Music

FKA Twigs’ new album is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears

The intermedia artist’s hauntingly personal MAGDALENE comes accompanied by an immersive Spotify experience layering poetry with a year’s worth of archival footage.

Today marks the release of FKA Twigs’ (née Tahliah Debrett Barnett) much-anticipated second album MAGDALENE, five years after her career-defining debut, LP1. With her painstaking precision, chilly vocal delivery and the moments of silence populating her tracks, she has always seemed to hold her fans at an arms’ length. OnTwigs’ latest effort, however, it feels like she’s unflinchingly sliced herself open — daring you to listen, if you can stand it. Sitting perfectly amongst themes of unrequited love and toxic devotion, lead track Cellophane plaintively asks of an emotionally distant lover “why didn’t I do it for you?”.  Like many other moments on the album, her voice teeters on a knife’s edge; tersely controlled but ready to lapse into incomprehensibility under the weight of what’s being expressed. 

Taking female sexuality as a primary theme, she reclaims the figure of Mary Magdalene, after whom the album is named. Pitted against the celestial spirit of Christ, Magdalene (rumoured to be his lover) becomes a representation of the fleshly body rather than the pure spirit. Subverting the ways in which women beginning with Magdalene are wholly defined by her corporeality, Twigs has dramatised and aestheticised a rigorous training schedule that includes dance, pole-dancing and the martial art wushu. Stretching and contorting her body in the videos and live shows accompanying MAGDALENE, she thwarts the objectifying impulse and dips into performance art. Her physicality, in particular the intention and accuracy behind her movements, becomes another extension of her creative vision. Even when engaging in pole-dancing, an artform traditionally viewed in sexualised scenarios, her precise, athletic movements petrify the male gaze.

It’s mostly through videos that we’ve been able to fully appreciate MAGDALENE as a multimedia project and you’ve no doubt already been wowed by the jarring movements and fluid gestures of the choreography for the likes of “holy terrain” or “home with you”. These two videos demonstrate the range of her creative direction: one populating a barren, desert landscape with the emotive expansiveness of her voice and the other inviting the viewer to revel in lush greenery as regret is washed away with streamwater and billowing white dresses. Moving beyond the traditional video format to further consolidate the audiovisual nature of her practice, however, is The MAGDALENE Experience. Released on Spotify, it comprises short visuals placed at the beginning, middle and end of the album. Combining short poems written and performed by Twigs, overlaid over snippets of footage, the brief clips crystallise the album’s primary themes whilst illuminating the intense process behind MAGDALENE

Scottish filmmaker Aidan Zamiri helped piece together the visual story of MAGDALENE, collating footage from a year of Twigs’ prep in the lead-up to its release for this audiovisual Spotify experience. Speaking of his involvement in the project, he says: “I came in right at the end of the process just before the album was set to be released. I was given a plethora of content to work with, including; images, behind the scenes footage, music video footage and footage of Twigs training.” The MAGDALENE Experience holds fans in the intimate space that Twigs opens with her emotionally raw lyrics, allowing them unprecedented access to the process of creating the album in both its sonic and visual elements, and for Zamiri this was one of the main draws of the project. “It was a chance to present the whole, all-encompassing process of what it takes to create an album, not just sonically but the training and prep that goes into every aspect of it,” he says. “With Twigs, she’s not only an amazing musician and producer, she’s also a really talented artist. She trains her body and uses it as an instrument, her training in pole dancing and wushu is really incredible.”

The experience was also enriched by Barnett’s team, who are all driven by a genuine belief in her creative vision. “Seeing how much heart everyone in Twigs’ team puts in was really incredible, how much people care and feel like they’re working on something with artistic integrity,” he explains. This belief also extends to the many talented creatives that she works with to craft her sonics, visuals, live performers and more, including Zamiri. “Twigs and her team were very open on this, so I felt very trusted. It was cool being able to come in at the end, after so much work had been put in by so many different people, to help tell that story and show how much artistry had been put into MAGDALENE.”

You can view The MAGDALENE Experience in its totality on Spotify. Check out snippets of Zamiri’s work on the project below via his Instagram.

8 November 2019