The experimental auteur uses pregnancy, sex dolls and voguing in an audio-visual project that is both defiant and radical
FKA twigs has always been an artist that defies convention. Whilst we've spent the last few months speculating about what to expect from her new EP, the Dazed cover star alumnus was busy giving birth to multi-coloured paint, rendering her head onto a sex doll and voguing like her life depended on it, for what would end up being M3LL155X – arguably the most radical audio-visual project to have come out of this year so far.
Despite her achievements, the avant-pop visionary has had to deal with interviewers who are more interested in her relationship with film star Robert Pattinson than her own art, as well as being continuously referred to in relation to Pattinson by the mainstream press. She has also been targeted with racist abuse online from Twilight obsessives (which she swiftly hit out against). It’s examples like these that show that misogyny is still rife in a society that often downplays, or is uncomfortable with, a successful woman who is in full control of her artistry.
As a counterpoint to this, self-directed project M3LL155X feels like a powerful assertion of FKA twigs' independence and artistic direction. From the opening track “Figure 8” and accompanying visual, we are hit with pure, raw, defiance. “Let me live, through your vice, mass appeal, I feel in ten breaths it’s a miracle if we’re still alive,” she sings, her falsetto floating over deep, heavy distorted bass whilst fashion icon Michele Lamy moves her bejewelled hands around her face. They’re lyrics that appear submissive, but sound dominant in their delivery; the perfect subversion of sexual politics, as if she is saying: You can control me, but only when I tell you to.
This is an idea that is continuous and prominent throughout the EP. In the second track, “I’m Your Doll”, twigs takes an image that defines female sexual objectification and submissiveness – a sex doll – and renders it a hypnotic and beautiful piece of art. Once again, she is taking female sexuality and shaping it to fit her own terms.
Later on, as she becomes the doll, she is raped by a drooling man before she deflates. It comes across as a bold statement about sexual politics and body ownership, using a metaphor for an act of violence that embodies misogyny. As a viewer, it's difficult to watch – but that's the point. Taking away a woman's autonomy against their will should not be something that ever sits comfortably.
In the third track and visual "In Time", FKA twigs becomes pregnant, dances with two other women and spits “You’ve got a God damn nerve”, her autotuned voice rising over clattering rhythms and intricate production. The dancers’ limbs make sharp, unflinching shapes as a male face can be seen in the corner, behind a screen. It doesn’t take a genius to sense the female empowerment emanating from "In Time". It feels as if the track is speaking to every online troll, journalist and misogynist that has tried to silence her and other women, as well as the man who had raped her and made her pregnant in the previous track. You've got a God damn nerve.
As we pointed out earlier this year, “M3LL155X” refers to her “personal female energy" and "things that affect that balance", and there couldn’t be a more accurate way of describing the spirit of this EP than with those words. It's not the first game-changing musical creation she’s put her name to, either. With videos that incorporate forward-thinking dance techniques and technology, as well as a collection of genre-defying releases and career-defining live shows, FKA twigs has long cemented her position as an artist who is rewriting the sound and look of modern music.
Ultimately, whether she’s giving birth to rainbow-coloured ribbons in “Glass & Patron”, channelling vogue legends in “Figure 8” or challenging sexual politics in “I’m Your Doll”, the world that FKA twigs has created is distinctly, definitely and defiantly hers, bound up in her female energy and released into the world. At a time when female musicians and artists are challenging gender norms and reasserting their autonomy, M3LL155X joins them as a fierce and important contribution to a radical dialogue.