FKA twigs is her own muse. She operates at a prodigious level of self-knowledge and artistic clarity, which elevates her above many of her peers. She performs in a state of undiluted creativity and calculated experimentation, which extends to all elements of her artistic output. But even the most controlled artist can find herself in a mess of emotion. FKA twigs’ latest album MAGDALENE reveals how the vulnerability of a decaying relationship can expose the hazy boundary between empowerment and helplessness.
The artistry of FKA twigs expands beyond music, which sonically occupies a unique niche that melds familiar and foreign influences; her live shows incorporate pole dancing and swordplay, her music videos thrive in absurdist imagery, and her cover art depicts intriguing distortions of her own likeness. Holistically, her tendencies to the atypical make it difficult to be a passive observer of her work; one is either enthralled or alienated.
Throughout MAGDALENE, FKA twigs’ individuality is at the forefront. She merges classical elements with futuristic sounds to dizzying effect. There is a heavy atmosphere to the album, which can feel akin to walking through a cathedral or embarking on a spiritual retreat. The music is textured with intimacy and isolation, as twigs’ inherently ethereal voice explores extremes. She experiments with dynamics throughout the entirety of MAGDALENE. Vocal registers, prominent instruments, and production styles shift so frequently that the album gives off the impression of a chameleon: whole in nature and substance, but reflective of ever-shifting surroundings.
MAGDALENE’s lyrics are highly poetic, layering heartbreak and confusion through filters of biblical allusions and abstract imagery. The concept of Mary Magdalene is central to the album, literally and figuratively; the song “mary magdalene” is situated exactly in the middle of the record. Mary Magdalene functions as an ancient character representative of loyalty, loss, and desire. In her turmoil, twigs projects herself onto Mary Magdalene as a role model for maintaining feminine power in a disrespectful world. Peace and discomfort are intertwined throughout the album, and their connection to Mary Magdalene is indicative of FKA twigs’ complicated relationship with vulnerability.
The album progresses like a narrative. At the beginning, twigs explores the power dynamics involved in the process of losing a lover. The lyrics of the first songs veer into omniscience, even while expressing uncertainty. They are accusatory, repentant, inquisitive, and desirous addresses to an unanswering entity. At the midpoint of the album, “mary magdalene” switches twigs’ focus from external to internal. That song articulates the core philosophy of the record: “A woman’s time to embrace/ she must put herself first.” Afterwards, the album becomes more introspective and personally focused.
In the latter tracks, twigs is more willing to reconcile her flaws with her power, and submit to the possibility that she was mistaken about the limits of her control. According to MAGDALENE, heartbreak invokes the dual powers of strength and weakness within a person. These dueling forces propel the emotional and psychological drama of the album until they wind down in the release of “cellophane,” the last song on the tracklist. The album’s final statement is one of insecurity and uncertainty. The freedom to be powerless has the ability to bring the peace that had been missing in the fallout of heartbreak.