Magdalene: an analysis and review of FKA Twigs’s triumphant return

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Tahliah Barnett, better known as FKA Twigs, was gone from the music world for three years (or five years, depending on your outlook). The last anyone heard of the genre-bending British songstress before 2019 was the 90s indebted ballad “Good to Love” back in 2016, and it feels like a lifetime has passed since then. For one, she braved the racist vitriol that erupted in the wake of the announcement of her relationship with Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson in 2014 and continued even after their dissolution in 2018. She underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove six tumors, an ordeal that she has gone on record to state shook “confidence as a woman”, and no doubt derailed her physical activity — a particularly dire thought for a woman known for her dancing prowess. In her time away, Twigs also found time to star in a popular Apple commercial, pencil in a guest spot on an A$AP Rocky track and entertain a brief dalliance with Shia LaBeouf, with whom she also parted. Still, it would do her a dishonor to simply explain her time away without acknowledging Twigs was ardently working on her follow-up MAGDALENE and took up pole-dancing in order to bring her vision to life, finally arriving in April 2019 with lead-off single “Cellophane”.

However, it is with “Thousand Eyes” that she opens up the album and though lyrically sparse, the production is focused on keeping her emotional vocal performance at the forefront that places the repetition here firmly as meaningful. The percussion on this track aids in conveying the horror and insecurity Twigs likely felt in the aftermath of her separation from Pattinson, especially as it concerns the public and media, who had already ceaselessly attacked her for being with him in the first place. On “Home with You”, her voice is gravelly and harsh during the verses, infusing her heartbreak with a slight air of resentment as she laments over her lover’s inability to effectively communicate his loneliness to her. The production falls away during the chorus as she switches to an airier and more delicate delivery, where she expresses her sorrow and her wish that she had known her lover’s feelings of isolation as she would have returned home to soothe him and in the soaring outro, she goes on to confess her own feelings of loneliness as well. Enlisting the likes of Skrillex, Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat to aid her on the slightly more conventional “Sad Day”, Twigs most distinctly recalls the likes of Kate Bush and Bjork as she poses the hopeful question of rekindling a relationship with her to her love interest, acknowledging the hurt she has previously caused him that might ward him off. The frenetic yet melancholic beat allows Twigs to build upon the desperate and upsetting mood set by the lyrics, supported by the pleading tone in her singing.

“Holy Terrain” is the track most attuned to the hits of the current musical climate, with a trap beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio, though the glitchy background vocals and tones are more eccentric than usual radio fare. It’s the first collaboration we’ve heard on any of Twigs’s albums and though Future plays his role as a man attempting to rehabilitate himself to be worthy of her love, her resonant delivery and well-constructed lyricism are strong enough on their own that Future is rendered almost useless and though the song comes together well, it might have benefitted further with his absence. Serving as a title track of sorts, “Mary Magdalene” reflects Twigs finding inspiration from the story of the biblical figure, long falsely painted as a reformed prostitute follower of Jesus Christ. Here, Twigs finds empowerment in confronting and playing up the sexist dismissals of Magdalene, with steady and assured execution in her voice that draws upon her own encounters with finding her narrative transfixed to a man. The production here, as she is once again helped by Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat and Nicolas Jaar, enhances the seductive qualities Twigs highlights in her lyrics and erupts into a transcendental breakdown. “Fallen Alien” finds Twigs at her most abrasive, as she expresses disgust towards her lover, having completely grown disillusioned with their relationship and showing disbelief at having found herself attached to this person. The jarring synths and alarm-like percussion are thrown together with a chopped sample of a choir for a harried display of utter loathing.

“Mirrored Heart” is straightforward in conveying Twigs’s heartbreak as she finds herself envious of those who have found their match, being reminded that she is alone and reminded of the lover she has recently broken off with. Though the album isn’t lacking for strong vocal turns, Twigs is at her best here, sounding mournful over sparse piano that is helped with some ethereal synths and occasional booming production. Twigs nails the sensations of inability and defeat that come with depression on “Daybed”, repeating the same fruitless sequence of actions as the production comes to a head. Here, neither masturbation, the decaying state of her environment nor her father’s intervention is ample enough to break her out of her mental state, effectively communicating the struggles that come with depression for many individuals. Twigs ends the album with lead single “Cellophane”, where Twigs depicts her struggles to find her feelings for her lover reciprocated in the face of criticism from the public. She sings with a weariness and frustration in what is largely a piano ballad, helped slightly with some beatboxing. Here, Twigs’s final remark that people are hoping she “isn’t enough” feels defiant within the context of the album, as if by acknowledging it, she may yet overcome it.

On MAGDALENE, Twigs mines her past experiences and feelings to produce an album that serves as a more emotionally immersive listen than her previous works. Not only does the album connect, but it expands upon the experimental nature of her sound without overwhelming, to form a sound that wholly unique to FKA Twigs without becoming inaccessible. With her latest body of work, Twigs proves why she is one of the most exciting artists of the past decade, having a firm grip on her artistry whilst showing a willingness to expand and evolve in her craft.

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