FKA Twigs performing in Sydney, 2015
Tahliah Debrett Barnett
16 January 1988
Tahliah Debrett Barnett (born 16 January 1988), known professionally as FKA Twigs (stylised as FKA twigs), is an English singer, songwriter, and dancer. Raised in Gloucestershire, she became a backup dancer after moving to South London when she was 17 years old. She made her musical debut with the extended plays EP1 (2012) and EP2 (2013).
Her debut studio album, LP1, was released in August 2014 to critical acclaim, peaking at number 16 on the UK Albums Chart and number 30 on the US Billboard 200. It was later nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize. She released the M3LL155X EP in 2015 to further critical praise. Her work has been described as "genre-bending", drawing on various genres including electronic music, trip hop, R&B, and avant-garde.
Tahliah Debrett Barnett was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Her father is Jamaican, and her mother is English, who is of part Spanish descent and used to be a dancer and a gymnast. Barnett was raised by her mother and stepfather. She did not meet her father, a jazz dancer, until she was 18. She grew up in Gloucestershire, and she has described the county as "kind of in the middle of nowhere." She attended St Edward's School, Cheltenham, a private Catholic school. She came from a low-income family and her education at the school was paid for by an academic scholarship.
At 16, Barnett started making music in youth clubs. At the age of 17, Twigs moved to South London to pursue a career as a dancer. She worked as a backup dancer in music videos by artists such as Kylie Minogue, Plan B, Ed Sheeran, Taio Cruz, Dionne Bromfield, Jessie J, and Wretch 32. She was a backup dancer for Jessie J in her 2010 video for "Do It like a Dude", and appeared again in her 2011 video for "Price Tag". She also appeared in Dionne Bromfield's video "Yeah Right". In 2011, she appeared in a two-minute BBC comedy sketch titled Beyoncé Wants Groceries, in which she was a backup dancer in a supermarket. When Twigs was 18, she began working with local London producers to try to find "her sound". Around the time is when she wrote "I'm Your Doll". She ended up producing a lot of what she calls "really bad demos."
2012–2013: EP1 and EP2
In August 2012, Twigs was photographed for the cover of i-D magazine. She became known as Twigs for the way her joints crack. She added the initialism FKA to her name when another artist called The Twigs complained about her use of the name. Several sources have claimed that the "FKA" stands for "Formerly Known As". However, Twigs herself has said in multiple interviews that the letters do not stand for anything in particular.
Twigs self-released her music debut, EP1 (also called "twigs"), on Bandcamp on 4 December 2012. She posted a video for each song on her YouTube channel. In August 2013, Twigs released the video for her first single "Water Me" on YouTube. The video was directed by Jesse Kanda. That same month, The Guardian profiled Twigs for their "New Band of the Day" feature, describing her as "the UK's best example to date of ethereal, twisted R&B." Twigs's second extended play, EP2, was released through the Young Turks record label in September. It was produced by Twigs and Arca. Pitchfork gave EP2 a rating of 8/10. In December, she was nominated for the BBC's Sound of 2014 prize, and was chosen by Spotify for their Spotlight on 2014 list. Twigs was then featured on Billboard's 14 Artists to Watch in 2014.
2014–2015: LP1 and M3LL155X
In April 2014, Twigs appeared on the cover of The Fader for its 91st issue. She then directed and starred in the music video for "Ouch Ouch" by rapper Lucki Eck$. She also produced the track. She began writing for her debut album during a period of "self-hatred", which she considers "quite normal" for a young person. Twigs's debut album, LP1, was released in August through Young Turks. Time magazine gave the album a positive review, saying that Twigs has "made that transition to one of the most compelling and complex acts in R&B." Twigs then announced a world tour starting on 2 October at The Dome in Brighton, England and ending on 3 December in Orlando, Florida at The Social.
In August 2014, Twigs was signed to London-based production company Academy Films as part of their A+ roster. She has since uploaded three videos on August 20 to her YouTube Channel which she directed: a video titled "Wet Wipez", starring the London dance crew of the same name, a video titled "tw-ache", which is a remix of the EP1 song "Ache", and a video for the Lucki Eck$ track "Ouch Ouch", which she also produced.
In September 2014, LP1 was revealed as one of the nominees for the 2014 Mercury Prize. The same month, Twigs performed on BBC's Later... with Jools Holland. In October, a video for "Video Girl" was released, as well as an advert for Google Glass which Twigs directed. Twigs made her American TV debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on 4 November.
On 7 November 2014, producer Boots announced he was working with Twigs on her third EP. The video for "Glass & Patron", the first song released from the EP, was posted Twigs's official YouTube channel on 23 March 2015. It was directed by Twigs. In February 2015, she performed Congregata, a theatrical "coming together" and choreographed performance that visualised "the story of my life while making this album" at the Roundhouse in Camden London.
On 15 May 2015, on her official Instagram account, she posted a picture of men posing with jackets on that had an image of Twigs' face from the "Papi Pacify" video with Twigs captioning the pic "coming soon... <3", hinting at either FKA Twigs merchandise or EP3's alleged release in the summer. During an interview with Complex magazine released in June, she stated that she had changed the title of the EP to "Melissa", and that it would be released within two months. She confirmed it would include the songs "Glass & Patron", "Mothercreep", "I'm Your Doll", "Figure 8", and "In Time". The EP, stylised as M3LL155X, was released on 13 August 2015, containing all five tracks and accompanied by four videos, which were directed by Twigs herself, featuring pregnancy, sex dolls, vogueing and Rick Owens' wife Michele Lamy. The title of the EP reads as "Melissa" and is named after the artist's "personal female energy".
2016–present: Upcoming musical project
On 18 February 2016, Twigs debuted a new song and music video titled "Good to Love". The song premiered at Soundtrack 7, her seven-day residency at Manchester International Festival that took place in July 2015. She also performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on 24 February 2016. On 9 July 2016, Twigs debuted a new stage show called "Radiant Me²" at Moscow's Lastochka Festival, where she unveiled three previously unheard songs.
In August 2016, the dance film Soundtrack 7 was premiered. Directed by Twigs, the film was created, performed and filmed on-site across seven days at Manchester International Festival in 2015.
Musical style and influences
FKA Twigs's music has been described as "genre-bending", drawing on a variety of styles, including electronic music, R&B, trip hop, choral music, industrial, and avant-garde. Her work has been compared to the work of Tricky as well as Janet Jackson, The xx and Massive Attack, while Slate described her work as distinctive in a way that rises above her influences. The Wall Street Journal described her as "an heir to futuristic R&B muses like Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and others under the progressive sway of producer Timbaland." Describing her artistry, she said: "I am not restricted by any musical genre. I like to experiment with sounds, generating emotions while putting my voice on certain atmospheres [...] I found my own way of playing punk. I like industrial sounds and incorporating everyday life's sounds like a car alarm."
FKA Twigs has been associated with the alternative R&B tag, though she herself has rejected the R&B label as related to her race:
It's just because I'm mixed race. When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: 'I've never heard anything like this before, it's not in a genre.' And then my picture came out six months later, now she's an R&B singer. I share certain sonic threads with classical music; my song 'Preface' is like a hymn. So let's talk about that. If I was white and blonde and said I went to church all the time, you'd be talking about the 'choral aspect'. But you're not talking about that because I'm a mixed-race girl from south London.
The first singers who influenced FKA Twigs were Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Marvin Gaye. When she started composing songs, she wanted to reproduce music she liked: "every bit of music that I made sounded like a pastiche of Siouxsie and the Banshees or Adam Ant. But through that I discovered myself". In an interview after being shortlisted for the 2014 Mercury Prize, Twigs cited Germfree Adolescents by X-Ray Spex as her favourite album of all time.
In September 2014, Twigs started dating British actor Robert Pattinson. They were rumored to be engaged, but never publicly confirmed it. The couple split in summer 2017. In the summer of 2018, she began dating Shia Labeouf.
In May 2018, Twigs revealed via Instagram that she underwent surgery to remove fibroid tumors from her uterus in December 2017. She described her experience as "living with a fruit bowl of pain every day" and saluted the bravery of other women living with the condition.
- LP1 (2014)
Awards and nominations
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An exclusive peek at the pages produced by the avant-pop visionary [...] It's been two years since the release of the avant-pop visionary's M3LL155X EP
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Je ne me plie à aucun genre musical, assure la métisse anglo-jamaïcaine. J'aime expérimenter avec les sons, provoquer des émotions en posant ma voix sur certaines atmosphères. Je viens de terminer mes derniers morceaux, et cela a beaucoup évolué par rapport à mon premier disque. Mes nouvelles musiques sont plus agressives. Plus jeune, je n'écoutais que du punk, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sid Vicious, et là, j'ai trouvé ma propre manière de jouer du punk. J'aime les sons industriels, incorporer des bruits de la vie de tous les jours comme une alarme de voiture.
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- "FKA twigs says uterus surgery 'knocked my confidence as a woman'". The Guardian. 9 May 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2018.