Each beat, breath, word and phrase on FKA twigs’ sophomore record Magdalene navigates the underworld of post-collapse. Its vulnerability carries an earthquake of power.
In the fall of 2016, I arrived in Berlin’s heavy grey sky and brightly colored desiccation, leaves tiled the sidewalks like ocean tides. I landed with the faltering outline of a body and a breath so hushed, I became dusty unknown, a despairing inhale led to the apathy of an exhale. I no longer knew who I once was.
What had begun as a hopeful heart quickly dissolved into two years of subterranean silence, as if I had entered the underworld with a familiarity. I surrendered to the suffocation of heartache, and went below earth like Persephone anticipating spring. The Trinity Cemetery near Tempelhofer Feld became a home to my heart, through its seasons of ocean autumn, snow swept branches, and lilac fog mornings. It was something like sleep-walking, sunken ocean-bottom and breathless. The ominous corners of my heart made themselves known. Seeking refuge in my own shadow, I descended and dwelled there.
And just like the new moon in Scorpio bewitched our skies over the last weekend in October, a transit that reminds us to withdraw our tellurian habits post-harvest and go within to feel the emotions we keep hidden, we sink deeper into ourselves, just as the leaves find their hues grounded and exposing bare trees, awaiting the fertility of spring. It is in this slippage between seasons where we plummet beneath the shell of ourselves and are our most vulnerable.
This sense of vulnerability is a melody carried from start to finish in Tahliah Barnett’s (better known as FKA twigs) latest album Magdalene. The album serves as a raw exposition of heartache, which embraces the subterranean voyage pain takes us on as the heartbroken, the gutted, the without.
Barnett carries us through a journey of what occurs when we love with our fullest selves and the collapse that ensues when that tie between two human beings, two souls, is severed. Each song is a rhythm that musically embodies the coalescing of two human beings and the absence of the other thereafter. Barnett rekindles our painful nostalgia of falling in love, choosing to love and its crash when the foundation built between two individuals weakens, deflates and shatters.
We are defenseless to her lyrics
In her interview with I-D, Barnett relays: „The record is about every lover I have had and every lover I am going to have.” And just like that, each song and beat marks an incantation to the once bruised heart and the heart that is seemingly always in recovery. We are on the edge of emotion and susceptibility as each song manifests the building of desire, the grief of heartache, and the collapse of surrender.
The three songs that most impressively illustrate this journey have been released as precursors to the album’s entirety: „Home With You”, „Holy Terrain”, and „Cellophane”.
„Home With You” forces us to find our breath in its staccato stomps and long-winded falsettos. In this song, we hear Barnett sing in a high-pitched tone: „I didn’t know that you were lonely / If you’d have just told me, I’d be running down the hills to be with you / (…) I never told you I was lonely too”. Throughout we feel a sense of belonging to the other, though are also forced to observe the distancing between two human beings unable to share their feeling of loneliness within a relationship. This song is a lesson. Barnett demonstrates the vulnerability of feeling alone we often keep to ourselves even in our most tender moments of sharing a life, a home, with another.
„Holy Terrain” is an upbeat trap tune in collaboration with Future. The song captures a feminine and a masculine voice which display the tension of two opposing trajectories given their societal expectations and desires. At first, we encounter two lovers entering the seductive narrative of infatuation: „Day one, take me to my favourite show / Day two, hold my hand and pull me close”. And as we continue to listen, we learn that the holy terrain of the title refers to the bountiful female body and the vulnerability therein when entering a romantic dynamic with the other: „Will you still be there for me / Once I am yours to obtain / Once my fruits are for taking”.
Barnett highlights the desire to be with a man who will be present seductively, romantically and as a true partner: „For a man who can follow his heart / Not get bound by his boys and his chains / For a man who can follow his heart / And stand up in my holy terrain”. The song not only provides a sexy backdrop for basically any mood, it emphasizes the vulnerability, awareness and respect required between two entities building a relationship (in this world).
And the final song on the album, „Cellophane” completes the descent of utter devastation, to be without one’s best friend, one’s lover, the person who once was and now is no longer. Each downtempo key and beat closes in on our hearts. Barnett sings: „Didn’t I do it for you / Why don’t I do it for you”, a question reverberating the woeful brokenhearted. We are defenseless to her lyrics. The nakedness is continued: „When you’re gone I have no one to tell / And I, just want to feel you’re there / And I don’t want to have to share our love / I try but I get overwhelmed”. We are sunken into the trap of aloneness, forced to be with and speak to ourselves, no longer with the other to lean into as a support, a home.
Spring always blooms after autumn’s descent
Each song is forlorn though each does not long, each song performs longing. To feel without is to be subterranean and in a static state of silence. As we listen, from beginning to end, we carry in our hearts the misery of heartache.
Each beat, breath, word and phrase navigates the underworld of post-collapse. We also feel and learn Barnett’s patronage to Mary Magdalene as a powerful female icon. To surrender and to be vulnerable carries an earthquake of power. And just as Mary Magdalene smelled the flowers and Persephone eventually entered the fertility and abundance of spring, we, alongside Barnett, feel the bravery required to be vulnerable, to breathe and be with oneself, and inquire with a newfound and stronger hope, as spring always blooms after autumn’s descent.
Magdalene is a fitting backdrop for this transition from autumn into winter, one which surrenders to the shadowy corners of our being, the pockets that hold our vulnerabilities, hide our heartache, shelter our grief, and protect our emotional ontology. It is an album that reminds us of the risk we take when we possibilize love.
(Young Turks / Beggars / Indigo)
Dr. Tiara Roxanne is a scholar, artist and poet based in Berlin. Her work revolves around decolonization and investigates the relationship between the Indigenous Body and Artificial Intelligence.