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Exploring identity and performance through FKA Twigs

How music videos have become a space for the evolution of artistic image

By Letty Gardner

FKA Twigs is as much a visual artist as she is a musician. Her music videos take beautiful, bizarre dreamscapes and allow her to move and develop within them. Shifting between the ethereal and the nightmare-ish, the calm and the visually frantic, Twigs uses visual art to continually construct and develop her artistic identity. The identities that Twigs takes on in each of her videos – and most strongly in her releases leading up Magdalene – are both worlds apart and intrinsically her.

Seeing Twigs perform this past summer emphasised the importance of her visual performance and presence. Her time on stage wasn’t a gig or a run through of tracks; it was a carefully choreographed and perfected visual performance art. The set was a feature-length film, complete with costume changes, intervals, new settings, and dark narrative structure. The intoxicating impact of the visuals left me and most of the audience in awe. In the lead up to Magdalene, Twigs’ releases have been both musically beautiful and visually stunning.Cellophane,holy terrain, andhome with you all exist as gorgeous tracks, but when paired with their videos they are elevated, complicated, and situated within Twigs’ performance art.

‘Cellophane’, the first single to be released from Magdalene, is both understated and heart-breaking. The music video, directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, matches the track in these elements. Twigs steps out in front of an applauding audience, dressed in an ornate and fragile outfit designed by Ed Marler; totally vulnerable. Both upon the stage and within the music video performance of ‘Cellophane’, Twigs pole-dances. “I knew I had to pole-dance to bring it to life, and so that’s what I did,” Twigs wrote on her Instagram, suggesting the importance of the song’s physicality, in both its creation and completion.

Working as a dancer before she started her musical career, movement and the body is central to Twigs’ art. Blending traditional ballet with jagged contemporary and uncomfortable distortions, Twigs embodies and amplifies her music. The video is open to a wealth of interpretation; laden with suggestive symbolism and confusing narrative. Whilst the video starts out simple and beautiful, it soon delves into a mechanical and digitised dreamscape, as the stage that Twigs dances on falls away and she becomes surrounded by robots and masked figures. Whilst Twigs acts out and strengthens an artistic identity within this video, the vulnerability of both the music and the visual suggests the telling of a deeply personal story.

‘holy terrain’, in direct contrast to ‘Cellophane’, is entirely devoid of vulnerability. The video instead presents Twigs as fiercely confident and compellingly intimidating. Whilst these videos could be followed as a narrative – presenting first an innocent character, then a menacing one, and finally, in ‘home with you’, a balance of both – the identities depicted are so opposing that it can be seen as an exploration of what Twigs can achieve through her visual and performative art. Her videos delve into the various characters she can explore and what she can say through them.

The music videos for ‘Cellophane’ and ‘holy terrain’ match the pace of the singles. The visuals for ‘home with you’, however, accelerate the track. Directed by FKA Twigs, the video pairs the track’s sparse sonic opening with visual density. The video’s introduction, picturing Twigs at a party, cuts between blurred portraits, richly coloured costumes, and dancing bodies all drenched in dark blues and greens to create a feeling of chaos and movement. This is made even more haunting by the minimalism of the track. Again, costume and the body are central to this video. FKA Twigs has one eye bandaged throughout and is dressed in various exaggerated and theatrical costumes. The second half of ‘home with you’, characterised by its piano chords and sweetened vocals, is as visually contrasting to the opening as it is musically. Visually paired with white linens, bright daylight, and green natural imagery, it suggests a departure from the darkness and turmoil of the track’s first half and depicts a rebirth of Twigs’ character.

For artists such as Lana Del Rey or Beyoncé, the music video is used to solidify their artistic identities, FKA Twigs uses her videos to further obscure this. They perpetuate the idea that her artistic identity is eternally developing and un-categorisable. Whilst there are continuous traits throughout both her musical and visual style, the goddess gold tones of ‘Cellophane’ mirroring her 2014 video for ‘Two Weeks’, the growling spoken word opening of ‘home with you’ harkening back to the contrasts of 2012 track ‘Ache’, her growth is unavoidable. Even simply scrolling through her Instagram, the evolution of her artistic image is instantly apparent, and it is through the music video format that she can do this most passionately.

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