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Music / Enya

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Let me sail, let me sail, let the Orinoco flow
Let me reach, let me beach, on the shores of Tripoli
Let me sail, let me sail, let me crash upon your shore
Let me reach, let me beach, far beyond the Yellow Sea.
— "Orinoco Flow"

Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin (anglicized as Enya Patricia Brennan; born 17 May 1961), mononymously known as Enya, is an Irish songstress and composer known for her work in modern Celtic music. Enya also refers to the musical partnership of three individuals: Eithne, Nicholas "Nicky" Ryan, and his wife Roma Ryan. The couple are Enya's producer and lyricist, respectively.

The ethereal, soothing music Enya creates contains elements of classical, folk, pop, and world music, but it has most frequently been categorized as new age. Enya has disagreed with this label, having described it as "thin air" and "without a spine" unlike the music she creates, and later as a term for record companies to pigeonhole artists whom they couldn't categorise. She simply calls the style of music she makes "Enya" music.

Enya started her career in the early 1980s with small projects here and there for commercials and movies, usually providing vocals or keyboards. She initially had a short stint from 1980-82 alongside her siblings in CLANNAD, but soon left, seeking more musical independence in a solo career. In 1984, she released a soundtrack album for an obscure film called The Frog Prince that got her some recognition with the BBC, who hired her to do the soundtrack to a 1986 documentary series titled The Celts. She was featured throughout the series, performing the opening theme on screen during the opening credits and also appearing in two music videos created for the series. Highlights from the soundtrack were released in 1987 by BBC Records as her debut album, Enya, which made the UK charts.

In 1988, she was propelled to worldwide fame with the unexpected success of her album Watermark, which contained the international top-ten hit "Orinoco Flow"note  and is now considered a landmark of new age music (Enya's hang-ups on genre association notwithstanding). Enya's music continued its popularity into the mid-1990s, with much critical and commercial success.

At the Turn of the Millennium, Enya released her fifth album, A Day Without Rain, and the following year released the songs "Aníron" and "May It Be" for ''The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'. Her song "Only Time" also grew prominent after becoming closely identified with the 9/11 attacks, since US media repeatedly used the song as background music during coverage of the aftermath. Enya was reportedly uncomfortable with this, but agreed to re-release the single with proceeds supporting 9/11 families. Since then, the song has featured in media from memes to commercials to big films, and has remained successful since its release.

Enya's latest album was released in 2015 (she is a self-admitted slow worker, and as such it is not uncommon for several years to elapse between albums). Although there is yet to be an official announcement of a new album, there have been several hints and updates given over the years. In November 2021, a YouTube "watch party" held for the 30th anniversary of Enya's third album Shepherd Moons contained notes from the trio, and the introductory written message from Nicky Ryan announced that he and Enya used downtime from the COVID-19 Pandemic to renovate their studio, and that they would start work on new music after the renovation was finished. In June 2023, a reissue of Enya's 1997 compilation A Box of Dreams came with new liner notes in which Nicky again confirmed that they were working on a new album, and Enya wrote "Beidh muid ag teacht le chéile gan mhoile", which roughly translates from Irish to "We will meet again soon".

Enya has won four Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album, and is also the second-best selling Irish artist behind U2. She also has a sort-of friendship with the hip-hop and R&B scene, as her music has been sampled over 150 times primarily by artists in those genres. Her 1987 song "Boadicea" has particularly made the rounds; among other songs, it was notably sampled in The Fugees' "Ready or Not", which was itself sampled in Mario Winans and P Diddy's "I Don't Wanna Know", which was itself sampled in Metro Boomin, The Weeknd and 21 Savage's "Creepin'". Enya originally wanted to sue the Fugees for their sampling since it was unauthorized, but she changed her mind when she found out they weren't a Gangsta Rap group, and both parties settled out of court. She also almost vetoed the release of "Creepin'" under its original name ("IDWK"), and chose its current name from a list of options Metro sent her.


Studio albums so far:

  • Enya (1987)
  • Watermark (1988)
  • Shepherd Moons (1991)
  • The Celts (re-release of Enya, 1992)
  • The Memory of Trees (1995)
  • A Day Without Rain (2000)
  • Amarantine (2005)
  • And Winter Came... (2008)
  • Dark Sky Island (2015)

Compilation albums:

  • Paint the Sky with Stars: The Best of Enya (1997)
  • A Box of Dreams (1997) note 
  • Only Time - The Collection (2002) note 
  • The Very Best of Enya (2009, notable for including a DVD of her music videos)

Enya provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: At the end of the music video for "The Celts", Enya is apparently made their queen.
  • Balloonacy: During the music video for "Only If".
  • Beautiful Dreamer: "Dreams Are More Precious", already having a lullaby's softness and tune and a dream-like quality (appropriately enough), strongly implies this in one verse.
    Come, sleep, close your eyes
    Come, sleep, give me your sorrow
    And I'll keep watch for you
    Until the dawn is breaking through
    Until the morning wakens you.
  • Book Ends: Initially, during the production gap between The Memory of Trees and A Day Without Rain, Enya's work was bookended by the songs "Orinoco Flow" and "On My Way Home"—both songs contain the same lyrics ("Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up, up, adieu"), as a bridge in the first song and after the chorus in the second. Once A Day Without Rain came out, it became a Call-Back; in both cases it showed how far she had come in her music.
  • Cherubic Choir: In the English version of "Storms in Africa", complete with children in the music video.
  • Concept Album: And Winter Came... is a concept album about, well... winter.
  • Conlang:
    • Loxian.
    • "May it Be" includes two lines in Tolkien's Quenya language, "Mornie utúlië" and "Mornie alantië" ("darkness has come" and "darkness has fallen" respectively).
    • The lyrics of "Aníron" ("I desire") are written entirely in Sindarin, Tolkien's other main Elvish language.
  • Continuity Nod: During the music video for "Anywhere Is", one of the pictures on the wall is the cover for Memory of Trees—the album from which the song comes.
  • Cute Kitten: The music video for "Storms in Africa" includes shots of playing lion cubs.
  • Death's Hourglass: Downplayed in the music video for "Only Time"—the imagery is used, but it is less a fatalistic or threatening Motif and more bittersweet, a sign of how inevitably everything and everyone passes on and fades away.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The music video for "Evening Falls", to underscore the melancholy of the singer yearning for something she has not experienced, yet the memories of which remain inexplicably familiar.
  • Double Speak: Many of her songs often include poetic euphemisms for death. "So I Could Find My Way" has "on another shore", , "Smaointe" has "in a deep peace", "I May Not Awaken" has a Title Drop, as does "Someone Said Goodbye". On several occasions she uses "time keeps us apart" to indicate that someone has died.
    • Of course, there are some more conventional ones as well. "No longer here" in "I Could Never Say Goodbye" and "ending all" in "I May Not Awaken" are both relatively clear.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The video for debut single "I Want Tomorrow" (originally broadcast during an episode of The Celts) is... odd. For one thing, Enya is shown blowing stuff up using magic powers. Even more disturbing ... there's an electric guitar solo!note 
    • The original BBC Records release of the 1986 album Enya has a front-cover photo of Enya in a short black dress, high heels and posing with stuffed wolves. The rear sleeve featured her with more stuffed animals and pouffed-up 80s big hair. Not quite the look she cultivated from Watermark onwards. When the album was reissued in 1992 (retitled The Celts), these images were replaced with new photographs of the singer that were more "on-brand".
  • Echoing Acoustics: Enya is known for using large amounts of reverb. Combined with her self-backing techniques, the reverb gives her songs a distinctive cathedral-choir sound. Unfortunately, combining that with her classification-defying accent means her lyrics can be hard to make out.
  • Ethereal White Dress: In the video for "Only Time" during the winter segment, as the Motif and the meaning of the song both refer to loss and death.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: In both the music videos for "Caribbean Blue" and "Only If". The former involves a young boy going into the fantasy worlds he finds within books, while the latter is more explicitly a case of Enya as a muse inspiring a man with writer's block to make paper airplanes and a man struggling to blow up balloons to sail away on them, as well as repairing a girl's torn kite so she can fly it. In all of these cases she literally sprinkles or spreads sparkling light and dust from her hand.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Downplayed; she uses Irish Uilleann pipes a LOT. They suit her seeing as she's a Celtic artist, but they're far more mellow than the Great Highland bagpipes of Scotland that are more characteristic of the trope.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Some of the lyrics of "Anywhere Is" are "It's either this or that way, it's one way or the other." At the point where she sings this in the music video, she is faced with a set of four doors with placards that actually say "This Way", "That Way", "One Way", and "Other Way". And then it cuts to the other side of the doors, and twenty-four Enyas march out of them. So that's who does her backing...
  • Face on the Cover: All her albums except compilations, and all singles except "Exile", where it's based on the poster for L.A. Story. A deliberate subversion by WEA's Rob Dickins (who signed her) of the convention of New Age marketing which eschewed artist portraits.
  • Foil: Two of the songs on Memory of Trees act as foils to each other: "On My Way Home" and "I May Not Awaken" share a lot of symbols, but all of these shared symbols are positive in "On My Way Home" and negative in "I May Not Awaken".
    • There's snow:
    Snow falling round me
    Like angels in flight
    Walked the way of promise to find but snow
    • And traveling:
    On my way home
    I remember
    All the good days
    No guiding star
    So far from home
    • And night:
    I have been given
    One moment from heaven
    As I am walking
    Surrounded by night
    Could be, could be the night ends all
    Stars high above me
    Make a wish under moonlight
    Even from a child, a wish is not enough
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: Every once in a while she'll throw in something unusual and unique, or at least unlike her usual fare.
    • A good example would be "My! My! Time Flies" from And Winter Came, which not only includes rather informal lyrics ("Four guys across Abbey Road/One forgot to wear shoes") but thanks to a reference to Elvis ("A king to sing you the blues") has a bridge passage of bluesy music with electric guitar come out of nowhere.
    • See also "I Want Tomorrow."
    • "I May Not Awaken", aside from being about ten times sadder than most of her other pieces, has essentially none of the echo-y self-backing Enya is known for. The single track on the melody gives this song a sparser sound that fits its mood well.
    • "Anywhere Is" could perhaps be fairly described as the closest Enya gets to rap. The verses are half-chanted, with a lighter, more melodic chorus.
    • The music video for "Trains and Winter Rains" is set in an urban environment, instead of the usual mystical or natural setting. (The music video for "Wild Child" is also set in a city, but it's a City of Canals based off of Venice; this one is much more modern in style.)
  • The Four Chords of Pop: "On My Way Home" (chorus only)
  • Greatest Hits Album: She has two of them, so far.
  • Homesickness Hymn: The B-side "I May Not Awaken" takes this up to eleven. "So far from home" is a recurring line, and the narrator's crushing homesickness and frustration at having gotten lost prove to be the main reasons why she falls over the Despair Event Horizon and possibly kills herself.
  • Idiosyncratic Album Theming: The title tracks of all her albums were instrumentals (or at least, had only wordless vocals) until Amarantine broke the chain.
  • Iris Out: The ending of the video for "Anywhere Is."
  • The Joy of X: "Book of Days" is named for the various books of The Bible. The music video further makes reference (and with often appropriate clips from Far and Away), to "The Book of Water," "The Book of Love," "The Book of Music," "The Book of Motion," and "The Book of Dreams."
  • Jungle Drums: In the "Storms in Africa" video, complete with tribesmen playing them.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Enya writes a lot of pep-talk songs, and loves cats (she had twelve at one point). Her cat Pearl makes a cameo in the video for one of her most uplifting pieces, "Wild Child". This could also explain the frolicking lion cubs in the video for "Storms in Africa".
  • Last Note Hilarity: "Anywhere Is" continues with Enya singing and duplicated figures of her appear in the music video, though lyrically the song ends here:
    I might be just beginning
    I might be near the end
  • Last Note Nightmare: At the end of some of Enya's songs, just after most of the piece has been major, the last chord is in minor. This can be heard at the end of both "Caribbean Blue" and "Orinoco Flow".
  • Listing Cities: The majority of the lyrics to "Orinoco Flow" are references to various cities, islands, rivers, seas and even imaginary places.
    From Bissau to Palau
    In the shade of Avalon
    From Fiji to Tiree
    And the Isles of Ebony
  • Love Hurts: Implied in a few of her lonelier, sadder pieces, although even then she seems to take Tennyson's position on the matter; the "loved and lost" quote. Amarantine, one of Enya's album titles, while also meaning 'everlasting', could also be linked to the Amaranthus caudatus flower name, "Love lies bleeding", which seems to express the 'love hurts' idea.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: Other songs take this position, choosing to remember fondly what is gone and take from it lessons, beauty, hope, and inspiration even though it and the person who brought it are gone in one sense or another. Examples: "On Your Shore", "China Roses" to some degree, "Once You Had Gold", "Fallen Embers", "If I Could Be Where You Are". "I Could Never Say Goodbye" and "Remember Your Smile" are far more explicitly and poignantly this trope.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • While the tune of "Tempus Vernum" is dark, brooding, and unsettling, and the lyrics, as noted below, are an example of Ominous Latin Chanting, the translation is...simply a list of the seasons, the cardinal directions, and various elements of nature.
    • "Pax Deorum" is an example twice over. The most dark and disturbing portion of the song translates to a plea for God's blessing and the swearing of an oath on the sacraments, while the prettiest and lightest portion is a line from Horace that translates to "Believe that each day which breaks is your last."
  • Me's a Crowd: Towards the end of the Anywhere Is video.
  • Medium Blending: She tends to use this in a lot of her music videos, from simple matters such as back-projection putting her image on a wind-blown curtain in "Evening Falls" to literally becoming parts of the landscape in "Orinoco Flow" and "It's in the Rain." But the ultimate example of this would have to be "Caribbean Blue", where all the scenes within the portraits were filmed, rotoscoped, re-coloured with smudged pastels, and even glass painting to achieve a swirling, dream-like effect that is rather stunning.
  • Mind Screw: A lot of her songs are this, especially "Anywhere Is" and "Orinoco Flow". As are the music videos based on them.
  • Non-Appearing Title:
    • "Evacuee". The non-appearing title is effectively up to Enya and the Ryans on the song's context - the lyric itself is vague enough that it could be about any parting from loved ones.
    • "It's in the Rain" also has a Non-Appearing Title, often mistaken as "Listen to the rain" which is a lyric in the song.
    • "Exile" also; the lyrics do allude to a distance of some sort.
    • "Solace" (but close with solitude).
  • Older Than They Look: Enya is 62 years old as of 2023 yet could still pass as a few decades younger.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: "Cursuum Perficio", "Pax Deorum", and "Tempus Vernum" play the trope dead straight.
  • Only One Name: Her Stage Name, a phonetic transliteration of her first name.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Solace" is a gentler, more bittersweet version of the trope than the usual. "Only If", "Pilgrim", and "Dreams are More Precious" count as well.
  • Picture-Perfect Presentation:
    • The first painting the boy goes into in the video for "Caribbean Blue" comes to life in this way, and there are also several examples of moving scenes freezing to become paintings in books.
    • Enya also poses like the "Young King of The Black Isles" Maxfield Parrish painting for the cover The Memory of Trees in the video for "Anywhere Is", then comes to life, promptly falling asleep on her throne.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The cover art of almost every one of her albums depicts her wearing this sort of dress; notable examples are The Memory of Trees, Amarantine, And Winter Came, and The Celts. She also wears similarly gorgeous, elegant dresses in her music videos, such as "Book of Days", "Caribbean Blue", "Amarantine", "The Celts", "Only If", and "On My Way Home" (the latter also being an example of Pretty in Mink). Even her more simple dresses are still stunning and elegant, but with her ethereal beauty she could make almost anything look beautiful.
  • Portal Picture: The entire concept for the "Caribbean Blue" video.
  • The Power of Love: A few of her songs at least hint at this, such as "Exile", "Hope Has a Place", and "Marble Halls".
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: A textbook example.
  • Rearrange the Song: There are various melodic similarities that occur within Enya's music.
  • Recurring Riff: Songs from the same Enya album may share a similar opening. The opening lines of "Dark Sky Island" and "So I Could Find My Way" sound strikingly similar in Dark Sky Island. Other examples include "Marble Halls" and "Evacuee" from Shepherd Moons. In A Day Without Rain, the songs "Tempus Vernum" and "One By One" have a similar opening too.
    • In the B-side piece "Morning Glory" from Watermark, different motifs from this piece reappear in the chorus of two singles from later albums, "Amarantine" and "Wild Child". Also sharing resemblance is the song "Journey of the Angels".
    • More examples of this in Enya's music can be heard in "this video and its 2nd part.
  • Rule of Three: Enya seems to be fairly fond of the musical variation on this trope, where the last line of a song is repeated three times when it reaches the end but with an inversion of the typical example: the second iteration has a variation (quite often only one note), and the last is the same as the first to bring that sense of closure so yearned for and reassuring to the ear. Examples: "Flora's Secret" and "Pilgrim" from A Day Without Rain; "Dreams Are More Precious" from And Winter Came...; and "Pale Grass Blue" and the title track from Dark Sky Island.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • The videos for "Amarantine" and "It's in the Rain" seem so. They were both directed by the late director Tim Royes, whom Enya paid tribute to in her following album, And Winter Came....
    • "Storms in Africa" is also this for anyone who enjoys scenes of nature and wild animals.
    • The video for "Trains and Winter Rains" attempts to do this in an urban setting.
  • Seasonal Montage: During the video for "Only Time", appropriately enough. Director Graham Fink came up with the idea of the four seasons to feature within the video as Enya walks through them.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Part of her signature sound are the vocal layerings. Several interviews have stated that she doesn't use studio techniques to create the effect; she actually sings every layer of the thick, cloud-like harmonies. She also has quite the range, seeing as she can sing well into the male vocal range and way up into the high soprano range. This is also why she doesn't play live concerts, and even when she performs on TV she is quite often forced to lip-synch in order to replicate the sound unless she is performing a song with minimal backing.
  • Self-Titled Album: Her first solo album on BBC (UK) and Atlantic (US). It was later re-released as The Celts. The original release is quite valuable.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Thanks to Enya being inspired by the artwork of Maxfield Parrish, a number of his images appear either on album covers or in music videos. The cover of Memory of Trees is a direct Homage to The Young King of the Black Isles, a scene of young girls hanging lanterns in a snowy forest in the "On My Way Home" video references the work Lantern Bearers (as well as John Singer Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose), and the music video for "Caribbean Blue" imitates or outright reproduces Dream Days, Chocolate Factory; Man in the Moon; and Garden of Allah.
    • Warner Music UK chairman Rob Dickins, who worked on art direction for Enya, is mentioned by name in the lyrics to "Orinoco Flow".
    • "My! My! Time Flies" is a song that pays tribute to the guitarist Jimmy Faulkner, also referencing the music he liked. These include The Beatles, specifically the cover image for Abbey Road, as well as the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody, B.B.King and Elvis Presley.
    • "Lothlórien" is named after the location from The Lord of the Rings.
  • Single Stanza Song: "Sancta Maria" is nothing lyrically but its title, repeated over and over for almost four minutes. But instrumentally...
  • Surreal Music Video: Oh, every now and then...
  • Sweet Dreams Fuel: Great music to sleep to.
  • Uncommon Time: Enya commonly uses uncommon time signatures in her work, often switching them mid-song. "Book Of Days" changes time signature nearly every measure (4/4 to 3/2 to 5/4 to 2/4 to 5/4, etc...) except for the bridge which maintains the opening 4/4 time.
  • Video Full of Film Clips:
    • The music video for "May it Be" features clips from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. A number of clips from Far and Away also feature in the music video for "Book of Days."
    • "Exile" is an unusual example. The whole song was played in a scene of L.A. Story and the video, rather than highlights of the film, features that scene intercut with full-face shots of Enya, and with the spoken dialogue either side of the song.
    • Enya recorded a slightly revised new version of her 1991 track "Book of Days" as a tie-in with its use in the film Far and Away. The music video incorporated footage from the film. Later, however, when her videos were released to VHS and DVD, rights issues resulted in this video being replaced by a TV performance.
  • Vocal Evolution: Especially between her first two albums Enya and Watermark.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: The lyrics of "Orinoco Flow" were chosen more for their sound than their meaning, so they're a hodgepodge of geographical references, plus a Shout-Out to record label executive Rob Dickins and recording engineer Ross Cullum.
  • You Are Not Alone: A sentiment implied, if not openly expressed, in a lot of her songs.