Music Reviews

On MAGDALENE, FKA twigs Ascends Through the Pain and Doubt

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Genre: Art Pop

Favorite tracks: “fallen alien,” “cellophane,” “sad day,” “daybed”

Mary Magdalene has gotten a bad rap. The Biblical figure is a woman long defined more by her relationship with men (one guy in particular) than she is by her own story. A sex worker deemed a sinner by dogmatic old white men, Magdalene simutaneously became one of Jesus’ most devout followers. And while historians may disagree, it seems pretty obvious that Jesus and Mary fucked. Catholic school alum Tahliah Barnett, better known as FKA twigs, agrees on this point. On MAGDALENE, FKA twigs reimagines her titular hero as both a lover and equal partner to Jesus, breaking down patriarchal ideals while she inserts herself into Mary’s place. If twigs is Magdalene, does that make Robert Pattinson Jesus? Did Jesus cheat on Mary? Is there something the Catholics aren’t telling us? These are the questions I want answered in the next reboot of The Bible!

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twigs’ choice of Magdalene as the inspiration for her second full-length album is unsurprising, and the Biblical figure’s influence reverberates throughout the nine tracks. In the five years since her debut album, LP1, FKA twigs has endured a great deal: from a very public relationship and breakup to having surgery to remove fibroids from her uterus, it’s been a painful five years. On MAGDALENE, she pulls back the curtain as she unpacks her pain for the world to see. The emotional stakes are high on the album’s lead single “cellophane” as twigs gaspingly laments, “why don’t I do it for you?” Here she also grapples with her life in the public eye, stating, “They’re watching us / they’re hating / they’re waiting,” in reference to the particularly racist tabloids at home in the UK as well as a certain rabid fanbase with a ravenous interest in her ex. She tackles this topic again on the opening track “thousand eyes,” a breakup conversation in which she can’t help but fear the public scrutiny she’ll inevitably face when all is said and done. She proclaims, “it’s gonna be cold with all those eyes,” as the music begins to pulsate with fury beneath her ethereal vocals.

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The divine ability to layer exquisite vocals with often clashing and carnal music to create something simultaneously delicate and powerful is on full display on this sophomore effort. The production by twigs, with help from Nicolas Jaar, Skrillex, and Benny Blanco, among others, channels the likes of Björk, Bowie, and Kate Bush. With hard orchestral flourishes throughout, MAGDALENE is achingly moving and formidable. Tracks such as “sad day” and “mirrored heart” will have you weeping one moment, then vowing to tear your favorite glittery vampire to shreds the next. “sad day” is especially astonishing, the scampering drumbeats growing into a spacey operatic production that could have gone even farther.

On nearly titular track “mary magdalene,” along with the album’s climax, “fallen alien,” twigs finds her strength. With Mary, she heals with the “divine confidence” gained through nurturing others. On “fallen alien,” twigs is enraged. The unnerving synthesizers grow as she relishes in her power, her voice dripping with anger, threatening her ex-lover to beg with remorse. On the track’s chorus, she stops to be vulnerable amidst all the chaos, which makes her feel all the more powerful.

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In the last words we hear from twigs on MAGDALENE, she informs us that her skeptics are “hoping” she’s “not enough.” Sure, it’s been a rough few years, but she fought through it and built herself back up despite any doubts. Just as she was sure of Mary Magdalene, we can be assured of twigs—she is more than the men who have wronged her, and she is greater than any who have doubted her (she had six giant tumors in her uterus and survived, she’s not going to let a m*n keep her down). On MAGDALENE, FKA twigs embraces her pain and finds strength as she pushes herself to reach new creative heights.

Becca Lengel
Becca is a New England native who now needs a sweater when it drops below 70 degrees in Southern California. When she’s not yelling about Tom Brady, you can probably find her brushing up on early 2000s pop culture or watching BURNT (2015).

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