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The Genius of FKA Twigs

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FKA Twigs debut album LP1 released in 2014 demonstrated the hallmarks of ground-breaking musicianship; arrhythmic, futuristic and neurotic. An amalgamation of synth-heavy R& and electronic, while her ethereal vocals evoke Kate Bush and even Tori Amos; it is impossible to corner Twigs into one genre. 

In 2019, Twigs released MAGDALENE, her second full-length album, a breath-taking display of skill and creativity. It fuses operatic, choral styles and off-kilter tones and arrangements with her earlier electronic experimentalism in an incredibly unique way; the intense vulnerability of the records contrasting with just how superhuman her talent is. MAGDALENE is a feminist meditation on how we relate to one another and ourselves – emotionally, sexually and universally – set to sounds that are simultaneously modern and ancient. 

While as introspective and carnal as her first album, the impulsiveness is replaced with a more nuanced understanding of feminine archetypes. Written during a highly scrutinized relationship with Robert Pattinson, in which she endured consistent racist abuse from his legion of young fans, Twigs has said she found solace and inspiration in the story of Mary Magdalene, among the New Testament’s most misunderstood characters; Magdalene’s’ complexities being re-written by centuries of churchmen into a fallen-woman side-note. In placing herself in this lineage, Twigs explores the ways in which deeply conservative attitudes bulldoze women, while simultaneously upending them through the power of her lyrics and the sheer pull of her magnetic presence. Twigs is utterly fearless – ‘I do it like Mary Magdalene,’ is simultaneously sacred and profane. 

However, her ingenuity and political message extend further than her lyrics. Twigs is a phenomenal performer and multidisciplinary artist. For MAGDALENE, Twigs trained in Kung Fu and Samurai, her music video for Sad Day sees her floating through the air in mock battle with Teake, a friend and tantric monk. The ethereal lyrics are typical of Twigs; ‘The city howls with a cry to seduce you/and tame you,’ – vulnerable and powerful in equal measure. Equally, the final song of MAGDALENE, ‘cellophane’, a twisted and desperately sad commentary on sex, power and voyeurism, is told through pole dance, the symbolism of objectifying and primal physicality is clear to the discerning viewer. Twigs states in an interview with Pitchfork, ‘I am powerful and independent, and incredibly vulnerable and sensitive… I do find it problematic to feel like your icons are always strong and OK.’ 

Indeed, this duality of approach that Twigs’ takes on female empowerment is interesting and unique. Speaking on Louis Theroux’s Grounded podcast, she talks of the oppressive nature of ‘enforced empowerment,’ instead raising the idea of wilful submission; ‘sexuality ranges from all different things, I want to put myself in that position.’ We see this passivity expressed in both ‘I’m Your Doll,’ and ‘Papi Pacify,’ except, crucially, it is powerful not submissive, allowing her to tread the fine line between vulnerability and strength. 

On Grounded she talks openly about the abuse she suffered while in a relationship with actor Shia LaBeouf, having recently filed a lawsuit accusing him of ‘sexual battery, assault and emotional distress.’ LaBeouf has not denied the allegations, his only response being, ‘I have a history of hurting those closest to me.’ It is clear to see the inspiration for much of her work in her difficult relationships, the warrior persona evoked in MAGDALENE, and inhabited in live performance, perhaps a reaction to the helplessness she felt. 

Yet, Twigs is not defined by her affiliation with famous men; she is also outspoken on issues of racism and injustice. Her recent single, ‘Don’t Judge Me,’ featuring Headie One and Fred Again – although is lighter than her previous work, voices a ‘shared struggle against an invisible oppressor – propagated by cultural, systemic and structural biases.’ 

Twigs is one of a kind in both image and sound; she is wrought with an emotional heaviness and maturity beyond her age that inspires her nuanced lyricism, and a creative genius we see rarely in heavily produced contemporary artists.

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