is a hundred times better. Now, the song sounds like this: “In her vampire empire, I am… falling.”

In addition, the tone of the song changed. The live version seemed to have a melancholy but relaxed tone; however, the studio version has an attitude of complete anger. There was even more screaming of the lyrics whereas before there was only a brief part. Even the absence of the flute was enough to change the mood. The song feels edgier, more emotional, and fired up.

Both versions of the songs have excellent qualities, but as to be expected, not all fans felt the same.

One user on TikTok said, “Artists need to start understanding that their music isn’t for them. We pay for presale, we pay for tickets, we pay for your merch. You write for us to make money. Get off your high horse changing lyrics on a demo. We hate it. Change it back.”

This post sparked thousands of comments, the majority disagreeing with the post. Ada, @apple.scruff responded, “Artists create art for themselves. They don't create it for others, they invite others to witness the art but in the end, the art is for the artist.”

Perhaps the band intentionally changed aspects of the song to evoke a reaction. To explain, the song is about loss, heartbreak, and a relationship that goes sour. The unexpected changes in the song could be a message from the creators themselves saying that change isn’t always welcome.

The fact that fans think they are entitled to have a song released a particular way shows the overall disrespect listeners have for their music creators. Big Thief announced that “recordings are records of us playing live, so you can look at it like this: the live version you may prefer exists and now another version exists.”

With all that being said, it’s understandable that some people are upset. The song was played over 50 times on their live tour. Big Thief played it on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", which has been the most-viewed performance of it by far. Why they advertised it one way and then released another is unclear.

Still, there was no reason for such insolence from fans online. Big Thief played other well-loved songs on their tours that aren’t available digitally right now, similar to how "Vampire Empire" was handled. The likelihood of Big Thief releasing those songs anytime soon is close to none because of the unruly behavior of their followers.

To conclude, Big Thief's listeners shouldn't have demanded they change the studio version back to how it was played on a live set. Adrianne Lenker explains it best--a line from the last verse in "Vampire Empire" that says, "You spin me all around, and then you ask me not to spin."

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