While other kids were greeted after school with snacks and maybe a “How was your day, honey?” Growing up, coming home for me meant being greeted by Enya. My dad loved her music, and the dramatic “Sail away, sail away, sail away…” of “Orinoco Flow” reverberated throughout the house whenever he played it, which in my memory is always.
As a ten-or-so-year-old, I was cognizant enough to recognize that it was definitely a vibe—one that as I got older, became increasingly embarrassing, especially when I had friends over. As an adult, though, I’ve come to appreciate Enya. Of course, she has endless records, accolades, and fans. But after rediscovering her music in a moment of nostalgia—and then falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole—I feel a personal responsibility to encourage everyone out there to do the same. Not only is “Orinoco Flow” still a banger, Enya herself is also an incredible-sounding person.
Born Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin, Enya is so Irish, she actually spoke Gaelic growing up in the mythical-sounding region of Gweedore, which is located at the northernmost tip of the island. (My family recently traveled to Scotland, so maybe that got me in the mood.) The sixth of nine children, she joined her family band, Clannad, in 1980, when she was still a teenager. After just two years, she decided to go out on her own to pursue a solo career, selling her saxophone and offering piano lessons to make money in the early days.
Despite her shyness, Enya managed to work her way up relatively quickly in the music business. In 1987, she appeared on Sinéad O’Connor’s debut album The Lion and the Cobra. And the following year, her debut album, Watermark, became an unexpected hit with the help of “Orinoco Flow,” which was the last song she wrote while working on it.
Enya, the musician, is best known for her otherworldly voice and sound, which has been categorized as “new age.” But the more I’ve read about the woman I grew up with, the more interested I am in her as an artist who contains multitudes. Did you know, for example, that she loves Breaking Bad, lives in a Victorian castle next door to Bono—her house is reportedly bigger—with huge security gates and a safe room to protect her from stalkers, and that she listens to everyone from Taylor Swift to Green Day, to the artist formerly known as P Diddy? Now 62, Enya also made the conscious decision to remain unmarried and without children back when doing so was considered more radical. “I’m not a recluse; I’m working,” she once said. She reportedly only checks her email every few weeks.
Other cool things about Enya I didn’t know: she wrote and performed two tracks for the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, after being asked directly by Peter Jackson himself. (Her work won her an Oscar.) And her songs have also gotten us through some tough times. Her single, “Only Time” was all over radio and television broadcasts following September 11th. She also writes Christmas songs, which I am currently listening to on repeat.
I’m not the only one who’s a new fan. She may not leave the privacy of her castle often, but Enya has managed to remain culturally relevant after all these years. “Every time I tell people this, they think I’m kidding, but I love Enya,” Nicki Minaj told Stephen Colbert in 2018. “I listen to her the most out of everyone. It’s so peaceful and it helps me with harmonies. […] I would love to meet her.”
On TikTok, Enya has also recently inspired #enyacore, which is a medieval-looking, LOTR-coded, Celtic-inspired aesthetic with a close relative in #whimsigothic. Meaning: lots of long, velvet dresses, candles, and interior design fit for a castle. Although this isn’t exactly the way Enya herself dresses, she does have great taste. She reportedly decorated her home herself, and seems to have a good eye for what colors and silhouettes flatter her petite frame, dark hair, and porcelain skin, namely flowy goddess dresses and powerful long coats.
“I’ve been told I have a cross-generational appeal,” she said in 2015, “and that people who used to like ‘Orinoco Flow’ are now playing my music to their children. I’ve been very lucky.”
I happen to be one of those children, and I’m sure I’m not alone. My dad passed away when I was 11, so my memories of him are inextricably tied to “Orinoco Flow.” Her music is transportive: “Sail away, sail away, sail away…” So when I listen to it, it brings me back to that time with him, and in turn, brings him back to me.
That’s no typo. Just Deserts is a column by Emilia Petrarca for Family Style about those who never got their due—or perhaps too much of it.