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The art of FKA Twigs’ music videos dissected | Musique Non Stop

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Friday, May 15, 2015

The art of FKA Twigs’ music videos dissected

Music video maverick FKA Twigs is creating seven short films for this year’s Manchester international festival. Here Neil Dougan, a media lecturer at Bolton University, breaks down her best clips

• The Guardian is the festival’s media partner

We start with a close-up of Twigs’s mouth, and a slow zoom-out reveals her trussed in ropes of her own hair, suspended from a ceiling. It’s a powerful image created by Twigs and co-director Paula Harrowing, echoing the vulnerability and pain in the song’s lyrics: “so lonely, trying to be yours”. We see her face immersed in liquid mercury, Terminator 2-style, trying to talk but drowning in her own sorrow. Her music is both raw and processed and the visuals reflect this. When she emerges from the water, she is unshackled, dancing defiantly as the pendulum swings. A lot of modern music videos dress themselves in symbols but mean nothing; Twigs’ videos are heavy with meaning we must decipher through slow overtures of twisted desires, painful emotions and complex expressions of female desire. If Frida Kahlo was alive today and making videos, they might well look like this.

Forests have associations with fairy tales and primitive states, so the white van that turns up in the opening scene is troublingly incongruous. Twigs’s videos often begin with extreme close-ups – this one reveals her upside down, singing “hit me with your hands, double-knot my throat, mother”. The zoom out reveals a heavily pregnant Twigs, legs splayed, giving birth to a string of coloured scarves, like a magic trick gone wrong. The music shifts, the scarves fall and dancers move through them tenderly, erotically. Suddenly, she’s prowling a catwalk with her dancers – a 2015 version of voguing – and the ominous fairytale has transformed into a celebratory dance-fest.

Twigs turns Babylonian queen. Seated on a throne and meeting our gaze throughout the entire one-take performance, she evokes Aaliyah as fierce vampire deity Akasha in the 2002 film Queen of The Damned. Her arm gestures are slow and elegantly regal as the camera pans out, revealing smaller dancing versions of herself as courtiers. There’s a pool beneath her queenly court, a lone swimmer floating in its waters. The song’s refrain – “higher than a motherfucker” – demonstrates Twigs’ penchant for undercutting beautiful music and imagery with profane language. The slowness, in both the music – Prince meets Cocteau Twins – and director Nabil Elderkin’s imagery, is a deliberate, clever device, interrupting the incessant speed of the internet age.

The opening “oh oh oh” vocals in Video Girl remind me of another avant garde artist, Laurie Anderson, and her song O Superman. Twigs attended private Catholic school and I see elements of Catholicism’s theatrical rituals in her videos; that sense of ceremony and heavy occasion. This clip is directed by Sundance award winner Kahlil Joseph, and in it Twigs, like Madonna, grapples with Catholicism’s virgin/whore complex – she’s both the girl staring helplessly into the cold sterile world of the execution chamber and the witchy dominatrix disrupting the ritual to straddle and claim the dying prisoner. It’s an arresting, almost necrophiliac image of power. This is Twigs negotiating what it means to be a woman and express anger.

In Papi Pacify, directed by Twigs and Tom Beard, it’s hard to tell whether we are witnesses to an abusive event or voyeurs to an intimate, physical moment between consenting lovers. Twigs enjoys making the viewer uncomfortable with this ambiguity, dancing on that fine line between S&M, pleasure and pain. The slow, flickering, stop-start motion evokes the puppetry work of the Brothers Quay, who use the same device to reveal how we fetishise and fixate on images, returning to them again and again. The title might imply she’s keeping Papi happy, acquiescing, but maybe it’s her being pacified, fulfilled. The video remains stubbornly ambiguous and Twigs retains her mystique.

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by Interview by Charlotte Richardson Andrews via Electronic music | The Guardian