Source: The New York Times
- May 15, 2015
FKA twigs Lives Large, in ‘Congregata’ and Beyond
by Joe Coscarelli
FKA twigs, the experimental R&B singer, sat at a novelty typewriter in the lobby of a faux-vintage Manhattan hotel, only to find
that the machine actually worked. Hunting and pecking, she clacked out a message: “Hello world.”
Born Tahliah Barnett in rural Gloucestershire, England, FKA twigs is something of an artistic polymath, having written and produced
two Internet-beating EPs and a critically beloved first album, “LP1,” released last year, while also directing, choreographing and
starring in a striking run of outré pop music videos rivaling those of Björk. At the moment, she is preparing “Congregata,” a
two-hour performance pairing her silky, deconstructed electronic songs of lust and pain with a decade’s worth of her dance influences.
Her three sold-out shows start on Sunday at the Brooklyn Hangar.
FKA twigs rehearsing with the vogue dancer Benjamin Milan ahead of three sold-out shows titled “Congregata” at the Brooklyn Hangar
in Sunset Park.
Credit Christopher Gregory for The New York Times
But that’s just her musical world. Ms. Barnett, 27, is also becoming, much to her consternation, increasingly part of the tabloid
universe as the girlfriend of the “Twilight” actor Robert Pattinson and as a fashion muse who attended the Met’s Costume Institute
Gala with him and the designer Christopher Kane, wearing a much-discussed dress.
Ms. Barnett with Mr. Milan. A locally trained veteran of voguing, Mr. Milan which originated in New York’s drag ballroom scene and
was taken to the mainstream by Madonna in a 1990 hit single.
Credit Christopher Gregory for The New York Times
So while corralling an ornate theatrical production — involving nearly a dozen dancers in a variety of underground styles (voguing,
krumping, bone-breaking) — FKA twigs must still contend with forces beyond her fastidious creative control: namely, the paparazzi,
the gossip pages they fill and the anonymous commenters who feast on the scraps. It’s been intrusive and at times ugly, with a
constant stream of racist insults on social media.
And then there is her insistence on handling her career in a less than traditional fashion. Whereas the playbook for an indie
darling typically calls for relentless touring after a breakthrough debut, if not a new album as soon as possible, Ms. Barnett found
the road circuit — and its temptation to go on autopilot — uninspiring.
“I’m not a tiny little hamster on a wheel — you can’t just say, ‘Now you’re in Baltimore, go perform!’ ” she said over juice in the
hotel’s garden, casual in harem pants and knit crop top. “To lose how wonderful and sacred performance is, that’s quite disastrous,
Her response was “Congregata,” or a coming together, a concert-plus that both centers her all-encompassing vision — from costumes,
some hand-sewn by her mother back in England and others by Alexander McQueen, to musical arrangements — and pulls lesser-known
artists into her brightening spotlight, with choreography from a diverse team including Ryan Heffington, known recently for his
work with Sia.
While the show is in some ways a security blanket, surrounding FKA twigs with longtime friends and collaborators — “It’s my life,
it’s my world,” she said — it’s also a testament to her ambition. “In many ways, I’m still an underground artist,”
Ms. Barnett said, “but why can’t I have big special shows like Drake, Beyoncé and Kanye?”
Ms. Barnett is also becoming, much to her consternation, increasingly part of the tabloid universe as the girlfriend of the “Twilight”
actor Robert Pattinson and as a fashion muse who attended the Met’s Costume Institute Gala with him and the designer Christopher
Kane, wearing a much-discussed dress.
Credit Josh Haner/The New York Times
Many Ameri, a co-founder of the Red Bull Music Academy, which is presenting the show, was drawn to the fullness of the FKA twigs
aesthetic. “Music today is more than just the audio, and it’s also not just the moving image,” he said. “It’s a whole attitude, and
making that point of view come to life through whatever means you have. Twigs is exceptional in the way she represents that.”
With just three days to go until the American debut of “Congregata,” which had a premiere in London on a smaller scale in February,
FKA twigs, who once worked as a professional backing dancer, was still learning her moves. At a Midtown soundstage she was joined by
Benjamin Milan, a locally trained veteran of voguing, which originated in New York’s drag ballroom scene and was taken to the
mainstream by Madonna in a 1990 hit single.
“That’s nasty,” Mr. Milan told Ms. Barnett encouragingly as they rehearsed interacting arm movements and struck poses over a
glamorous industrial beat, building a section of the show that is meant to highlight the dance form with cameos from other
established voguing stars.
Ms. Barnett originally met Mr. Milan in a London club that she visited to learn about the subculture. “A lot of music artists don’t
respect the roots of dancing,” she said. “I never want to associate myself with something that I don’t understand. I would never
want to be guilty of cultural appropriation.”
Beyond the expressive movement, “Congregata” features a new song, “Glass & Patron,” from a third EP, expected this summer, that
addresses celebrity culture. “We wait all week to hear gods talk,” she sings of idol worship, “when you’ve got a front-row seat to
“A lot of music artists don’t respect the roots of dancing. I never want to associate myself with something that I don’t understand.
I would never want to be guilty of cultural appropriation,” Ms. Barnett said.
Photo Credit Christopher Gregory for The New York Times
Ms. Barnett likes to say she’s “masquerading as a pop star,” while also being sucked into the vortex of “Twilight,” with photographers
around the world chronicling her relationship with Mr. Pattinson. “It’s really hard — I can’t begin to explain how awful it is,”
she said. “It makes you want to just stop everything sometimes. It makes you want to smash your face into the mirror.”
Worst of all are the racial insults — she is biracial — on Twitter and Instagram, some of them from die-hard fans of Mr. Pattinson.
“It’s relentless,” she said. She insisted that the attention their relationship draws does not help her professionally.
“There’s no amount of songs I can sing or dances I can dance that will prove to them I’m not a monkey.”
“I didn’t see my life going this way at all,” Ms. Barnett said of recent events. “But it’s worth it. I’m so happy.”
She is also adamant that the increased scrutiny will not affect her creativity. “Nothing can impale my work or make me choose not to
say things a certain way or make an image the way I want,” she said.
That includes the Christopher Kane dress she wore to the Met ball, with brightly drawn and intertwined nude figures reminiscent of
her choreography: “Everyone was just like, ‘Oh, look, there’s a penis!’ ” she said. “I didn’t think about it. I’m so naïve.
I’m like, ‘I’m wearing art!’ ”
But rather than withdraw completely from the maw, Ms. Barnett is defiant. Ahead of rehearsal this week, she met Mr. Pattinson on a
Chelsea street corner in broad daylight, no tinted S.U.V. in sight, and strolled off with a hand around his waist.