USA Today - November 18, 2014
For breakout artist FKA Twigs, image isn't everything
by Patrick Ryan
NEW YORK — FKA Twigs floats about as far away from the mainstream as one can get, but not even she can avoid Meghan Trainor's
inescapable All About That Bass.
"Who's that girl that sings that one song? 'Well, I'm all about that bass, 'bout that bass,' " she asks out of the blue, singing
faintly as she slumps over a table in her Midtown hotel. "That song is everywhere. Since I've come here, every shop I go in plays
It's a recent Tuesday morning and the avant-garde British singer is sitting down for breakfast, having just played two sold-out
shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn as part of her U.S. tour, which wraps in early December. Picking at a bowl of oatmeal and sipping
green tea, it can be jarring at first to think that the petite, unassuming woman across the table is the same one that wowed Jimmy
Fallon with her U.S. late-night debut on The Tonight Show the week prior, delivering a brazen performance of single Two Weeks that
Fallon said was unlike anything he'd ever seen.
But chatting with Twigs, who's dressed comfortably in a light-gray beret and sweater with wire-rimmed glasses, it becomes easy to
see why she's one of the most talked-about names in music right now — nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize and BBC Sound
of 2014 honors this past year, with an eye-popping style that's been mirrored by more radio-friendly pop stars Katy Perry and Nicki
Minaj in their videos.
Born Tahliah Barnett, Twigs, 26, grew up dancing ballet in a small town in rural England, receiving the nickname "Twigs" for the
way her joints crack ("FKA" stands for "formerly known as," born of a legal spat with another artist of the same name). At 17,
she moved to London and worked as a backup dancer in videos for Jessie J and Ed Sheeran, eventually dropping out of dance school
and pursuing music full time, releasing two EPs since 2012.
FKA Twigs' debut album 'LP1' was released in the U.S. in August.(Photo: Dominic Sheldon)
Two sides of success
On debut album LP1, released this summer, Twigs explores erratic emotions she says she felt at a particularly messy point in her
life. Layering clicks and metal sounds into her blend of trip-hop and R&B, she serves a line of Sir Thomas Wyatt's poem I Find No
Peace as the album's central theme: "I love another, and thus I hate myself."
"You try to do something, and it makes you feel disgusted in yourself," Twigs says. "Whether it's loving someone, trying to make
music or trying to finish something and it's painful, you're constantly confronted with your lack of skill level, or you're trying
to love someone and you're confronted with all the demons you have."
Despite the critical acclaim that met LP1, Twigs has also encountered an uglier side of fame since stepping out with reported
boyfriend Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame, in September. Faced with floods of racist remarks and death threats on Twitter,
and swarmed by paparazzi, she has since taken a step back from social media — after all, she says, she has no control over the
online venom of "14-year-old kids that should be in bed" — but she still finds the constant attention difficult.
"I really enjoy the fun of putting something out and people liking it or hating it or talking about it, but vacuous attention,
it feels disgusting. It's like a hangover," she says. "It's weird, I know that's not really because of me or what I'm doing,"
but nevertheless, "the positivity that I get from (my relationship) makes the more challenging aspects ... very worth it."
A different approach
Instead, Twigs prefers for the focus to be on her talents, which is part of the reason why she chooses to distort her image in
her work, whether it's enlarging her eyes in her Water Me video or twisting her face unrecognizable in the artwork for Pendulum.
FKA Twigs is touring the U.S. through early December.
"Being beautiful isn't everything. ... Sometimes it's interesting to show how you feel on the inside on the outside, just through
expressing yourself," Twigs says. "Sometimes I look at someone like (singer/producer) James Blake, and I kind of envy the fact
that he's a 6-2 English guy and no one will say he's changed his T-shirt from black to blue. People will only talk about his music."
One way Twigs draws attention to her songs are through her provocative music videos, which she insists are not meant to shock
people, but are instead a product of her dark sensibilities. In Video Girl, which plays more like a black-and-white art film,
an inmate receives a lethal injection before she mounts and dances around his dead body. And with Papi Pacify, in which a man
shoves his fingers down her throat, "everyone was like, 'You're going to get so much (flak). It's not beautiful, it's the ugliest
thing I've ever seen,' " she says — only for them to backtrack when the clip won rave notices and nearly three million views on
At this point, it's probably best that people stop second-guessing Twigs altogether. After all, her singular vision has gotten her
"I'll go shopping and I'll be like, 'I want to buy this,' and they're like, 'You don't really,' and I'm like, 'Yeah,' " she says,
smiling. "Then I'll wear it, and they'll be like, 'Oh, actually, that's cute. Can I borrow it?' "