After three years away, the auteur returned with a new vision at Alexandra Palace
In December 2017, FKA twigs had six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus. In 2018, she revealed the effect that it had had on her confidence. “I was so scared,” she wrote on Instagram. “Despite lots of love from friends and family I felt really alone and my confidence as a woman was knocked.” In 2019, Tahliah Debrett Barnett is back, having just released “Cellophane”, her most major pop ballad to date, complemented by a stunning video directed by Andrew Thomas Huang in which twigs pole-dances, a skill she learned specifically to accompany her heartbreaking single.
An expectant crowd is stood in darkness at London’s iconic venue Alexandra Palace, while a pitchshifted vocal repeats, “It’s a woman’s worth… it’s a woman’s prerogative.” twigs isn’t even onstage yet, but an agenda is set, and one imagines that this string of live dates carry with them a sense of catharsis. When the curtains drop she emerges to roars before silencing her audience again with a two-minute tap dance. An unorthodox opening that encapsulates what shes all about – theatre.
An auteur that can barely sit still in the present, let alone the past, the majority of the setlist is comprised of new material, which showcases just how much her voice has improved since her first run of singles. An instrument that used to feel embedded within the songs has now risen to take centre stage.
While twigs can certainly hold her own onstage alone, the show comes alive when she’s joined by her crew of dancers, contorting like an N’Sync from the future.
The production on her songs stretches them to breaking point, each one decorated with eruptions, and there’s always been something so physical about her work, naturally influenced by her ability as a dancer. But it’s the sense of a gang moving in tandem with the songs that helps to communicate the communal – that this is music to be shared, music that is human. In one new song, she stands solo onstage and sings the lyric “I didn’t know that you were lonely, if you’d just told me,” and then her gang of dancers quickly rejoin her, almost as if they’re protecting her.
“It’s the sense of a gang moving in tandem with the songs that helps to communicate the communal – that this is music to be shared, music that is human”
A large, metal scaffolding structure behind them that hosts both musicians and dancers in different individual sections creates the vibe of a gothed-out underground fetish club parked in the middle of an opulent Ally Pally, and the minimalist backdrop ensures that when twigs embarks on her jaw-dropping feats of physicality – such as pole-dancing, or Chinese martial art wushu – she is the clear focal point.
The show is a clear statement of intent from an artist who has obvious designs on the mainstream, but an admirable refusal to compromise. twigs’ digestion of pop culture, studious appreciation of different artforms and methods, and ability to convey the desperation of love, creates something unique and broad in range, while remaining laser-focused.
It’s notable that in the crowd there are no shouts for her singles, no restlessness for her to play the hits, but rather an intrigue in her new creative period, an investment and commitment to an artist’s singular vision.