By Ural Garrett
The Atlanta-born singer-songwriter Tanerélle’s creative output is so vast that it seems to stretch beyond the cosmos. She’s modeled her out-of-this-world Afrofuturist style in the likes of Playboy and lent her surreal sounds to co-score Nikyatu Jusu’s buzzy horror film Nanny, which received the coveted Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January, about a child's caretaker with a mysterious background. Between these projects, it’s almost easy to forget the huge strides she’s made as an R&B artist and instrumentalist.
In the nearly seven years since she released her debut single “Siren,” the 28-year-old singer, born Tanerélle Stephens, has crafted a singular soundscape all on her own by blending soul with a light New Age bounce. She released the spaced-out debut EP 11:11 in April 2017, which was followed by other sultry singles like “Nothing Without You” and “Mama Saturn,” a fan favorite for which she became synonymous. These earned the singer an avid following on social media, as well as millions of Spotify streams while hustling as an independent musician. By March 2020, she had even picked up enough momentum to hit the road on an international tour with Ari Lennox.
But just as she felt her rise was reaching an apex, Tanerélle, like the rest of the world, was faced with the reality of the coronavirus lockdown. Her tour with Lennox was cut short during its leg in Sydney, Australia. “Then I came home, and literally a few days later, I did this… online trailer concert where they were raising money,” she says. "I took that concert and I posted it on my YouTube channel. And so it started to grow legs of its own.”
As the quarantine progressed, Tanerélle began utilizing her expanding social media platform to post stripped-down live performances and highly artistic portraits. She collaborates closely with on-the-rise photographers like Dana Trippe to create her imagery, which pulls inspiration from sci-fi flicks like Blade Runner and Gattaca, as well as the eerie paintings of Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí. Through it all, Tanerélle remains cognizant of the significance of her visibility.
“I feel like the moment I started getting eyes on me, it was this moment of just solidarity and unity amongst Black women,” she says. “Because people are not used to seeing women like me at the forefront… being a six-foot, dark-skinned Black woman. I think everybody's kind of tired of the Westernized male gaze and just what they taught us is beautiful. We're in this moment where we are starting to embrace ourselves and love ourselves, without needing external validation.”
If fans flock to her page for the visual aesthetics, they undoubtedly stay for the music. Tanerélle’s latest EP, 82 Moons, is out today (April 15). After a long period of isolation, the singer says just wants to make people feel “yummy” as they listen to her sensual space odyssey, which is filled with her signature airy vocals and even veers at times into electronica.
Produced with Col3trane collaborator Camper, 82 Moons makes good on those deliciously seductive emotions from top to bottom. Take the acoustic guitar melodies and deep bass sounds of “Good, Good,” which was originally written for Ari Lennox. Together, they form an erotic jam about taking care of her significant other. “No babe I got it come here let me rub your feet / No babe I got it do you want something to eat,” she purrs. “I know you’re tired it’s been one hell of a week / And everything you need is on me.”
Other songs highlight the artist’s newfound sense of vulnerability. On “Sidetracked/Perfect Lover,” a track about a feeling of overwhelming infatuation, she sings, “I wish that I could tug on your heart make you miss me bad / But it’s much too late / She’s taken up the space in your mind over what we had.” There’s a softness in Tanerélle’s vocals that's reminiscent of the powerhouse singer Sade. It mixes with a raw sensibility imbued by her Atlanta upbringing, conjuring contemporary legends from the area including Usher, André 3000, and Ludacris. Tanerélle says that the fearless audio and visual presentations of her music are a reflection of her personal evolution.
“I've grown in terms of femininity and sensuality a ton,” she explains. “It came with a lot of embracing myself as a woman and becoming more liberated within what sensuality and femininity mean to me. I feel like me growing as a woman and me taking my power back within certain situations has definitely led to that growth."
To her, that meant embracing herself in her totality and allowing herself the freedom to choose every aspect of her artistic expression. This new understanding is compounded for her as a Black woman who grew up feeling different in the South. “We are always socialized to think… ‘Be strong, be this, be that,’” she says. “But when I think of sensuality, I think of our right to melt, our right to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and to feel open.”
As her futuristic visuals and progressive R&B suggest, Tanerélle is always looking to her next project. Next up is a collaboration with experimental electronic artist Machinedrum. She had previously appeared on the producer’s futuristic dance track “Star,” which featured on his 2020 album A View of U. “We are tapped in,” Tanerélle says. “We have almost 17 songs right now, I want to say, and we're still going. I feel like it's best to have more to kind of bring it down, than to only have a few and you have to use those. It's amazing being able to kind of hone in that way with one person.”
Yet Tanerélle remains squarely within a universe of her own making, and there, she reigns supreme. In addition to crafting new music and promoting 82 Moons, she recently wrapped a tour with R&B songstress JoJo while attending Berklee School of Music to expand her sonic repertoire; she's currently taking a class on the music creation software Ableton Live. To ensure she doesn’t implode under all that weight, she prays every morning, and she takes a few minutes each day to meditate. She is also committed to defining her own idea of success on her own terms.
“I really wish I could attain the comfortability financially and all those things in touching lives while staying super low-key,” she says. “I've always thought it was a shame that fame has to be attached to success unless you hide your face or go by an alias or something. But that is success to me. I just want to make music, I want to score films, and I want to act. And I think I'll be just the happiest thing because there's just so much love in that for me.”