Mary Magdalene is a woman stripped of her own story. Throughout history, her identity has shifted from prostitute to prophetess, sinner to nun. She has been assigned many lives, each one reflecting the ways female narratives are so commonly rewritten by the Western world.
On her newest album Magdalene, Tahliah Barnett, known professionally as FKA twigs, uses Mary’s story as an impetus to reclaim her own narrative. During her four-year hiatus, FKA twigs’ life has taken unexpected and difficult turns, including the removal of six fibroid tumors from her uterus and a breakup with longtime partner Robert Pattinson. Even so, it would be a disservice to call Magdalene a breakup album. This isn’t a collection of songs that reckon with a lost lover; it’s a glimpse into FKA twigs’ journey with no one other than herself — a journey disclosed in all of its painful, striking and magnificent glory.
The album begins with “thousand eyes,” a slow, haunting song that’s made complete with dynamic vocals and synths. The track is a perfect introduction: as FKA twigs confronts the threat of change and begins her journey of self-reflection, she recognizes the “thousand eyes” watching her — emphasizing the inescapable surveillance accompanying celebrity.
The song transitions into “home with you,” a brilliant track in which FKA twigs begs, “How come the more you have, the more that people want from you?/ The more you burn away, the more the people earn from you,” painfully but powerfully reckoning with herself and her relationships. The songstress continues to wrestle with this on “sad day,” a dreamy pop song where she urges, “take a chance on all the things you can’t see.” Here, FKA twigs questions whether she can find it in herself to take a chance on love, run the risk of being hurt and accept that this pain is inevitable and human.
Magdalene takes a turn with “holy terrain,” a trap-influenced track in which FKA twigs searches for a man who recognizes her humanity in a way that aligns with how she recognizes it in herself. She asks, “Will you still be there for me, once I’m yours to obtain?/ … Do you still think I’m beautiful, when my tears fall like rain?” The trap-esque beats and feature from rapper Future are unlikely additions to the record, but still manage to fit well in the progression of the album. The song is a testament to the strength and focus of FKA twigs’ vision as a singer and storyteller.
The next track, “mary magdalene,” feels like the record’s climax: FKA twigs sees herself in Mary Magdalene, and she reclaims both Mary’s narrative as well as her own, singing, “A woman’s work/ A woman’s prerogative/ A woman’s time to embrace/ She must put herself first.” Atop perfectly muddled beats, FKA twigs finds power in independence and dignity in femininity.
Just when the album feels like it has reached its peak, FKA twigs gives listeners “fallen alien” — a chilling and powerful track where she reaches her breaking point. Retaliating against those who’ve hurt her, she belts, “when the lights are on I know you/ See you’re grey from all the lies you tell/ … When you fall asleep I’ll kick you down.” The singer’s voice is stripped of her regular distortions; listeners feel her wrath in full force.
Magdalene begins to close with “mirrored heart” and “daybed,” two dreamy tracks about confronting one’s own flaws, before it comes to an end with the unbearably heart-wrenching “cellophane.” Although having such a raw and emotional ballad as a closing song may seem confusing at first, “cellophane” is a perfect bookend to FKA twigs’ journey: listeners experience an amalgamation of every emotion in FKA twigs’ grievous, beautiful evolution. The ending feels almost hollow: reminding us that while FKA twigs has grown a great deal, she is ever-changing. And while listeners are left feeling desperate they are also left feeling intrigued — eager to watch the rest of her story unfold, and to listen to her tell it.
Contact Salem Sulaiman at [email protected].