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How Charli XCX’s “Apple” reflects racial intergenerational trauma

This article contains references to extreme violence against women and sexual assault. Please read with caution.

Image Credits – @megmcart

Arguably the most melodic track on ‘Brat,’ Charli XCX sings about her relationship with her parents, using apples as an analogy for passed-down traits. The entire album is fantastic, touching upon common themes that women deal with in the 21st century. In the ‘Girl, So Confusing’ remix with Lorde, female friendship dynamics are thrust into the spotlight, and ‘I Think About It All The Time’ delves into the complexities of deciding if/when to have children. Throughout the album, Charli XCX sings about the female experience and the complexities of our identities — jealousy, feminism, regret, grief, love, and friendships are all covered. Apple is no exception to this. In a podcast with Las Culturistas, Charli XCX confirmed that the song is about her relationship with her parents. Knowing the singer is mixed race adds another level of nuance to this song—the intergenerational trauma that is often passed down in POC households.

Intergenerational trauma is rooted in the transmission, or ‘passing down’, of emotional and psychological wounds from parents and generations before them. It is known that trauma experienced in one generation can affect future generations, such as famine, war, and genocide. For many South Asians, trauma stems from the Partition of 1947, multiple famines across the region, poverty, a lack of education, and financial distress. It can also start with how our grandparents parented our parents, and so on—a never-ending trickle-down trauma system. Knowing Charli is half-Indian, Apple takes on an entire new layer that reflects this intergenerational trauma, which many listeners can relate to. 

Feels like you never understand me, so I just want to drive

Apple – Charli XCX

Charli XCX finishes the first verse with, “Feels like you never understand me, so I just want to drive,” which may be one of her album’s most relatable lyrics. This is a lyric that anyone can relate to, regardless of their heritage. It is a common issue within ethnic households that parents do not understand their children due to cultural differences. The stigmatisation of mental health in South Asian communities is horrendous; it is a view that is doing more damage than good and leading to higher suicide rates. The BBC reported in 2018 that rates of attempted suicide among South Asian women are two-and-a-half times higher than those among white women, and this is largely due to cultural differences and the stigmatisation of mental health in the community. We cannot talk to our parents because they were taught that being quiet and not discussing the events that caused trauma or discussing their lives is the best way to be. Older generations believe trauma is best packed away and not spoken about; that is the way things have always been and how they should continue. However, to help heal the damage done by past traumas, the best way is to speak up and unpack so we do not continue passing it down. 

The singers’ Gujarati-Ugandan background would cause intergenerational trauma. At its peak, the Indian-Uganda community was approximately 80,000 to 100,000 people in the 1960s. In 1972, Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, called for the immediate expulsion of the Indian population in Uganda. Many travelled to Commonwealth countries such as Canada and the UK, while others fled to India, Pakistan and African countries such as Kenya. Property was redistributed, and there were reports of rape, theft, and physical violence against the Indian population. There are so many stories about poverty, internalised trauma, and fear surrounding safety that come from this forced expulsion. The racism towards Indians in Africa, plus then the racism towards Indians in the UK, on top of the trauma of partition and the Ugandan-Indian expulsion, would leave deep-rooted trauma throughout generations. A big talking point within mixed-race communities is where home is. As Charli XCX sings, “Where do you go when you are feeling alone?” I see it connecting to the constant pursuit of finding where home is and if a safe place in the world for displaced generations exists. 

When my Grandma was a child, she was in the midst of the Partition of India and Pakistan, the largest human migration in history and the bloodiest. In Nisid Hajaris “Midnights Furies”, he claims that some British soldiers and journalists who witnessed Nazi death camps said that the Partition brutalities were worse. Pregnant women had their babies forcibly removed from their bellies, some women had their breasts cut off, and infants were murdered in front of their siblings, Hajari wrote. In an article by the Washington Post, a survivor claimed that even the fruit from the trees tasted like blood because so much blood had soaked into the soil. My Grandma survived all of this alone. She made her way to Pakistan with nothing, surviving the ‘blood trains’ and the violent mobs, and I have never heard my family talk about this. I couldn’t even tell you her exact age when it happened, where she travelled from in India, or if she managed to bring anything with her. I have asked and am always told, “We know nothing” or “we don’t talk about this”. On the other hand, my Grandad was notoriously strict and definitely had questionable parenting styles, which are deemed normal in ethnic households. However, the trauma my grandparents endured and the way they were parented definitely contributed to intergenerational trauma and affected how my parents navigated life. Yet, no one talks about this. 

I look at the apples in my tree and think, “Fuck. Charli XCX is right; the apples are rotten to the core from all the things passed down from before”. She is also right that we just want to drive and run away from these issues instead of facing them head-on. The traumas of our ancestors have now impacted how we even deal with the concept of forgiveness and how we deal with criticism, arguments, or issues in relationships. There is no escaping this either — it is in our DNA, it is epigenetic, and it is in the seeds which we will use to grow the next generation. Whether we like it or not, trauma will change the way our brains function, and sometimes the effects can go unnoticed. It could cause us to have unhealthy male relationships if our ancestors were badly affected by patriarchal values, it could cause us to ignore our own needs for the needs of others, and it could also cause some of us to live in a constant state of anxiety, which then has its own health issues. 

When I think about my grandparents, I realise that my parents faced the direct consequences of their generational trauma in many forms — emotional/domestic violence, money issues, and patriarchy. However, hardship is often seen as a part of life. There is no story to it; it is just what it is. Unfortunately, this denial pushes the problem onto us. Even if we want to throw the apple into the sky, we can’t; it will always come crashing back down to us, and the seeds will spread further. What we find in our apples, as we split them ‘down symmetrical lines’, is scary, as Charli XCX sings. It is scary, worrying, depressing, and overwhelming — for anyone who is delving into themselves. And, as Charli XCX continues, it does make you want to drive, run away, and find a place to go. 

I wanna know where you go when you’re feeling alone.

Apple – Charli XCX

The outro to the track repeats, “I wanna know where you go when you’re feeling alone,” which could be interpreted as a direct ask to her parents. Where do they go when they feel the way she does? Do they just want to drive and go to the airport, too? It brings us back to the complexity of generational issues; we just never know exactly what the apples before us contain. However, we can explore our own history, come to our own conclusions, and help future generations break the cycle. The first step is acknowledging it, and the second is finding ways to deal with it. 

All in all, Apple is a fantastic song. The more I listen to it, the more I think it becomes my favourite song on ‘Brat’. It explores a complex theme disguised in a catchy beat. Furthermore, it makes me happy that Charli XCX produces music because I know that in South Asian households, creativity is often subdued, and we are taught to follow more traditional career paths. The way her music brings so many people together while exploring complex themes is great, and the album has definitely solidified its spot as album of the summer, perhaps even album of the year?


Hopefully, Apple prompts more listeners to explore their own ‘apples’ and look into how past generations have affected them to the core, because that is how we can start healing intergenerational trauma wounds.

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