(photo source: http://www.thefader.com/2014/04/22/fka-twigs-fader-cover-feature)
Tahliah Barnett procured the second half of her moniker because of the way her bones crack when she dances. Watching her in live videos or in her outlandish “visuals” (what we would call music videos), you can almost hear these cracks and pops. Her voice and skeleton quivers with every minuscule wave of emotion that courses through her body. Throughout her performances, however, her eyes, permanently shiny like veneered wood, stare the viewer straight down, like a sniper. The experience is at once both empathic and unnerving. The first half of her stage name stands for “formerly known as”, due to the existence of another artist by the name of twigs. But in reality, no one can match Barnett’s sheer talent.
Barnett was born in Gloucestershire, in an area she succinctly named “the middle of nowhere”. In her teens, she found two mediums that would come to shape the image she would create as FKA twigs: dance and singing. She studied ballet from a young age, and began to record songs of her own creation at a Jamaican youth club. At the age of 17, she packed her bags and moved to London, wanting to jumpstart a career as a dancer. Yet, despite being selected as a backup dancer for Jessie J (see the music videos for ‘Price Tag’ and ‘Do It Like a Dude’), Barnett soon realized that her dream was to be a professional singer. She got a job as a bartender, while also spending a good deal of time in the recording studio.
Barnett came to the public eye in 2012, when she quietly released her first collection of songs, titled, lucidly enough, EP. Almost immediately, the blogosphere began to buzz, not just for the aural delights that were contained within the slim, four volume package of the EP, but for what Barnett, then an incognito entity, named “visuals”. For each song on the EP, she released an accompanying video, each with a specific ocular theme which corresponded to the aural themes in the songs.
Above is the visual accompaniment to the second song on EP, titled “Ache”. The image of a man in a mask made out of sneakers is at once intriguing and slightly terrifying. The accompanying smoke and jerky bodily movements translate the hushed urgency of “Ache”.
By far the most impressive and lauded song and “visual” of EP was “Hide”. This convulsive, soulful ballad, full of unearthly coos and almost ribald guitar twangs, was unlike any other music on EP, or, indeed, anywhere else. The percussion, sometimes offbeat, pulls the listener in, coating their eardrums with waves of lush yet minimal sound. Its visual accompaniment find bright color palates, jittery editing cuts and bodily movements that mirror the percussion, and an overall surreal atmosphere.
Yet, for twigs, EP was just the beginning. Her agent soon introduced her to a Venezuelan producer named Arca, most famous for his work on Kanye West’s Yeezus. They began to work in earnest on her second EP, and created, again, a volume of 4 songs, each accompanied with a visual. Only this time, with Arca on her side, twigs was going to be much bolder. Where EP was filled with empty space, barely filled by minimal beats and high coos and whispers, EP 2 was to be much daring and prolific, filled with darker synths and deeper beats.
EP 2’s opener is “How’s That”, a brooding, synth heavy number, which, when listened to with headphones, is an astonishing experience. The beat slips back and forth between the ears, as does twigs’ voice, which seems much more confident than on EP, but still very fragile. The accompanying visual displays two bodies, made of both obsidian- and ivory-like materials, which proceed to melt, flow, and altogether disintegrate. Appropriate, considering the effect the song has on the listener.
Though twigs came to real public prominence with the release of her visual for “Water Me” (which I will embed below), which saw twigs as some sort of beautiful crying alien, the real breakthrough moment came with the release of her visual for “Papi Pacify”. This video is in a much more “music video”-like format, which suits the video, as it is so deeply personal. The shocking visual, which include a sort of aggressive – passive relationship between twigs an an unknown man. This video, like many other of twigs’ visuals, uses jerky edits, loops, and stunning imagery to directly correlate the images to the song. In the case of “Papi Pacify”, the visuals directly relate to the lyrics, which creates an altogether chilling viewing and listen.
twigs is the future of trip hop, a British genre, popular in the nineties, which fuses hip hop and electronica “until neither genre is recognizable”, in the words of Sal Cinquemani, Music Reviewer for Slant Magazine. Trip hop can range from the more mainstream (see Massive Attack, Tricky, or Björk), to the more underground or experimental. Trip hop can be distinguished from other electronic music scenes by its use of a bass-heavy drum beat, and female-dominant vocals (for the most part). However, the most distinguishing factor by which one can differentiate trip hop is the permeation of melancholy throughout the entire genre. This is due to the inspiration of such Post Punk acts as Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure, and New Order. FKA twigs is trip hop for a new generation, still retaining the melancholy, synth driven melodies of yesteryear, but powering forward into the future with new visuals, new movements, and a new voice.
i leave you with a beautiful rendition of “Hide”, shot in the Yucatan rainforest.
BONUS: Watch fka twigs collaborate with stellar boudoir’n’b duo inc. in this untitled song
UPDATE: Of course i wrote this article RIGHT before twigs announced her debut LP (LP1). Anyway, the album comes out in less than a week, and everyone should head over to iTunes radio to stream it, because honestly, it sounds like nothing else right now, as you would expect. Here’s a cut from the album, and my personal favorite song that she’s released yet, Pendulum.