Despite being one of the most successful artists to emerge in the last few years, FKA twigs (real name Tahliah Barnett) can also be the most enigmatic – and the most fascinating. “Choreographed” is word that seems to apply to FKA twigs, as her art reaches far beyond simply songwriting and singing, her dancing and performance, her style, her production and direction. Even her ethereal vocals, everything about FKA twigs is a sublime, thought-out, choreographed performance.
Talking to Apple Music’s Ebro Darden, the British singer drew back the curtains to shed a little light on the reality of FKA twigs. As softly spoken as her music would suggest, her voice is articulate and almost shy sounding, but the fragility of her tone distracts from what is actually an incredibly assured personality.
Speaking about her upbringing in Gloucestershire, she describes a time before music streaming and mass cultural interest in music and performance; a sylvan back drop that didn’t exactly lend itself to her aspirations, and a less than multicultural surrounding. But, brought up on Funkadelic and acid jazz, fed artists like Jill Scott and Ella Fitzgerald from a young age by her parents, she describes her early diet of “heartfelt” music.
An encounter with Nat King Cole’s Dream A Little Dream Of Me “changed [her] life forever”. Though perhaps not exactly a logical transition, it sparked a desire in a nine year old FKA twigs to learn opera. Slightly at odds with her other interest; break dancing, but possibly the beginning of the cross-genre artist that we know today – a beginning that didn’t fully arrive until years later.
Years living in London, dropping out of dance schools and flitting between ambitions, these are the same hallmarks that characterise any number of teenagers as the exact form of creativity remains elusive. She describes her teenage self working at a youth centre, at that time convinced that her future was as an art therapist. But in working with young people to write their own music, her own style began to emerge.
If Darden pitches her childhood as idyllic like The Sound Of Music, the formation of FKA twigs sounds something more like Fame. The effects of London living creeping into her Cheltenham accent, Darden labels her “hip-hop” – street, but not thug.
The interview isn’t all past histories, one of the most interesting commentaries from the FKA twigs talks about her inspiration. Her efforts to capture moods and atmosphere, especially in recent performances where she has stripped back her props and costumes. Attempting to create a feeling with just the performance; “for me it’s not about being a muso, or name dropping, or this, or that, or this. It’s about the feeling when I was sixteen and I did this, or twelve… I’m really into atmosphere, I’m really into mood. I don’t think I’m the best producer, I don’t think I’m the best singer, I don’t think I’m the best director. But I know that one of my talents is just like capturing a feeling somehow.”
Image: FBI Radio.