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I talked to Amy Lee of Evanescence about inspiring the world’s worst fanfiction

The singer of My Immortal (the song) has now read My Immortal (the fanfic)

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Evanescence Performs At Royal Festival Hall London
Photo by Joseph Okpako / WireImage

If you mention the name “My Immortal,” you may mean one of two things. The first is the 2003 hit song from rock band Evanescence. The second is a Harry Potter fanfic so transcendentally, mysteriously bad that it’s transfixed the internet for years.

The fanfic My Immortal is about a time-traveling mall-goth teenage vampire wizard (named “Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way”) who is obsessed with Evanescence and a variety of goth-inflected rock bands. She’s supposed to look like Amy Lee, Evanescence’s lead vocalist, pianist, and songwriter. And to this day, nobody is sure who wrote the story or whether they were serious.

Back in the real world, Lee and the rest of Evanescence have spent months under stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve used that time to film two music videos in collaboration with director P.R. Brown, each shot by band members and their families. The latest is a surreal video for “The Game Is Over,” a song from their upcoming album The Bitter Truth. In Lee’s words, it’s shot as a “psychological thriller,” full of imagery based on a specific fear or inner demon from each member.

These videos — filmed in living rooms, cars, and other personal spaces — give fans a new kind of look into the band members’ lives. But I was curious about a different kind of fan relationship: did the creators of “My Immortal” know about My Immortal? I spoke to Lee, and the answer is yes; in fact, it’s part of a long-running family joke. She’d never actually read it, however, until last week.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

You’ve made two videos under quarantine, and they’ve taken very different approaches. What was the process behind each of them?

We really had to just think kind of quickly. We were working on another video treatment that would have been full-production, this whole deal with a big crew and things we could no longer have because of the pandemic — including the fact that we couldn’t even physically get together because we live all over the world.

We recognized that “Wasted on You” had a bunch of lyrical content that felt like all of a sudden where we were. So we went for that. I really wanted it to be real on a level like people hadn’t seen us before: in our own homes, in our real lives, not dressed up, not in makeup, just the real, raw us.

“When you’re finally forced to stop being distracted, there’s silence — and that stuff comes out.”

For the second one, it’s like “Okay, how do we take what we’ve learned and amp it up even more to make it look like a real video more than just us being ourselves?” We have all been very serious about the lockdown, so we have been completely alone for the most part during this time — and that is cool in some ways as a creator. But you really have to live with yourself all the time.

A few of us have gone through some difficult things in the past few years. [Bassist Tim McCord] and I both experienced losses in our immediate family. There’s just been a lot of hard. So you know when you’re finally forced to stop being distracted by all the things that keep us happy, there’s silence — and that stuff comes out. So each of us had a private kind of gut-spilling confession with [P.R. Brown] about what we’re struggling with.

We were just sharing deeply in a way that we don’t normally go all the way with when it comes to at least our visuals. When I pour my lyrics into my music, it’s always really raw. But in this, it’s like, we’re not going to hold back on the video side and just make it beautiful — we’re going to go for it and let it be ugly and share the dark parts of ourselves.

I think of a lot of your music as being open and vulnerable, and you interact with fans online. What does filming a video at home like this communicate that your normal social media presence and music don’t?

I hope it just shows more and more of that willingness to be vulnerable because as hard as it is, it always leaves me feeling more satisfied than just putting on a pretty face.

Social media’s such a weird world for me. I love it — I’m grateful for the idea that we can have a direct relationship with our fans. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s such an open platform for everybody to criticize everything about you. And when you go there, you’re going to see that. I think that’s true for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or not. It’s just a place where people don’t have to show their face to say things, and there’s a lot of ugly out there.

Heavy Montreal 2019
Photo by Mark Horton / Getty Images

What’s your relationship specifically with fanworks? Do people send you things that were inspired by you?

Oh my god, it’s so wonderful. We’ve got so much art. I’ve got this huge collection of stuff that I’ve been hanging on to just from the beginning. There are so many talented people out there that pour their efforts into making a piece of visual art that is either of something in the Evanescence world or just something else that came out of them while they were listening to our music.

Then there are other things that you have to keep because they’re so hilariously funny. People will make a crazy poem that makes totally no sense but I’m a character within it, which is awesome. It’s like, I know this person’s like 12 years old and totally sincere, but this is so funny. I have a little studio, and I dedicated a little bit of time during our unexpected free time to cover it wall-to-wall in the bathroom with all the fan stuff.

Which brings me to my next question: had you ever heard of My Immortal?

I think for quite a while I was just unaware of it. And then my cynical, Reddit-loving younger sister who’s also an English teacher, somewhere during the holiday every year when the family’s all together, it’ll come up for some reason. And she’s like, “Wait — you still haven’t read My Immortal?” And I’m like, “No, what do you mean?” She’s like, “You have to. Okay, hold on. Let me read you an excerpt.” And then she’ll pull up her phone and read some awesome paragraph from the craziest, funniest thing ever that makes no sense.

“Is this real? I’m totally undecided.”

It’s one of her favorite things that she thinks is the most hilarious thing in the world, and I still just kept not reading it. It’s been kind of this ongoing joke with us. And then I got a call a few days ago that you wanted to talk about it, so I was like, “Oh, crap. I have to read a little bit of it.”

I read I think not quite half of it, but it did have me in tears. I was laughing really, really hard at one point, just because of the nonsense. And then I started asking myself, is this real? I can’t quite tell. I’m totally undecided. Is it sincere? I feel like it started maybe as sincere, but they got in on it and started playing it up for the haters. I can’t tell! What do you think?

It would have to be so elaborate, but there are a bunch of cases that really make it seem like this person knows much, much more than the character they’re putting on.

I noticed a misspelling that was like, instead of triumphantly, it was “triumelephantly.” And I was like, come on, you don’t think “elephant” is inside “triumphant.” There’s no way.

At one point, the main character’s name is spelled two different ways within three words of each other.

I totally saw that, too! I’m torn because I want it to be sincere, kind of... but I don’t know.

There are things about it that aren’t cool to talk about. Like it’s not funny to talk about slitting your wrists. So it takes me a second to get past that joke, which is so recurring.

Yeah, if you go back to old internet culture, a lot of it is really ugly. And it’s weird trying to separate that stuff out.

Is it better now?

I don’t know because now I’m too old to know what’s going on. But kids do seem nicer. They often seem nicer.

I would like to believe we’ve grown up a little bit as a society from that. Maybe everybody having a little bit more of a microphone has taught us some things that we need to be aware of that are outside of our perception and our personal experiences. There are other people that are seeing that in a different way. I think it would be cool if that’s true.

I was a teenager around when My Immortal came out, and it feels like it describes a very recognizable “goths versus preps” rivalry. Did you feel that?

I think this thing is poking fun at that world — I mean it would have to be, come on — and that part of it really resonates with me in a real way. But I didn’t consider myself goth! Part of what’s weird and funny is like okay, this is describing hating the preps, and you’re the cool one, you’re the underground, you understand real life and the gravity of death, and I get it. But if you’re so depressed and everything’s so hard and you’re so real and they’re so fake, why do you put so much effort into your look?

That was what always turned me off about the word “goth” when that started being assigned to me in our early days. If I was 15 years old and you’d asked me what I was, I’m grunge. I buy all my clothes at garage sales, I don’t do crap to my look, I get ready two seconds before school, and all the preps are the ones who put all their focus on their looks and what party they’re going to go to.

But yeah, that part was funny to me. That part existed.

I love the idea of you knowing about this thing for years without having read it.

I kind of want to thank you because I did get a really good laugh out of it last night. It’s not like, when I have free time, I’m motivated to go read some horribly bad thing. But it’s actually pretty interesting.

And you’ve gotta love all the characters breaking into song to sing My Chemical Romance songs. It’s pretty great.