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Tinashe 2023
TinashePhotography Raven B Varona

Tinashe is done making compromises

As the singer gears up for the release of her new album BB/ANG3L, we chat to her about escaping the major label system, how she reached peak creativity, and the Sex and the City-inspired video for new single ‘Needs’

In the video for her new single “Needs”, Tinashe is rampaging through an empty grocery store, her and six friends tearing through the aisles and twerking on abandoned cash registers. “We wanted it to have that playful, reckless energy,” the singer says, like the group had, “broken into this grocery store and were having some type of after-hours party in it.” The song, a playful slice of pop-R&B, casts Tinashe’s body as “a buffet” and has cheeky references to peaches and bananas, so the supermarket setting feels very apt. At one point in the video, Tinashe lays naked inside the deli counter fridge, cold cuts of turkey and assorted meats arranged strategically across her body. It’s tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, the output of an artist who isn’t afraid to have some fun.

Although the video may seem like a simple concept, it also marks a shift in how the singer wants to be viewed as she enters the era of new album BB/ANG3L. The singer wanted to shoot in a “mundane space” in “real life” rather than a studio, to reflect the personal approach of the new album. “I want people to get to know me on more of an intimate level,” the singer says. “I want it to feel like this album is whispering in your ear.”

This intimacy is also signalled by an aesthetic shift, with the visuals and photography for BB/ANG3L more stripped back in tone and energy. To be able to exercise this control over her vision is something that Tinashe is extremely proud of – but it’s not always been the case. “Making all of the creative decisions myself was absolutely different than what I had to do before,” Tinashe says of her major label deal with RCA (she was released at her own request in 2019). Despite the label not knowing what to do with her, Tinashe still produced excellent albums – her creative vision was never mired by the major label system, only held back. Now, it’s no surprise that her two albums since leaving RCA – 2019’s Songs For You and 2021’s 333 – have been her best work yet. It seems that, with this new music, she’s approaching a three-for-three knockout.

Hi Tinashe! How are you feeling about putting “Needs” into the world?

Tinashe: I’m super pumped up about this release. I think “Needs” is a very fun song. It definitely stands out from the rest of the record to me, sonically. “Talk To Me Nice” was a little bit more serious in tone and vibe, so it’s fun to be able to show my range of personality, to be able to dance and all that good stuff.

So what inspired the song?

Tinashe: I just wanted to write something really flirty and sexy and cute.

Like that meme of Saweetie? Something fun, for the girls to get ready and party to?

Tinashe: Yes! Exactly that. It was kind of a freestyle. I just pressed record and played a beat, and whatever came out of me was what I went with. That ‘we all got needs’ tagline at the end was my initial freestyle. Sometimes I really think that your first instinct is your best instinct, and you should go with your gut. You should follow that initial spark of inspiration when it comes to making art. That’s really what this song was.

There’s a line in the song, “Had a bonanza/Peaches, bananas” – is that why you decided to shoot the video in a grocery store?

Tinashe: So there’s also a line about my body being a buffet. That instantly made me think of being in a deli buffet as a display, and reminded me of Sex and the City when Samantha puts all the sushi on her body. That was the reference that I wanted.

I was thinking of locations where we could shoot and I wanted it to be some type of mundane space – I didn’t want it to be a studio or anything like that. I wanted it to feel like real life, because a lot of this era is really about getting to know me and feeling like there’s intimacy there. So I wanted it to feel like an intimate location, someplace that everyone knows and that we visit all the time as a part of our day-to-day.

“I smelled like turkey the whole ride home… it was worth it” - Tinashe

What was it like having all those like cold cuts of meat all over you?

Tinashe: It was gross! I smelled like turkey the whole ride home. It was nasty. We did that shot last, luckily. It’s kind of greasy, so it leaves a film on you. It was gross, but it was fun. It was worth it.

You mentioned the lead single from BB/ANG3L, “Talk To Me Nice”, which is very much a different vibe from “Needs”. There’s a shot in the video where you peel off your own skin.

Tinashe: So “Talk To Me Nice” was the initial visual that I wanted to present, like an introduction to the era. I wanted to physically show that I was stepping into this new persona that I'm embodying for the BB/ANG3L album. Physically peeling off the old me represents rebirth and finding something new. I’m peeling back the old layers, getting rid of all of the production, the distractions, really getting to the raw essence of who I am and what I’m about. I just wanted to represent that visually.

It kind of reminded me of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Tinashe: Absolutely. That was on the moodboard too, for sure.

What are you trying to communicate with this new, stripped back aesthetic?

Tinashe: With this era, I want people to get to know me on more of an intimate level, very up close and personal. I want it to feel like this album is whispering in your ear. My last era we leaned into a lot more concepts, a lot of dark makeup, a lot of outfits, which was amazing and beautiful. But being able to have this stripped back side of me, to play into different colour tones, different vibes, just feels very cinematic and really personal.

Does that make you feel more vulnerable?

Tinashe: Definitely in certain aspects. When it comes to actually sharing my real life, I do that a lot through music and through the art in these metaphorical ways. But in my day-to-day, I very much separate who I am as an artist and who I am as a human being. I don’t operate in the same frame-of-mind when I’m quote-unquote on, versus when I’m just chilling. So it’s interesting to bring that off-camera persona and try to document it in a way that still feels relevant, but also safe, and makes sense.

There’s also a line in “TTMN” that says “couldn’t be fake if I tried”. What’s that in reference to?

Tinashe: Sometimes I’ve felt in my life – whether that be in my personal life, or in my professional life – who I am at my core is ultimately what I have to go with in order to make my best work. I have to really tune in to that and not allow other voices to get in the way. That’s something that I’ve really cultivated as I’ve gotten older and grown up more, and had more experience in the industry. I’ve been more decisive about what type of music I want to make, what type of art I want to make, and exactly what I want things to look like. I’m very protective of that.

“[Going independent] opened a whole new world for me in terms of being able to have that creative freedom… I had to make a lot of compromises before” - Tinashe

Do you feel like that honesty and decisiveness came after your deal with RCA ended?

Tinashe: Absolutely, yeah. It opened a whole new world for me in terms of being able to have that creative freedom and really get to the core of what I want. Making all of the creative decisions myself was absolutely different than what I had to do before. I had to make a lot of compromises before. [Going independent] empowered me, both as a person and as an artist, to stand by my decisions and trust my instincts.

You’ve now signed a new deal with Nice Life Recording Company. How’s that going?

Tinashe: I think it was the perfect compromise. I didn’t want to go back into the major label system, per se. I had a lot of reservations and a lot of trepidation about working in those spaces, because I just know what they’re like. I’ve been there and I don’t want to lose what I’ve gained. In meeting Nice Life, they really just accepted who I was as an artist. I’m excited to be able to have a bigger team and more people to help make my art to its fullest potential.

Do you feel like the major label system didn’t know what to do with you?

Tinashe: I was an artist that fell into some type of grey area between genres, and that made it very confusing in terms of how to market me and where to promote my music. That played into it a lot. We had a lot to learn, and I think I had a lot to learn, and now I just have so much more experience. There’s no substitute for that, so I think I’m in a way better position now than when I was first signed at 17-years-old.

Your music exists in this alternative sonic world, but you also have main pop girl energy, and RCA obviously didn’t know what to do with those two together.

Tinashe: There’s a lot of juxtaposition in my personality, a lot of ways that I embody two different things at once. There’s range in what I do, and it’s just been a process over the course of my career of people getting to know me and getting to understand that duality.

So the new album is called BB/ANG3L. Why that name?

Tinashe: I was really inspired by screen names and avatars, and how we’re able to create our own personas online. We’re able to name ourselves in that way and take control of our identity. I wanted to create something similar to a screen name, or some type of tag that I could put on this era that would represent the persona or the energy that I was embodying for this particular project.

You’re going on tour with Shygirl this autumn. How did that creative collaboration come about?

Tinashe: We played a show together. She opened for me in New York last year at LadyLand Festival. It was so sick. I saw part of her set, she saw part of my set, we said hello and became friends. Even prior to that, I had been a fan of her music and posted it on TikTok and she reposted it. So we’ve been fans of each other’s music. Then we met at the show, collaborated on her album on the “Heaven” remix, and kind of kept going from there.

And the album’s out before the tour?

Tinashe: Yes! Coming very soon… sometime in September…

“Needs” is out today on Nice Life Recording Company. BB/ANG3L is out in September.

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