“It’s a song I didn’t want to put a label on too much, like this isn’t a song about some woman drowning her baby. To be quite honest, I don’t really know what it is for me, myself, yet – which I don’t mind because I’d much rather leave it for other people to do what they want with anyway.”
— PJ Harvey on Down By The Water
Despite the above quote, it is generally accepted that PJ Harvey’s Down By The Water is about a woman who drowned her baby and is now returning to the scene of the crime and asking for her baby to be returned. According to Harvey, she has met both fans and critics who have assumed that the song must be autobiographical and that she’s singing about drowning her own child.
Speaking of drowning, that’s what came close to happening to PJ Harvey herself while she was shooting this video. Made up to look like, as she herself put it, “Joan Crawford on acid,” Harvey was wearing a wig that proved to be so heavy that, when she went underwater, it was a struggle to resurface.
It proved to be worth the trouble, though. The video was not only highly popular on MTV but it also helped to make a hit out of the song. In fact, Down By The Water would prove to Harvey’s breakthrough hit in the United States. Years after it’s initial release, the song continues to live on as a part of the soundtrack of countless investigative procedural crime dramas.