By Jaelani Turner-Williams
Tinashe is back and better than before.
Two years since the release of her 2019 album Songs for You — also Tinashe’s first project as an independent artist — the singer-songwriter has returned with her long-awaited effort 333. Named after Tinashe’s life-path number 3, a divine number calculated from her birth date, the album sonically encompasses her journey to enlightenment through spirituality, metaphysics, and creative alignment.
“[The album] is the perfect evolution of not only my sound, but also a lot of concepts that I’ve previously touched on in my other work,” Tinashe told MTV News. “In terms of thinking about the nature of reality, I’ve been dabbling in that concept since 2012 [when] I put out my second project, Reverie, which was about potentially living in a dream and what it would be like if this were all a dream. What does that mean in terms of which reality is real? How are we able to navigate through these different, altered states of consciousness? For me, I think that idea has continued to progress and evolve — that’s really where 333 lands conceptually.”
Ending her contract with RCA Records in 2019, Tinashe constructed the narrative of 333 to speak to her self-discovery, complete with evocative, hallucinogenic production and visual references to psychedelics through earthy album artwork. On the cover, the singer transforms into a triumphant awakened being, possessing a third eye with an understanding of her human nature. In reality, Tinashe balances her energy through an equilibrium of crystals (specifically amethyst), plants, and high vibrations to keep her focused during quarantine.
“In 2020, I was doing a lot of self-exploration, a lot of meditation — that’s probably one of the biggest rituals that I was incorporating. [I was] spending a lot more time with myself, looking at my own thought patterns, how I’m moving about the world, and how I’m psychologically moving through my life. Taking those things all into consideration while I was creating the album gave it a thread of connectivity,” she said.
After her Songs for You tour was canceled due to the pandemic, Tinashe held livestream concerts through virtual reality platform Wave to stay in touch with fans. Recreating an immersive live-concert experience was high on Tinashe’s to-do list, along with studying alternate dimensions.
“I was listening to a lot of podcasts, doing a lot of research online on new technologies about space travel, A.I., [and] VR. I was going down YouTube rabbit holes like every day,” she said. “I learned that [these are] very serious discussions that are considered by a lot of real, well-respected scientists in terms of simulation theory and how [they’re] now thinking about the nature of reality. Over the course of the next three to five years, there will be even more and more and more open discussion about the nature of reality and potentially the fact that we’re living in a simulation and how all of those things intersect moving forward.”
Inspired by technology and video games, 333 not only reworks the advancement of universal consciousness but heavily references virtual reality in promotional visuals, including the VSCO-partnered music video for “Pasadena” featuring Compton rapper Buddy. In the summertime anthem, Tinashe celebrates her California roots through a breezy perspective. Growing up close to Hollywood, the singer got a firsthand account of her hometown’s carefree influence, which she honors in the bouncy elements of her music.
“Sonically, the West Coast has a real character and real vibe. I’ve definitely experimented with a lot of West Coast sounds, whether that be in “2 On,” “I Can See the Future,” or having artists like Buddy and [songs like] “Pasadena” that really celebrate L.A. culture and the beauty of the city as opposed to the glitz and glamour-y Hollywood version. It’s nice to be able to bring that energy and sense of authenticity through,” she said.
With spirituality as a point of reflection throughout 333, intertwined with themes of ego death and freedom, Tinashe accredits the VR headset as an aesthetic, as well as a way to question the experience of life and the ability to see further.
“The VR headset represents the idea that maybe each of these songs take place in a separate universe and, somehow, they all feel a part of one grander universe, one big master plan. That’s how I look at my art a lot of the time — it’s all these different parts of me that are segmented, feel different, and have different sonic influences — but [they’re] all equally important and make up who I am,” she said. “I don’t like to limit myself to one style or one sound, and I think that, in order to have that thread of continuity, it makes perfect sense that it would all be coming from this one headset that can transport you into different moods or experiences.”
Follow-up single “Bouncin” maintains the upbeat vibe, and the song’s video features energetic trampoline-oriented choreography conceptualized by the singer herself. Tinashe admits that while the choreography was painful — leaving her and backup dancers with temporary bruises — it was worth the sweat.
“I definitely think it was one of my most unique approaches to choreography, that and ‘All Hands on Deck’ [with the] storage crates,” she said. “I always love to up the ante, in terms of my visuals and my music videos, and try to think of a new, fresh approach. Like, ‘Where [should] I dance that I’ve never danced before? I know, on a trampoline!’ That was an idea that I had for months.”
Like “Pasadena,” collaborations on 333 reflect Tinashe’s chameleonic approach, whether joined by Dallas R&B singer Kaash Paige or Grammy-winning Canadian dance-electronic producer Kaytranada, possibly alluding to the singer’s belief in parallel universes.
“When I approach collaborations — especially now as an independent artist — I really lean into, who is gonna make the song sound the best? Who is gonna add to this song sonically in a way that I can’t do on my own?” Tinashe said. “I really appreciate having these features, because I think that’s a special thing that sometimes you don’t always get. Sometimes, you get a plug-and-play, like, ‘These two artists would work good together,’ but the magic really happens when it’s all about the song. That synergy is there and it makes the music way better.”
That synergy starts with Tinashe, an independent artist, being able to make her own creative decisions. With newfound confidence and an upcoming tour, the singer’s belief in 333 is undeniable.
“In the past when I was signed to a record label, there would be moments when I would question if I was actually good enough to steer my own ship creatively. When you’re in rooms with really big producers and you’re just a young girl, it’s easy to be persuaded to make decisions that you think are strategic but aren’t necessarily in your best interest when it comes to being who you are,” she said. “I’ve come into my own a lot more as an independent artist. I think my ideas are good ideas, I stick with my ideas, and I see them through. I think that the fans can tell the difference, as well.”
Excited to give fans the opportunity to question their own beliefs and expand their 3-D dimensions, Tinashe seeks for 333 to give listeners a better understanding of themselves and their oneness with the universe.
“I hope that old fans will [listen to] 333 and see the evolution of me as an artist, as a person and be able to appreciate how far I’ve come in my journey. From my mixtape days to now, from Aquarius to now, from ‘2 On’ to now — I think there’s a lot of growth, and my core fans will see it,” she said. “For new fans who are getting introduced to me, I hope 333 provides a nice segue into who I am right now. I think it encompasses where my headspace is at and hopefully it’ll inspire others to get into the art.”
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