FKA Twigs’ Subtle Spirituality

Decoding the ambiguous religious themes that drive much of the singer's best music

“When you give yourself away, it always hurts too much,” FKA twigs sings on her latest single, “Good to Love.” “So you pray to get it back / Only God can give you that.” The way her tone shifts and rises when delivering the latter sentiment makes it sound like the singer, born Tahliah Barnett, is passionately delivering a very important lesson. Coming less than a year after 2015’s glitchy, robotic five-song EP M3LL155X, on which she wrestled with sinister themes of dominance and submission, the bare-bones piano ballad “Good to Love” feels unusually low-key for the musician. It’s maybe the most accessible song FKA twigs has ever released, moving with an organic, airy quality, as if we’re hearing her voice captured in a crystal-clear bottle. “Good to Love” also outright celebrates a sense of deeply earnest, hand-to-the-heart spirituality that FKA twigs has been exploring under the surface of her music for years.

As a teen in Gloucestershire, England, FKA twigs began her musical career singing hymns in her Catholic high school’s choir and writing music at a local youth center studio. And while she’s rarely addressed her religious preferences since becoming famous, her music and aesthetics frequently reflect a sort of ambiguous spiritual devotion. “In my mind, eternal darkness, seemed like it was true,” she sings on LP1’s “Closer.” “My savior knew / I was weary, I was sleepy, but you held me through.” In one 2014 interview, twigs said the song is about building a relationship with a better version of herself, but also about building a better relationship with God: “Even if you’re not religious, if you don’t believe in God or you haven’t worked out what you believe in quite yet… I believe that being a good and kind person is some sort of higher energy within myself.” The song plays like a Gregorian chant as Barnett sings of devoting a lifetime of love to her subject. Similar themes and sounds echo through the ghostly, choir-like, Puritanical mantra of the same album’s “Preface,” on which she repeats “I love another, and thus I hate myself” – a line from the 16th-century Thomas Wyatt sonnet “I Find No Peace” – over and over in layered vocal tracks, making her singular voice into that of many.

On other songs, she’s the religious idol in question, a goddess of mythic proportions. “I am an angel, hush now,” twigs sings on “Figure 8,” one of M3LL155X’s vogueing anthems. “My back wings give the hardest slap that you’ve ever seen.”

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