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Across the Pond: FKA twigs reinvents R&B tropes through performance, sound

By Ishan Rampuria

Nov. 17, 2014 12:32 a.m.

There’s something about the British Isles that consistently produces musical greatness; it is inherent to the country, its people and its culture. Popular culture has been defined by bands and artists from the UK; they have consistently created new genres and musical subcultures – from the Beatles’ psychedelic rock in the ’60s all the way through to the explosion of dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Every week, “Across the Pond” will cover a British artist, or an aspect of British music, that has defined modern culture.

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Love, sex and heartbreak aren’t topics new to R&B; singers. Whether it’s The Weeknd crooning about his relationships or Frank Ocean swooning over unrequited love, modern R&B; singers, like their predecessors, cannot seem to move past these themes. In this respect, FKA twigs is not a revolutionary. Like numerous other R&B; singers, her lyrics range from discussing sex, love, despair and more sex. What sets her apart, however, is her assertion of power, for even when she talks about these well-trodden topics, it is from a position of strength and not weakness.

Hailing from Gloucestershire, England, FKA twigs made her U.S. inauguration two weeks ago on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” performing the lead single “Two Weeks” of her debut album “LP1.” Dressed in a copper corset, holding onto large, luminous fabrics designed by artist Daniel Wurtzel, FKA twigs twisted around stage, contorting her body in various angles all the while singing the hypersexualized “Two Weeks” with a measured softness. Even as she writhes around stage, her voice almost a whimper, one gets the idea that FKA twigs’ performance was both polished and empowering; she was completely comfortable in her actions.

FKA twigs will perform in Los Angeles for the first time on Friday at The Regent theater, and based on her “Fallon” performance, concertgoers can expect an ultramodern show focused on FKA twigs as both a singer and performing artist. Having spent the early part of her career as a backup dancer in music videos such as “Do It Like a Dude” by Jessie J, FKA twigs’ stage persona incorporates her physicality as a dancer along with her wistfulness as a singer.

While her subject matter may not be revolutionary, it is FKA twigs’ delivery that captivates. While someone like Beyoncé defines her feminism through calls of female strength and solidarity, FKA twigs defines her femininity through the exact opposite tactic. Deriving power through graceful restraint, FKA twigs subtly displays her sexuality and whispers about love, yet always remains in control of her body, words and actions.

Of course, FKA twigs’ live performances wouldn’t be so captivating if the actual music wasn’t as powerful as it is. Nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2014, “LP1” features beats from producers-of-the-moment Arca, Sampha and Clams Casino, along with twigs herself. The beats are restrained – they work more as a platform on which twigs’ voice is built – rather than dominating her songs. Her voice itself is light, airy and atmospheric, and is manipulated throughout the record, doubling up as an extra instrument. Songs like “Pendulum,” “Two Weeks” and “Lights On” are built on syncopated rhythms, and the album itself is a tight collection of eerie, spacey beats.

After her performance on “The Tonight Show,” Fallon exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anything like that,” as he stood, in awe, like the rest of the audience. For those able to witness it, FKA twigs’ debut in Los Angeles promises to be an enthralling ride as she rides the wave up from Internet sensation to superstar.

Ishan Rampuria

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