Avant-pop artist Tahliah Debrett Barnett (better known as FKA twigs) has made a memorable comeback with sophomore album MAGDALENE–one of the BIRN’s favorite albums of 2019. After the release of her debut album LP1 in 2014 and touring the world, she went on a lengthy hiatus, followed by surgery removing six fibroid tumors from her uterus, among other sudden life changes. During Barnett’s time in recovery, she began making many self-healing realizations about her own womanhood, and rebuilding confidence in her femininity–resulting in MAGDALENE, a thoughtfully produced experimental-pop masterpiece that speaks volumes to women today.
Barnett had hit a rough patch while working on the album–but the heightened emotions she was experiencing only strengthened her artistic vision and enhanced her writing. She took inspiration from Mary Magdalene’s story, resonating with her inner turmoil as a woman who struggled to be accepted in society. Barnett decided to embody the character of Mary Magdalene as a symbol of empowerment, encouraging other women to take control of their own narrative. Although MAGDALENE isn’t quite a concept album, its powerful themes, biblical references and religious imagery might easily fool you–thanks to Barnett’s skillful attention to detail and intentional placement of each track, lyric, beat, and rhythm. MAGDALENE’s sound delves deep into experimental territory, a bit more so than Barnett’s prior more “accessible” works–with subtle additions of church choir-like background vocals and cinematic swells of a string orchestra. Many aspects of the production draw comparisons with other experimental art-pop artists like Bjork, Grimes, and SOPHIE.
Kicking off with the haunting “thousand eyes” and closing with “cellophane”, a fragile and emotion-filled ballad, the album progresses from eerie, dark and complex to soft and vulnerable slow-tempo tunes with truthful words like “A woman’s work, a woman’s prerogative, a woman’s time to embrace she must put herself first”. This contrast seems to represent that there are many more layers to a woman than what may be seen or expressed on the surface–just cause one may appear to be gentle doesn’t mean she can’t also be assertive and aggressive, and vice versa. MAGDALENE does a clever job at expressing how society has misrepresented women to be only one thing or another for ages, and FKA twigs’ courageous self-expression is incredibly admirable.