An Incantation Song: “Creep” (by various people)

Posted on February 15, 2013


kids at BUTS holga

A rainy Holga evening at Ballet Under the Stars, 2009 | foto@me

I’ve lost someone. I thought I hated her, detested her, didn’t want her in my life. So I drove her away – but now, after about 15 years I realise that I was wrong, and I want her back. And so this is my incantation, my wand-waving spell, my glittering multi-coloured charm, and also my apology.


 – The Pretenders cover “Creep”. Chrissie Hynde’s heartwrenching vocals bring tears to the eye.

I started looking for her a year or so ago, but my search only intensified after I moved back to Singapore. It makes me sad to write about this, because I once knew her pretty well, especially in Primary school. She was what I’d call a weird kid. She picked up rocks and sticks and kept them in her room and talked to them because she was convinced they held magic codes that would unleash some kind of awesome alterna-life on her. She covered scrap papers, textbooks and the columns in her Math supplement practice books with bizarre, angry doodles of de Kooning-like women. She left ransom notes, love letters, spy codes and violent threats around the house for herself to stumble upon. She put together the most hideously experimental outfits, which often involved items of clothing that a pair of scissors had been liberally applied to.


– Macy Gray’s vocals knock it out of the park. 

As for me, I was a pretty typical kid. I liked pop music, fashion, romance novels, gossip, junk food and all those shiny bright colourful new tweeny stuff.

We were closely associated, but I was seriously embarrassed by her. She was always stridently defending some really uncool point that nobody cared about, in the most stutteringly, sputteringly unhip way. At lunchtime, she would pick weird little insects from the bushes and play with them while everyone else engaged in heavy duty tween-flirting. On one school trip she sat alone on the bus, refusing to answer anyone who spoke to her, and stared at a tiny red flower that apparently had “wrong petals”. At netball training our coach once yelled out “Urgh, so fat!” when she jogged past with the rest of the girls and made her run two extra rounds. She thought it was funny. But I remember she cried when our teacher completely forgot to include her in any performance at the annual school concert, an event that everyone was expected to participate in. (Later on she wrote a long, dreadful poem about her feelings.)


 – Korn’s unplugged version. Has anyone realised how incredibly beautiful Jonathan Davis’ voice is? Not me, till today.  

We both went on to Secondary school, where she gradually disappeared from my life. I immersed myself in the wonderful joys of teendom and luxuriated in warm waves of self-centeredness, buffeted by generous heaps of peer pressure and mutual validation, punctuated with heady moments of self-created drama.

To be honest, I just forgot about her over the next few years. Little things I encountered here and there reminded me of her – a voice, an old book, a T-shirt, a song. Coming upon a particular brand of cheap, awful buns she used to buy in small confectioneries because she didn’t have MacDonald’s-worthy pocket money. I buried these reminders quickly; I was relieved to have disassociated myself.

But now I realise how wrong I was, and how much I need her in my life. She was always unapologetically herself; I was often an aggregate of the closest 5 people around me at any given time. She didn’t give much of a shit about what other people thought of her and in fact, probably didn’t realise she was supposed to give a shit; I am frequently paralysed by a need for approval. She never stopped doing stuff: drawing, reading, writing, “making” clothes, dancing, taking long walks; I pour my time down the sinkhole with frivolity. She tried to care about big issues in the world even at a young age; I was stuffing my bra with tissue. She was super ambitious. She was relentlessly creative. She had more original thoughts in one month at age 10 than I have had in the past decade.


 – The delightful Amanda Palmer and her quirky, haunting take on the Radiohead staple.

So wherever you are right now, may the collective magic of half a dozen musicians singing their hearts out to a 90s anthem find and pull you out from whichever middling crowd you’ve taken refuge in. This is what I want to tell you: that once I wanted a perfect body, but now I want a perfect soul. And you, for whom this song would have resonated particularly strongly – You are fucking special, and you make me wish I was special too.


 – We all need a bit of Moby, especially when he sings “Creep” because “every other band has done it”.


Bonus for all you Creepazoids: There are hundreds of “Creep” covers out there, and these are my favorites because each of them have a distinct flavour and feel. But for distinctiveness you can’t beat Homeless Mustard, who clearly feels so deeply every word he sings.