In November 2018, FKA twigs invited us to “step back in time.” For the fourth edition of her Instagram-exclusive zine, AVANTgarden, the English artist “hopped in her time machine,” going all the way back to 2003 to track down a rare treasure: a duchesse-satin Dior coat by John Galliano, billowing with sumptuous ruffles. Like Galliano, whose ready-to-wear runway show featured a vivid display of “multicolor Asian-slash-eighteenth-century clothes,” twigs — with stylist Matthew Josephs — brought the coat to unexpected life in AVANTgarden, pairing it with thin, jewel-encrusted sunglasses, and minimalist, kabuki-inspired makeup. The look — just one example of the startling vision she’s exhibited throughout her career — was a reminder of her skill for blending past and present to access something entirely new.
And on May 12, at the Park Avenue Armory, as part of Red Bull Music Festival New York and her nine-stop Magdalene tour, FKA twigs pulled us back even further, reaching deeper into her wells of style, choreography, and sound to execute an ambitious, multi-pronged performance on par with her three-night, 2015 takeover, Congregata.
Though twigs has yet to release a full-length album since 2014’s LP1, the April release of her latest single “Cellophane” hinted at the emergence of her long-awaited follow-up. At Magdalene, she debuted a handful of new songs presumably to be heard on a forthcoming project (and, bringing her to tears, likely inspired by her split with Robert Pattinson). But, in true form, she started the evening with, of all things, a brief round of tap-dancing, while dressed as a monochrome harlequin in pointed, half-oval shades.
In 2019, twigs has reminded us she’s not only talented at folding history’s disparate edges together; she’s capable of completely transforming the constituent parts, using unexpected combinations to devise rich worlds and fantasies: In the video for “Cellophane,” pearl earrings are punched into “gas station dad sunglasses” to suggest a neo-Venetian Columbina mask; on-stage at Magdalene, wielding what appeared to be a jian, she executed a skilled sword routine while her glitchy, ominous strain of electronic R&B thundered in the background.
Her visuals — each edition of AVANTgarden; M3LL155X’s quarter-hour-length video; “Cellophane,” directed by frequent Björk collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang — have blended mediums and broken open seams in time and space to disorient viewers. Culling references from Renaissance-era fashion to contemporary dance, Magdalene is similarly expansive, marrying twigs's naturalistic and industrial influences in a strange vision of paradise — a line cooing about “the fruit inside of me,” for example, is countered by “Figure 8”’s grinding, digital scream. But always at the center of her myth is love: her stories of broken hearts, insatiable passion, and never-ending romance. During a breakup ballad about the strains of emotional unavailability, she openly wept — “I’m never gonna get up / I’m probably gonna think about you all the time” — and that the opening half of the show found twigs and her troupe of dancers up against banners bearing idyllic cloudscapes was no light touch: Paired with historical symbols of power, honor, wealth, and elegance, twigs elevated her love stories to a heavenly plane of significance.
Eventually, the clouds fell away to reveal a more traditional venue for twigs’s icy, experimental sound: two floors of scaffolding, a club-like facade for her dancers and band members. In the middle of the edifice, there was a pole. After a cameo by A$AP Rocky for a surprise performance of Testing’s “Fukk Sleep,” as well as a selection of new material, she performed a routine to LP1’s “Lights On” that, for anyone in the crowd who still had presence of mind, demanded you to lift your phone and dutifully record.
That the performance of the song — one her most well-known tracks — featured no live vocals underlined Magdalene’s statement of purpose: The visual elements of twigs’s work aren’t mere window dressing for her sound; they are arguably as crucial to understanding her as the music itself.
“The purest me is in the midst of the stage,” she tweeted after Magdalene’s Los Angeles debut.
And Magdalene — like Congregata — heralds new music rather than follows in its footsteps; it seems like no coincidence. Her performances aren’t footnotes or addendums; they’re beginnings of new chapters, introductions to her latest, bold endeavor, pure synthesis for an artist capable of astonishing us in more ways than one.