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Tahliah Debrett Barnett
17 January 1988
Tahliah Debrett Barnett (born 17 January 1988), known professionally as FKA Twigs (stylized as FKA twigs), is an English singer-songwriter, record producer, dancer, and actress. Born and raised in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, she became a backup dancer after moving to South London at age 17. She made her musical debut with the extended play EP1 (2012).
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 acclaim, as well as her second studio album Magdalene four years later. Her work has been described as "genre-bending", drawing on various genres including electronic music, trip hop, R&B, and the avant-garde.
Tahliah Debrett Barnett was born and raised in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Her mother is an English woman of partly Spanish descent who used to be a dancer and gymnast, and her father, a musician, is Jamaican. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, a "jazz fanatic", and did not meet her father until she was 18. Barnett grew up in Gloucestershire, and described the county as "kind of in the middle of nowhere". She attended St Edward's School, Cheltenham, a private Catholic school for boys and girls aged 11 to 18. Her education at the school was funded by an academic scholarship. From a young age, she undertook opera and ballet lessons and took part in several St Edward's School productions.
At age 16, Barnett started making music in youth clubs. At 17, she moved to South London to pursue a career as a dancer, where she also attended the BRIT School. After changing her focus from dance to music, she transferred from the BRIT School to Croydon College to pursue an education in fine arts. 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. Barnett 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. At 18, Barnett began working with local London producers to try to find what she calls "her sound". Around this time is when she wrote "I'm Your Doll". She ended up producing a lot of "really bad demos". For a time, she worked as a hostess in a strip club and also sang periodically at The Box.
2012–2013: EP1 and EP2
In August 2012, Barnett 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 act called the Twigs – twin sisters active and recording since 1994 – asked her to change her stage name. Several sources have claimed that the "FKA" stands for "Formerly Known As", but Barnett has said in multiple interviews that the letters do not stand for anything in particular: "[I]t's just a collection of letters. I was gonna be like FK1 Twigs…or AFK Twigs…I just wanted a selection of letters that sounded quite kind of masculine and strong. FKA just worked. It doesn't stand for anything, it's just capital letters."
Barnett self-released her music debut, EP1, on Bandcamp on 4 December 2012. She posted a video for each song on her YouTube channel. In August 2013, she released the video for her first single, "Water Me", it was directed by Jesse Kanda. That same month The Guardian profiled Barnett for their "New Band of the Day" feature, describing her as "the UK's best example to date of ethereal, twisted R&B." Barnett's second extended play, EP2, was released through the Young Turks record label in September. It was produced by Barnett 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. Barnett was then featured on Billboard's 14 Artists to Watch in 2014.
2014–2017: LP1 and M3LL155X
In April 2014, Barnett appeared on the cover of The Fader for its 91st issue. She began writing for her first studio album during a period of "self-hatred", which she considers "quite normal" for a young person. On 24 June, she released "Two Weeks", the lead single from her forthcoming album, alongside a video. Barnett then directed and guest-starred in the music video for "Ouch Ouch" by rapper Lucki Eck$; she also produced the track. The second single, "Pendulum", was released on 29 July.
Her debut studio album, LP1, was released on 6 August through Young Turks. The album received widespread critical acclaim and placed high on several year-end critics' lists. Time gave a positive review, saying that Barnett has "made that transition to one of the most compelling and complex acts in R&B", and later ranked it, as did Clash, #1 album of the year. She then announced a world tour starting on 2 October at The Dome in Brighton, East Sussex and ending on 3 December in Orlando, Florida at The Social. That same August, Barnett was signed to London-based production company Academy Films as part of their A+ roster. On 20 August, she uploaded three videos to her YouTube channel which she directed: a video titled "Wet Wipez", starring the London dance crew of the same name; a video titled "tw-ache", which is a remix of the EP1 song "Ache"; and a video for the Lucki Eck$ track "Ouch Ouch", which she also produced.
In September, LP1 was revealed as one of the nominees for the 2014 Mercury Prize. The same month, Barnett performed on BBC's Later... with Jools Holland. In October, "Video Girl", the third and last single from the album, was released alongside a video a few days later, as well as an advert for Google Glass which Barnett directed. She made her US television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on 4 November.
On 7 November 2014, producer Boots announced he was working with Barnett on her third EP. The video for "Glass & Patron", the first song released from this EP, was posted on her YouTube channel on 23 March 2015; it was directed by Barnett. 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, on her Instagram account, she posted a picture of men posing with jackets on that had an image of Barnett's face from the "Papi Pacify" video with Barnett captioning the pic "coming soon... <3", hinting at either merchandise or EP3's alleged release in the summer. During an interview with Complex 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 announced tracks and accompanied by four videos, which were directed by Barnett herself, featuring pregnancy, sex dolls, vogueing and Michele Lamy. The title of the EP reads as "Melissa" and is named after the artist's "personal female energy". The record met critical acclaim.
On 18 February 2016, Barnett debuted a new song and music video titled "Good to Love". The song premiered earlier 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. On 9 July, Barnett 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 Barnett, the film was created, performed and filmed on-site across seven days at Manchester International Festival in 2015. She later did advertising work directing, narrating and starring in a television ad for Nike, and dancing in Apple's advertisement for HomePod, thus gaining worldwide visibility.
On 24 April 2019, she released the single, "Cellophane", her first release since "Good to Love" in 2016. In September, Barnett announced that her second album, co-produced with Nicolas Jaar among others, would be titled Magdalene, supported by second single "Holy Terrain" (featuring Future) on 9 September. On 7 October, she released the third single, "Home with You", and announced that the album would be delayed until 8 November. The fourth single, "Sad Day", was released on 4 November.
Magdalene was released on 8 November 2019, as planned, and received universal critical acclaim. The album ranked No. 1 on four year-end lists (The A.V. Club, Clash, Now, and Time) and in top-five of seven other lists. The same day, film Honey Boy, in which Barnett played Shy Girl, had a commercial premiere. The movie received positive reviews from critics.
In August 2020, she appeared in an OnlyFans-inspired music video for the song "Sum Bout U" with rapper 645AR. Video for the "Sad Day", directed by Hiro Murai, premiered on 28 August. In September, Barnett received 4 nominations for the 2020 UK Music Video Awards, "Sad Day" won later the best cinematography in a video.
In October, Barnett took part in a virtual chat on the Grammy Museum's Programs at Home series. During the chat, she revealed that she was "just finishing" a new album that she made largely in collaboration with Spanish musician and producer El Guincho, and with other collaborators, many of whom she met for the first time via FaceTime calls. In November, British singer Dua Lipa hosted a livestream concert, titled Studio 2054, in which Barnett was invited to play as a guest. The two teased an upcoming collaboration, titled "Why Don't You Love Me", during Barnett's performance.
2021–present: Upcoming third studio album
On 25 January 2021, Barnett announced a new single "Don't Judge Me", featuring North London rapper Headie One and producer Fred again, to be released the next day alongside a video co-directed by Dutch-Ghanaian director Emmanuel Adjei and herself. The same day, she took part in a podcast episode with Louis Theroux and discussed her previous known relationships and an upcoming album, stating "It was all via the internet...I have more collaborations and features on this album than I ever had before." In February, she described the album as a "going out" record, and revealed it will feature collaborations with Nigerian Afrobeats star Rema, British hip-hop up-and-comer Pa Salieu, as well as the aforementioned Headie One and Dua Lipa tracks. A few days later, Barnett, interviewed by British actress and screenwriter Michaela Coel, revealed that she had changed the undisclosed, original title of the upcoming record due to a well-known artist titling a non-musical project the same thing. In an interview with Vogue in May, Barnett revealed the album does not have a set release date, but she wants to release it in the northern summer of 2021.
Musical style and influences
Possessing a soprano vocal range, Barnett'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. In her songs and music videos she incorparates elements of afrofuturism. Karen Vintges, of the University of Amsterdam, described Barnett's performance style as "porno-chic", and said it "refuses to conform to standard norms of heterosexual beauty". In her collaboration with 645AR she explored the artistic value of sex work.
Her work has been compared to that of Tricky as well as Kate Bush, Janet Jackson, the xx, and Massive Attack. 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." According to Slate, "her sound is uniquely her own – melismatic falsetto over beats that are equal parts spooky and soothing". In 2020, The New York Times noted: "in recent years, Twigs, now 32, has begun to harness her pursuit of avant-garde innovation and technical virtuosity toward a deeper exploration of pain and insecurity", making wider comparisons to Janelle Monáe, Fiona Apple, Solange, and Lana Del Rey. In terms of her relationship to fame and adoption of different personae on the stage and in her music, Simon Critchley aligned her alongside David Bowie.
Barnett 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." She 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 Barnett 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, Barnett cited Germfree Adolescents by X-Ray Spex as her favourite album of all time.
In September 2014, Barnett began dating actor Robert Pattinson. The couple, who were engaged, ended their relationship in the summer of 2017. As a result of their relationship, Barnett was targeted in high-profile cases of racist and sexist online abuse.
In May 2018, Barnett revealed via Instagram that she underwent surgery to remove fibroid tumours 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.
Barnett was in a relationship with American actor Shia LaBeouf from mid-2018 to May 2019. They met on the set of the film Honey Boy. In December 2020, she filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf in Los Angeles, accusing him of sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress during their relationship. In his response, LaBeouf stated he had been "abusive" to himself and those around him "for years" and that he was "ashamed" and "sorry to those [he] hurt." Later, LaBeouf denied all allegations made by Barnett.
|2019||Honey Boy||Shy Girl|
|"Traktor"||2010||Wretch 32||Ben Newman|||
|"Do It like a Dude"||Jessie J||Emil Nava|||
|"You Need Me, I Don't Need You"||Ed Sheeran|||
|"Yeah Right"||Dionne Bromfield|||
|"Time to Dance"||2012||The Shoes||Daniel Wolfe|||
Awards and nominations
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i was 19 when i learnt my first pole move, i learnt a back hook spin from a stripper when i was working as a hostess in a gentleman's club. for those of you who don't know, hostessing is when one person pays another person for their time, anything from a conversation over dinner to sex work, and the club gets a cut of the fee.
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The new album [...] was originally set for release on October 25
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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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