Females in music: hypersexualisation vs. non-objectification

London based artist FKA Twigs (real name Tahliah Barnett)

JUST like anyone else keeping up to date on pop culture’s ebbs and flows, I’ve been reading analyses of, responses to, and defences of various pop artists.

Two of the most high-profile cases are that of ‘Blurred Lines’ and Miley Cyrus (as a general phenomenon, which includes that volleying of open letters and response videos—I’m looking at you, Sinead and Lily).

I certainly think it’s important and worthwhile to break down what’s going on in pop culture as a way, perhaps, to take the social temperature of society.

However, the point of these conversations seems usually to be whether a woman is ‘taking control of’ her sexuality or her agency is being taken away—a dichotomy of hypersexualisation and non-objectification. The conversation is over-simplified.  I don’t want to talk about Miley or ‘Blurred Lines’—I want to talk about female sexuality in an honest and meaningful way.

I want to talk about FKA Twigs.  She’s a London-based artist, who’s so far put out two EPs, or eight tracks in total, each with an accompanying video.

 

‘Hide’

 

In her video for ‘Hide’, Twigs’s legs and torso move glitchily and repetitively in a constant shiver, holding a red anthurium flower between her legs.  We all know the flower as an old and frankly tired metaphor for femininity, virginity, and the vagina.  But the pronounced phallic spadix of the flower visually subverts this symbolic baggage.

I read it as an affirmation that one can hold both feminine and masculine energies inside oneself without contradiction.  But Twigs defies this sort of easy, straightforward analysis.  For example, what does it mean for her to construct her identity in the video with her head cut out?  How do I interpret the jerkiness of her movements?

All of these elements still leave out the relationship between the visual, the form, and the content.  Twigs’s beats are usually sparse, minimal, and spacious.  The vocals are repetitive, airy, and fragmented.  The lyrics resemble the phrases or embryonic ideas circling through your head when you’re otherwise occupied. Each thought touches off another, perhaps only marginally connected.  The relationships within lyrics are veering and glancing.

 ‘Papi Pacify’

The lyrics for ‘Papi Pacify’ meditate on the words ‘clarify’ and ‘pacify’, looping around them repeatedly.  The video itself is visceral and embodied.  Twigs and a man are locked in an embrace, where power flows between them, from his arms and fingers into her mouth and through her gaze back out to the audience.  Any ‘meaning’ or ‘message’ here is as obscure as in ‘Hide’, but it speaks to me of varied forms of power, of an offered-up vulnerability, and a sense of tension and trust.

 

‘How’s That’

Each of Twigs’s videos is inextricable from the sound of the track: for example in ‘How’s That’ her body is morphed liquidly along to the music in a manner I can only compare to an iTunes visualizer (as a graphics layperson)—although this certainly doesn’t do justice to the sequences where her body becomes some kind of beating other organism.  She doesn’t make the kind of art that you look at for a few minutes and then feel accomplished because you ‘get it’—there is no ‘getting it’ here.

FKA Twigs works with an honesty that I feel is lacking in the aforementioned pop culture conversation.  Her art is elusive and confusing and, clearly, intensely personal.  She forces me to raise my standards of discussion—here there is only speculation and to me that is beautiful.

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