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FKA twigs Is Defining Her Own Kind of Fame The words "rising star" and "artistic integrity" don't often appear in the same sentence. But for singer, dancer, director, fashion muse, and all-around enigma FKA twigs, it's her way—or not at all. As interviews go, FKA twigs is a fairly scary one. She gets this a lot, so when you confess it to her, she cocks her head and regards you as if you're failing a test. The English indie recording artist, who also happens to be a director, a choreographer, a dancer, and the face of a Calvin Klein campaign, may not yet be a household name, exactly (depending on your house). But she's at the exact locus of celebrity where the fashion and music worlds are besotted, Kanye West calls her out by name as someone who has to attend his album release and fashion show ("Please invite Farrakhan and twigs"), and she's done all of this without thirstiness or pandering to the mainstream. pre bonded hairShe's leery of press, of the marketing machines and the churning Internet news cycle, so it's no surprise that her preferred response to questions is a pause long enough to border on discomfort, followed by a thoughtful "What do you mean?" But it's not just that. She also has that eerie, otherworldly vibe that people who seem to be doing exactly what they were meant to be doing often have. "I can't explain it," she says when you ask her to. "Imagine you just wake up, put something on, and it's just fine for the day. Then everyone asks you questions about it. People always want to overanalyze things that are creative." And by people, she means you. "This is sometimes what it's like having an interview," she explains as we pore over our menus at the Fego Caffé, an altogether unremarkable lunch spot in the London neighborhood of St. John's Wood (think crumbled feta on everything). "They're like, 'So, when you left the house this morning, what was the first thing you saw?' 'Well, I left the house and got run over by a car, and that's why my leg is bleeding.' And then they go, 'OK... Well, what did you have for lunch?'" "I don't mean to be a tough interview," she says, "but I can understand why people might think that." Even as she tells you this, FKA twigs is relentlessly polite. And even without makeup and straight from the gym, she's startlingly pretty. Her frame, at least in clothes—gray belted coat, gray sweatsuit trimmed with pearl beads, small quartz crystal on a glinting silver chain as a choker, all topped off with a gray cashmere beret—is doll-like. Tiny. With her heart-shaped face, saucer-size eyes, and high-pitched, bell-clear voice, it's packaging that belies an unnervingly dialed-in mind and the coiled kinetic power of a classically trained dancer who could handily kick your ass. NEXT PAGE >
You'll soon learn that the only way to conduct a successful interview is to ask a question and then answer one back. Tit for tat. "What was the idea that inspired this video?" you may ask. "What kind of writing is most satisfying to you?" she may ask back—with plenty of incisive follow-ups. It's like therapy with an oracle. Whatever else may or may not be happening in our time together, the artist born Tahliah Barnett in Gloucestershire 28 years ago is transfixing. Despite the very pedestrian egg-white omelet and salad that are on the table between us, and notwithstanding the interruptions from the sleek-haired ladies with $3,000 handbags next to us who just have to know what bewitching fragrance she's wearing (it's jasmine essential oil), everyone at the café may not know who she is, but they definitely know she's something. They can feel it. FKA twigs—named after the cracks her joints make when she stretches and FKA ("Formerly Known As") because the name Twigs was already taken—has had an enormously prolific few years. Since 2012 she has released three EPs— EP1, EP2, and remy hair extensionsM3LL155X (pronounced "Melissa")—and an award-winning debut album, LP1 . She also performed a spectacular stage show called Congregata, a sort of concert-opera hybrid that electrified critics and audiences alike. Then there are the videos. Born to a Spanish/British dance-teacher mother and a Jamaican jazz-musician father (though she was raised by her mother and stepfather), FKA twigs has a singular talent for creating witchy, twitchy visuals that are arresting and hypersexual without ever being so puerile or obvious as to qualify as NSFW.
They're simple and vivid, usually the result of a single idea, one potent mustard seed that FKA twigs conceived as she was writing the song—though she rarely commits any video treatments to paper. She prefers mood boards to invoke a general palette of visual ideas rather than a literal narrative. "My ideal production assistant knows how to make a beautiful PDF," she says. There is "Hide," in which her nearly nude torso gyrates beneath a scarlet anthurium flower that protects her modesty; "Papi Pacify," where a man repeatedly puts his fingers in her mouth while her hands clutch at his; "M3LL155X," where she's pregnant at one point and a prostrate blow-up doll at another; and "Pendulum," where she's strung up by her hair in Japanese rope bondage known as shibari. NEXT PAGE > perruques cheveux naturelsBut it was her 2013 collaboration with director Jesse Kanda for the song "Water Me" that put her on the map. Her blown-up eyes filling with juicy tears, her scarlet moue, and her head rocking side to side like a metronome set to its fastest BPM ("I got to thinking about the cat from
Shrek with the big eyes," she says of the concept), all coupled with provocative lyrics—it was a moment that compelled the uninitiated to Google everything there was to know about her. (That is, if you hadn't already tumbled down the search-engine rabbit hole when FKA twigs appeared on the fall 2012 cover of i-D magazine with her baby hairs spelling out "Love" across her forehead. It was one of the most memorable tonsorial moments of the year, or possibly the decade.) She was at once a fashion darling and an indie-music powerhouse who seemingly appeared out of nowhere as this fully formed, anomalously autonomous creation. Whatever It is, she unequivocally had it. In the scant moments that fame feels like a meritocracy, it works in much the same way as pornography: You know it when you see it. Take style in its unalloyed form, bolster it with a clear point of view, good timing, and the means to create—and the result is likely to blow up for good reason. And here's the really bonkers part: When you're the architect of your own Celebrity Industrial Complex, you get to play the game on your own terms. perruques cheveux"I think one of the most painful things I went through making my record is realizing that you don't have to ask permission," she says. "You don't have to ask permission to do a video saying something that you want to say. All you can do is follow your instincts." It helps that FKA twigs is a true polymath. "I'm a traditional showgirl in a sense," she says. "I spent years of my early 20s working among performance artists. That's rule one of being an underground artist: You do your own makeup, hair, and costumes." But it's the rare showgirl who finds out everything there is to know about ballroom culture with vogue legend Derek Auguste, collaborates with Dominant from the krumping crew Wet Wipez, and also, in her spare time, teaches herself how to direct videos and picks up skills in Ableton (audio software) and Tempest (a drum machine). "It's not like I'm the best at these other things I do," she says. "Obviously, [Soichi
Inagaki, her hairstylist] is going to be better at braiding hair than I am. If I put [the braid] too far down, then it makes my face look droopy. If I put it here, I look like a cat. If I'm working with a producer, if I can say, 'No, you need to put the fade there,' there's a language that we can completely understand." The all-encompassing aspects of her work can be backbreaking, but the alternative, to her, is inconceivable. "Imagine if you were an artist that wasn't being herself," she says, taking a sip of mint tea. "Imagine you're an artist that didn't know how to do your own makeup, didn't know how to do your own hair, didn't know how to put an outfit together, didn't write your own music, didn't direct your own videos, didn't produce your own music. They're not artists. They're vehicles, vessels. The majority of them are like that." It's not shade or disdain when she says this. FKA twigs looks genuinely stricken: "Imagine how hard that must be." It's this scholarly dedication and dancer's focus that make FKA twigs totally and utterly singular, despite the bold-name comparisons often deployed to describe her. There are parallels to Björk and Prince or, on the indie side, to Kelela and SZA. And her music, with her ethereal voice and smooth, intricately layered beats, is dubbed electronic R&B or else the horrifying portmanteau of PBR&B (Pabst Blue Ribbon R&B, to denote a hipster twist to the genre), though it's very much neither. "I don't want to be described as anything," she says. "It's like hashtags. Hashtag this, hashtag that. Hashtag blue, hashtag pink, hashtag cute dogs. Do you know what I mean? Everything has a hashtag." NEXT PAGE > It's no wonder FKA twigs is leery of the reductive aspects of being profiled: In her much-publicized personal life, she's often dubbed #robertpattinsonsfiancee. It's a designation she's loath to discuss since it invited racist barbs and online bullying from the legions of the Twilight lace front wigsstar's fan army. This for an artist who bristles at the term "fan," believing it's patronizing to people who appreciate her work. And while FKA twigs welcomes open discussion and even dissension about her work, after talking about process—hers and yours—and what it's like behind her eyeballs, it feels sexist, heteronormative, retrograde, wholly beside the point, and frankly insane to ask about her famous beau. So you don't. Not because she's intimidating but because you respect her enough to save you both the smarm. Besides, when you have a finite number of moments to rummage through the mind of an oracle—who by this point is full-on dilated and spewing wisdom about how to vanquish fear and self-doubt—there are more pressing things to ask. Like what the hell you should be doing with your scribble-y, overwrought career trajectory.
In response, she does the least scary thing ever. She takes off her necklace and puddles the delicate chain in your palm. "Here," she says. "I want to give you this. The quartz helps with clarity." cosplay wigsThe best bit is you believe her. Photographed by Alasdair McLellan Fashion Editor: Ellie Grace Cumming Makeup: Lynsey Alexander Hair: Duffy Manicure: Jenny Longworth Prop stylist: Andy Tomlinson