Written by Brittne MacCleary
FKA Twigs’ most recent EP release M3LL155X showcases how much Twigs has grown as a singer, producer, director, and choreographer in her short career. This post delves into Twigs’ experiences and personal self-discovery and how they have influenced femininity in today’s modern music genres.
There’s a high demand women face in the music industry to be the next biggest, greatest, skinniest, beautiful biddy. All eyes are on you to amaze and entertain, and when the audience isn’t pleased they move on to the next. Doing something original and unique is risky, and for many it is easier to sing the songs that were written for them, wear what was given to them and fit the mold.
Mounting pressures would make it easy to sell out. I’m talking about female artists who start out all “Jenny from the block” and end up in front of millions in less than underwear singing about exotic snakes and how big their ass is. Not to shame Nicki Minaj — I enjoy her escapades but, as an example, she does little to empower women to accentuate themselves beyond their physical appearance. Today, as a female artist, showcasing your sexuality in an atypical way that maintains and expounds an artistic vision may not garner the most support.
Now, admittedly, I did not really pay FKA Twigs any mind until last year with the release of her EP M3LL155X (pronounced Melissa). I had been introduced to her music around the time her LP1 came out in 2014. I knew the name, and some of the back story but she failed to really register on my radar. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell the difference between Twigs and other up-and-coming R&B/pop hybrids like Kelela and Jessie Ware. To me, they all sounded like your typical millennial female artist: sexualized lyrics paired with mysterious and interesting production. However, I have unearthed my wrongdoing and I’ve realized the danger of feeding into stereotypes. It’ s really a shame that anyone tried to label FKA Twigs to begin with; perhaps I would have taken a second listen instead of not caring to distinguish her from other musicians.
Twigs’ story is one that sounds familiar enough; she grew up in rural England taking ballet and opera lessons, raised by supportive parents who nurtured interests in music and fashion. Pursuing her talents led her to move to London at 17 and enroll in dance school, only to drop out and try her hand at producing music. By the time she was 19 she had written some songs and even managed a trip to Los Angeles, the fruit of which was a bunch of “really bad demos,” as Twigs declares in her 2015 Complex cover story interview.
Little success with initial attempts at making music sent Twigs back to the UK to work as a backup dancer in music videos for various artists like Jessie J and Taio Cruz.
Through a fateful turn of events, FKA Twigs got her hands on a Tempest drum machine courtesy of a Young Turks record label producer. She now had the power and was inspired to take her talent further, and for that we should feel blessed. In 2012 we were given FKA Twigs’ EP 1.
Given that I did my listening of FKA Twigs’ releases backwards, starting with M3LL155X, it’s interesting to go back and listen to her first works. It became very clear to me that from the start, FKA Twigs has always meant for her work to be an experience that is seen, heard and felt. When asked about her vocal and production choices, during her interview with Complex, she says, “I try and make it as visceral as possible. I want people to hear the sinews in the drums and the clicking sounds. I want it to feel physical, like it’s in your body, because that’s how I feel.” She’s been pretty successful at that. Her music videos, the production, the lyrics, and dancers — all of it comes together in a way that completely enthralls the listener and becomes that full-body, emotional experience she’d hoped for.
Impressively, she produced all the music and co-directed and released music videos for the four songs on EP1, working with artist Gloria Ladoja. The subsequent releases of EP2 in 2013 and FKA Twigs’ first full-length album LP1 expand Twigs’ musical prowess. EP2 is the collaborative effort of FKA Twigs and Venezuelan experimental producer Arca, who possesses his own unpredictable style. Twigs also co-directed the EP2 music videos for “How’s That” and “Water Me” with artist Jesse Kanda, who would design the LP1 album cover. With the release of her first full-length album, Twigs’ impressive list of collaborators grew to include producers Clams Casino, Sampha, Emile Haynie, Dev Hynes and Paul Epworth. Twigs attracts some stellar artists, and her team of unique conspirators contribute heavily to the FKA Twigs package and her resulting indefinability.
After you listen to FKA Twigs’ album releases, and realize the talent she’s worked with, it is wildly apparent why her music cannot be thrust into one genre. During an interview with writer Cedar Pasori, Twigs said,” It’s not that I don’t want to be called R&B, but there are lots of other things, as well. So let’s talk about everything.” Twigs has a style all her own that delves into the avant-garde blending elements of choir, trip-hop, vogue, hip-hop, modern dance, R&B, and more into one sound and style package that becomes only definable as, well, FKA Twigs.
Back in March 2015, I had just watched the video for M3LL155X , and Twigs’ genius was revealed to me. Talk about a visceral experience! Before pressing play, I had no idea I was getting into a quarter-hour long journey through Twigs’ complex and captivating left-side brain. Once it was over, I only wanted more. I couldn’t believe the same FKA Twigs I had thought I’d known was enthralling me so, that, in my mind, I was pledging my allegiance to a new goddess.
M3LL155X is no standard music video, it is a short film that combines the music videos for the first four songs on the EP. Reading about FKA Twigs’ inspiration for M3LL155X, I found that this EP came at a time where she was embracing her femininity, shedding layers, and moving into a new phase of life. Melissa is the name she chose for her “personal female energy” and a way of personifying that aspect of herself.
M3LL155X delves into themes of vulnerability, relationship struggles, and ultimately celebrates and heightens feminine power. It is a testament to doing things Twigs’ way, redeeming her potency as a female artist and strongly showcasing her sexuality in a way that departs from music industry and societal expectations. The production quality is amazing as well. Knowing Twigs wrote and co-produced each song, and self-directed the entire film leaves me breathless.
It’s clear that FKA Twigs was no stranger to that impersonal side of the music industry. Like multiple other female stars she felt the pressures to wade in the shallow end of the pool. Her journey away from that and coming into her own is displayed in the transition from “I’m Your Doll” to “In Time” and finally “Glass & Patron.” “I’m Your Doll” is an explicitly submissive song she wrote at age 18 on which she imparts, in her Complex interview, that she’d “been brainwashed and preconditioned to write a pop song and write it from that point of view.” I love that she includes that song here because it’s so telling of what female artists are convinced they have to do to succeed, and sets up M3LL155X to be a story of Twigs’ personal journey to discovering the powerful woman she is.
From there, “In Time” tells the tale many know too well: thinking that, in time, people will change and things will get better. I like to think of “In Time” as less a song about relationship struggles and more of an interpretation of any situation that is less than ideal. It’s easy to believe in the façade that in time things will improve, but in reality few situations get better ‘in time,’ and you have to change things yourself. “In Time” translates perfectly to Twigs’ story of self-discovery, and in the last 5 minutes of the film we watch as Twigs cultivates that ‘change.’
In the video for “Glass & Patron,” we watch a pregnant Twigs give birth to a newfound confidence and power in the form of a troupe of vogue dancers and krumpers that engage in a fierce runway battle. What I found fascinating was Twigs’ veneration of vogue dancing, and how this related to the theme of femininity in M3LL155X. She says, “Voguing has helped me grow into the best young lady that I can be at this time. Through these boys [the dancers] I’ve learned to embrace parts of my femininity that I wasn’t in touch with before.”