I often think of Florence’s music as folktales made flesh. Especially Lungs. That album runs through the most pivotal parts of my growing up, from when it was given to me on my twelfth birthday to its religious replays in the car, my first iPod, then iPhone - and every music library since. I love her funeral-pyre lyrics and shifting voice, the way her songs sound like they can reach the church beams or root themselves in a grave.
But when I saw her music videos, the real trouble started.
Looking back (with my hair still habitually dyed red after all these years - Rabbit Heart really did a number on me) - I really didn’t know that adoration and attraction was allowed to run deeper than aesthetics.
All I knew was that for some reason I liked this lady, and my brain put the pieces together as, “Ah! So you just really like her look!”
And so the cycle began. I cut in a fringe and bought the biggest block of red henna I could coerce my Mum into buying. My wardrobe filled with floaty dresses, birdcage iconography (in homage to the tattoo on her arm) and I awkwardly lined my eyes.
This was right, right?
After all, I was following all the steps. My friends often discussed their love of boyband members around our science table and I got to listen in. They talked at length about which ones they thought were hot, and imagined what sort of lives they would lead if they met them on the street or in a line for coffee - like what happens in fan-fiction - and we were assigned one each.
We each got a crush, because teenage girls should only fancy boys. You can build a life with a boy. You can imagine them dedicating songs to you and getting married and having them bring you breakfast in bed.
“You’d suit Niall, Lauren, because he’s the quietest. I think you guys would have a really emotional thing going on.”
Yeah, probably! I’d say, and we’d all talk about apartments and jobs and all that grown-up stuff. It was fun. It just felt half-empty.
I listened to Lungs a lot around that time. Then as I hit fourteen, Florence released Ceremonials, a dark cathedral of a record that stood starkly from its forest-flecked sister. It was silky-sultry and resolutely pointed. And it ended up being my first arena concert.
She’s something else on stage. Having seen her in the front row in Leeds during the High as Hope tour two years ago, so close as she cradled the head of the man next to me during “What Kind of Man” - I think she could be some kind of natural force made real.
Florence Welch seems to float and crash all at once, a shock of red hair and a flowing green dress. I still think she’s one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. But for years, I chalked up aesthetic appreciation (especially for girls thinking girls as beautiful) as surface-level solidarity.
But it dawned on me that I liked listening to her speak, too. Her voice when she talks is soft and confiding, and she is so painfully clever. I listened with baited breath at both concerts for those golden moments artists enter between songs to talk about inspiration, politics, or anecdotes. She’s a gifted lyricist and poet. I read her book, Useless Magic, so frequently.
There's a video online from when she allowed a camera person into her home, a gorgeous airy London townhouse filled with framed artwork and green plants. Her bathroom is blue and covered in crosses. The leather pair of Lungs from her first album hangs from the wall. She meditates in a flat but leafy patch of garden, wearing a coral satin robe and sheepishly admits that she knows that she’s lucky to have a garden in the city.
I thought about how nice it would be to bring a cup or tea out to her in an alternate version of events, and we’d sit and talk the day away.
I longed for a love like that.
It was the first time I’d allowed myself to properly extend my ‘crush’ on someone who wasn’t a man, beyond the usual fixation on the way a woman dyed her hair or wore a particular dress. It went deeper than clothes. I had to digest that seemingly simple idea for a long time.
It came full-circle soon after, realising I’d thought similarly about other women: as friends, as more.
I have nursed a crush on Florence Welch for years and she was the catalyst for everything that has come after.
It has taken time to open certain parts of my brain and clear out things shoved under metaphorical beds and in closets - the time it has taken for Florence to release two more albums, in fact. A good ten years in the making.
I've been in love, I've been lonely and I've been lonely in love, too. But it's only fair to be honest with myself. Now, I freely imagine life shared with different people. Men and women, famous and not.
In the words of Florence Leontine Mary Welch, "you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given."
Why? Because all of it is love. And you're allowed to share it with the people that make you feel flame-haired, dizzy and beautiful.
Even when I'm nervous writing it down, I know that to be true.