In an interview with Vulture’s Rachel Handler, Fiona Apple explained that “Cosmonauts”—a standout from her long-awaited fifth album Fetch the Bolt Cutters—was originally intended for Judd Apatow’s 2012 film This Is 40. Apatow asked her to write a song about two lovebirds who would be together forever. “That’s not really a song I’m equipped to write because I don’t know if I want to be together with anybody forever,” she said. “I guess that’s why I interpreted it as like, ‘It’s going to be you and me in this little vessel by ourselves in space, except it’s going to weigh a lot more, and you’re going to really get on my nerves.’” With its unforgettably vivid opening line—“Your face ignites a fuse to my patience”—“Cosmonauts” is a masterclass in the ups-and-downs of romance, how passion can swell into a forest fire and just as quickly dissolve into a heap of smoldering embers. Atop an eerily filtered slide guitar and percussion that hobbles and clatters, Apple outlines the ways she has been irrevocably changed by love. “When you resist me, hon, I/Cease to exist, because I/Only like the way I look, when/Looking through your eyes,” she belts before equating a lover’s return to the sun brightening a dark sky. It’s a line that quietly holds everyone involved accountable for their actions.
The refrain that grounds her, ironically, is one that envisions the greatest of heights. “You and I will be like a couple of cosmonauts/Except with way more gravity than when we started off,” she murmurs, her intonation rising innocently at the end of each line. As the song charges towards its conclusion, Apple uses this chorus as a launchpad for a scorched-earth outpouring of emotion. Her repetition of the final refrain—“started off!”—builds to a throat-shredding scream before sinking to a hushed whisper and a contemplative hum. What’s left is the impression that she has pushed every fiber of her being through a juicer, gathered the shredded pulp into her hands, and offered it to the world. And that is a real gesture of love.