Why you should care
Because FKA twigs’ airy, futuristic sound brings a breath of fresh air to R&B.
FKA twigs might be an extraterrestrial sent to mystify the music world. With her huge, heavy-lidded eyes, ethereal voice and music videos like “Water Me” — that features her head swaying like a metronome on a giraffe-like neck — the label “singer” doesn’t feel adequate.
Feathery female vocals from the likes of Tinashe and Jhené Aiko may be en vogue in R&B, but FKA twigs sounds like an eerier, electronic Aaliyah, with a visual flair that lends itself to surreal videos and arresting magazine cover shots. Her music, while understated, surprises with its high-pitched coos, spasmodic whispers, ticking clocks and confessional, deep-in-your-head lyrics. It’s the type of music you listen to alone in your bedroom, preferably with the lights out.
But behind the scenes, 25-year-old FKA twigs has been on a steady grind. One of Billboard’s 14 Artists to Watch in 2014, she’s been making airy, futuristic R&B since the release of EP1 in late 2012. After last year’s spare, space-y EP2, she’s revving up for the August debut of her first full-length album, LP1, and premiering its opener, “Two Weeks,” and accompanying video.
The video for “Two Weeks” features FKA twigs resembling Aaliyah’s regal Queen of the Damned character…
Born Tahliah Barnett to a Jamaican father and part-Spanish mother, FKA twigs grew up in Gloucestershire, a quiet town in southwest England. She gravitated to dancing and music “because there isn’t very much else to do,” she said. “If you’re from a small town, you have to be imaginative, especially if you’re an only child like me. You make up games in your head.”
FKA twigs sang the chorus on other kids’ raps at a local youth club that housed a low-budget studio. But she also inherited a love of dancing from her mother, a dance teacher and former gymnast who snuck her into salsa nightclubs. She enrolled in dance school in London at 17 but dropped out after six weeks when she realized she really wanted to make music — though she still trains with U.K. krump group Wet Wipez. “It’s just a part of my life,” she said.
Assuming the stage name “Twigs” (a nickname referring to the loud crack her joints make), she holed up in the studio to record the four-track EP1, self-released in 2012 via Bandcamp, an online platform where independent artists can post and share their music. She also uploaded a video for each track to her YouTube page.
After another artist named Twigs asked her to change her name, she recorded EP2 as FKA (“Formerly Known As”) twigs. The label Young Turks released EP2 in the U.K. last year and in the U.S. this past May. Co-produced with Yeezus collaborator Arca, EP2 features airier vocals and more cavernous soundscapes, paired with even more visually charged videos. Take the sultry “Papi Pacify,” which shows FKA twigs locked in an erotic-yet-disturbing embrace, at times covered in glitter, or “How’s That,” in which a headless, shapeshifting figure flickers to crashing cymbals.
LP1 promises to be just as mesmerizing. Check out the video for “Two Weeks,” in which FKA twigs channels Aaliyah’s regal Queen of the Damned character, arms snaking through the air. As the track crescendos into layered vocals and a rat-a-tat beat, the camera pans out to reveal a palace of tiny dancers. I know it hurts / You know I’d quench that thirst, FKA twigs sings.
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