In the five years since her transformative debut album, 2014’s LP1, FKA twigs has been through a lot. As though having six fibroids removed from her uterus during this period wasn’t torment enough, she dated and split up with two famous actors, to one of whom she was engaged. As she suffered both immense emotional and physical pain, she all but rebirthed herself.
This rebirth narrative is one possible reading of the stunning video for “cellophane,” the first song released from MAGDALENE, LP1’s long-awaited album-length follow-up. A devastating piano lament that only vaguely includes the howling, clicking and stuttering vocal and synth tricks of LP1, “cellophane” arrived alongside a video that, like the majority of FKA twigs’ visuals to date, exists in a not-quite-terrestrial space full of forthright sexuality, brooding sci-fi, angular dancing and plain old horror. The two videos that have followed have been, well, exactly not that, and that contrast lies at the heart of what makes the game-changing genre-less artist’s sophomore album so special.
In the videos for MAGDALENE tracks “holy terrain” and “home with you,” FKA twigs comes down to earth. The former is shot in the vast openness of a desert, an appropriately desolate setting given that the trap-influenced song features Future, hip-hop’s foremost architect of sadness. The latter takes place in a club, a car and a backyard, with FKA twigs often surrounded by others as she shuffles between serene pianos and growling electronics. In moving these videos to people-heavy locations on Earth and away from the vaguely interplanetary settings of her previous visuals, FKA twigs tugs at MAGDALENE’s very heartstrings: Now that she’s reporting from the end of a relationship rather than conveying the loneliness of longing, she sounds more human than ever before.
MAGDALENE is the sound of an artist gluing together the million tiny shards in which she found herself after an explosive breakup. If FKA twigs previously sang about her isolating sexual desires, here she details the journey to regain her strength after she’s seen the other side of romantic fulfillment. As expected, the climb is often challenging: On the loping, shapeless “daybed,” ostensibly the only track to survive FKA twigs’ 2016 sessions with Oneohtrix Point Never, she struggles to even leave her bed. As she sings lines like “dirty are my dishes,” “friendly are the fruit flies” and “possessive is my daybed,” she equates the disheveled state of her home with the disheveled state of her heart, and the analogy is nothing short of crushing.
FKA twigs broadcasts her pain just as vividly on less metaphorical MAGDALENE tracks. “If I walk out the door / It starts our last goodbye,” she sings at the album’s very outset on “thousand eyes.” This is no “so lonely trying to be yours,” “I ache for you” or “he won’t make love to me now”; instead, over gong-like kicks and watery synth pops, she remembers how her love fell apart. On “mirrored heart,” one of many MAGDALENE highlights to feature co-production and percussive work from Nicolas Jaar, she’s reminded of her own heartbreak every time she sees a happy couple. “For the lovers who found a mirrored heart / They just remind me I’m without you,” she grieves as the song’s breathy, stark production cuts out, leaving behind just solemn pianos.
The stunning “sad day,” a glitchy track that oscillates between humming and bombast, sees FKA twigs again reflect on her relationship’s demise: “You’re running / And I tried / To make it work before.” It’s on this song, though, that she achieves perhaps MAGDALENE’s clearest moment of humanity: “If you’re foolishly in love with me / It’s a fine day for sure,” she sings, implicitly acknowledging that she sometimes felt the cracks in her relationship as they formed. Not that she’s sparing her partner any blame: “Don’t tell me what you want / ‘Cause I know you lie!” she angrily exclaims on the absolute banger “fallen alien,” which contains, in addition to battering kick drums and a jolting sample of the Florida Mass Choir, a verse in which she nearly full-on raps.
When, during the chorus of “fallen alien,” the song’s vicious beat recedes to reveal little more than a piano, FKA twigs claims herself to be the “fallen alien” of the song’s title. It’s this character who populates the “holy terrain” and “home to you” videos, a heroine who has shed her outsider skin, overcome the devastation of heartbreak and accepted her solitude. In embracing herself rather than someone else, she’s simultaneously embraced the thing that matters most: her humanity.