Amanda Jenssen’s “Hallelujah” Haunts

“Hallelujah” is the modern day spiritual hymn. Although titled so and having lyrics featuring Biblical characters, the song emotes sentiments that are not strictly Christian and instead explores a more liquid and deconstructed idea. Its original composer, Leonard Cohen, refuses to define a specific way to understand his song and prefer the interpretation to lie fully on the hands of its listeners. One of the most covered song of all time, its interpreted content ranges from love (Buckley), orgasm (Crowe), liturgy (Wainwright), wistfulness (Timberlake), grandeur (Burke), .

Amanda Jenssen had consistently pegged herself as a quirky contestant in the Idol 2007 singing competition of Sweden by veering away from huge vocals, polished pop looks, and pop song choices. She auditioned successfully with a vintage Elvis classic, then progressing through in a carefree, alternative vibe — often performing bare-feet — with choices of songs from Melanie Kafka, Tracy Chapman, and Bruce Springsteen, among others. Successfully reaching the tournament’s final stages, Jenssen was given “Hallelujah” to sing, a task she took excitedly.

This rendition of “Hallelujah” speaks of the yearning of a wretched soul. Most of the words were sung in whispers, soft and smudged, symbolizing powerlessness. The powerful hue of her rich voice surged out only occasionally, fleetingly, so broken and ragged, as if knowing full well one is undeserving to want but inevitably do due to desperation closing in. Such is the yearning of a wretched soul.

The visuals of this video augments its brilliance. Jenssen’s rustic baby-doll top spoke of purity, her legging and light jewelry floats between simplicity and sex appeal, her disheveled hair and bare-feet state are witnesses of a damned, messy place. The juxtaposition of purity/simplicity and darkness perfectly matches her movements: a Jesus-on-the-crucifix position she made on the first “Hallelujah”/the hands-on-air transcendence at the end of the performance versus a begging/giving-in/scared kneel she did while sighing. Such is the transcendence of a wretched soul into light.

This is a “Hallelujah” that never cease to make a wretched soul yearning for light and transcendence cry; nor does it ever fail to convey powerful emotions of yearning, brokenness, and hope to any listeners — definitely one of the best renditions of the masterpiece around. This performance speaks of hope, because hope is purity born from a dark, messy, wretched place; its powerful spark only fleeting, its glimmer surrounded by what feels so ragged and weathered. Hope only manifests from imperfection, and this performance conveys that just so clearly.


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