While it’s not unusual for musicians to have some input into what their album artwork and tour visuals look like, or to work with a creative director to help bring their vision to life, it is rare to find a creative polymath quite like FKA twigs. Since catapulting into the spotlight in 2012, she has been instrumental in defining her own image, treading deftly between writing and producing genre-bending albums, directing and starring in her own music videos, and creating intriguing experiences that draw you into the stories behind her music.
Following a series of highly acclaimed EPs, twigs’ debut album LP1 was released in 2014, earning her a Mercury Prize nomination. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength, signing as a director first with Academy Films and more recently with Object & Animal, creating and directing ad campaigns for Nike, Google Glass and Calvin Klein, and even experimenting with her own Instazine, AVANTgarden.
After a difficult period personally, which saw twigs come under intense tabloid scrutiny for her relationship and subsequent breakup with actor Robert Pattinson, and a health scare that required her to have emergency surgery to remove a number of non-cancerous tumours from her uterus, her sophomore album Magdalene was released late last year, again to much critical acclaim.
Here, twigs tells CR about growing up about as far away from fame as you could get in a small town in southwest England in the 90s; the deeply personal creative process of bringing her latest album to life; and why, despite her huge success so far, she can’t help but look ahead to what’s next.
Born in 1988, Tahliah Barnett (twigs was originally her nickname, inspired by the cracking sound her joints made when warming up to dance) grew up smack bang in the middle of the MTV era that has inspired and influenced the careers of countless creatives. Being an only child in a small market town in Gloucestershire, however, she felt a million miles away from the rest of the MTV generation.
Instead, it is the artists who twigs’ mum and stepdad listened to during her childhood who helped shape her creative outlook, whether that is the “chic cheekiness” of Prince, the “wildness” of Kate Bush, or Brazilian singer Tania Maria’s scat-infused sounds. “I grew up with a lot of salsa and fusion music – a lot of interesting beats and changing rhythms and interesting time signatures,” she says. “I was always quite late onto things, and I think the musical vibe I had at home through my parents was very strong, so I didn’t really understand that that wasn’t pop culture. To me that was the popular thing, because it was played in my house.”
Later, as a teenager, twigs would become obsessed with the new romantic punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s, citing artists such as Adam Ant and Siouxsie and the Banshees as key influences. At one point she even had a brief spell as a singer in a punk band called Delirium Tremens with friends CY AN and LJ Howe, who are still members of her live band today.