The music video is sometimes an under-appreciated art form. Many musicians use the visual accompaniment to their music as a way of allowing an audience to wholly understand the message they are attempting to convey –gaining ground in the 80s with Michael Jackson’s first forays into the area. In recent years, such artists as Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Rey have done exactly this and have made great strides to add further meaning to their craft.
Of the myriad musicians in the world today, FKA twigs (whose real name is Tahliah Barnett) may have more cause than many to utilise film in her artistry. Her first incursion into the music business was as a backing dancer in several high-profile music videos and has since used the medium as a way to highlight aspects of her music (most of the time this is the overt sexuality in her writing). The film-based companions to her songs “Two Weeks” and “Pendulum” captured the eye of many music lovers and critics and lent further exposure to her burgeoning musical output. These works weren’t the first time twigs had used the music video to her advantage however, as each song from her first EPs, EP1 and EP2, was partnered with a short film.
The emergence of M3LL155X’s (pronounced ‘Melissa’) sixteen minute short film, then, came as no surprise. The follow-up to 2014’s LP1 was released on 13th August 2015 and the self-directed artistic visuals added an extra dimension to the five track EP; allowing twigs to further express herself. Eliciting comparisons to the work of David Lynch and being described as “jaw-dropping” by critics, trawling Twitter it is clear that some have been left fairly perplexed by the ensconcing imagery.
I don’t think I understand the kind of artistic vision FKA Twigs is putting out there right now.
— Katie (@ladyfromatramp) August 19, 2015
From the director’s chair, with each song (or ‘act’ in the film) twigs purveys a thought, frustration or ideal. As the film progresses (soundtracked by the M3LL155X EP), she tackles frustration, perceptions of women as tools for sex and child-birth, sensuality and female empowerment; each transition is a seamless segue.
The opening to M3LL155X is sound-tracked by “Figure 8” (the instrumentation for which is formed of some harrowing, Haxan Cloak-esque synths and drum machine) features the fashion icon, Michèle Lamy as an angler fish (complete with illicium hanging from her forehead). An embodiment of fear, this angler fish is the sole visual representation of emotion in this first act. Representing the instrumentation more than the lyrical content, Lamy (draped with various pieces of golden jewellery) convulses, sneers and stares intimidatingly as “Figure 8” progresses. This pairing of audio and visuals makes for a striking experience as twigs gasps “let me live” – a sentiment that can be demanded by anyone/anything; even the focal fish. “Let me live” isn’t twigs fearing for her life however, as the angler fish depicts her detractors who have caused twigs to grow a thicker skin and “lead with [her] middle finger”.
“I’m Your Doll”
As Lamy consumes her illicium, she regurgitates a light which encapsulates a computer generated depiction of twigs (courtesy of Jihoon Yoo). This character becomes twigs, in the form of a sex doll, who is violated by a lustful, predatory man (who proceeds to impregnate her). This further illustrates the lyrical content of “I’m Your Doll” as FKA twigs implies that women are seen as mere sex objects; as she sings “wind me up”, “dress me up” and “love me rough / I’m your doll”. The trip-hop instrumentation of “Doll” is an effective companion to its visual representation as the sheer tension present is comparable to the likes of Massive Attack‘s “Inertia Creeps“, displaying the scope of twigs’ artistic vision and competently complimenting the two sides of this representation of FKA twigs’ thought processes in M3LL155X‘s formation.
As it becomes apparent that FKA twigs has become pregnant (after being drooled on and desecrated), the transition to “In Time” is made as Twigs wakes up to her partner from “Papi Pacify“; a stand-out piece from EP2. This recurrence of character highlights various parallels between the two songs as, in each, she is dissatisfied with the level of commitment proffered by her partner. She sings of how, if they both evolve, they could work better as a couple, but as he “[tests her] sane” (of which he appears to be proud), it does not seem likely. Visually, it is as though she plays the part of a puppet, as she dances to get him to notice her. Her presence in this puppetry could be construed as a part of her attempt to influence his evolution; in order for their relationship to effectively function. This penultimate act concludes with twigs’ pregnancy ending as the film shifts to its final chapter.
“Glass & Patron”/”Mothercreep”
To the opening moments of “Mothercreep“, paint rolls down twigs’ legs as her water breaks, her hands creep down her torso and she gives birth to coloured cloth and dancers to industrial and dubstep electronics. As this segues into “Glass & Patron“, she asks if “[she’s] dancing sexy yet” as her dancers depict her will to escape and her frustration with her lack of self-confidence. Visually, for the first time though, FKA twigs is in a position of power as she is ensconced on a throne; as her ties to the ‘father’ of her child are cut and is able to be completely independent. This is dichotomous with the auditory content however, as she just asks for her partner to “shut [his] eyes and feel the rush / Will you fuck me while I stare at the sun?” as she is in a powerless position on her back. This indicates the thought that, even if in a position of power romantically, women are still held as second class citizens in modern society – an interesting and painfully true narrative.
What is clear throughout all of M3LL155X is that the two sensory representations of FKA twigs’ work have been painstakingly planned out. With both media concentrated on in equal parts, it is abundantly apparent that the two presentations of material allow for further understanding of the themes, thoughts and emotions that are being portrayed throughout this multimedia project. Without the visuals, the music does not effectively reveal all of its meaning – allowing for an air of mystery for those who do not probe deeper into the project in its entirety.
Below, you can watch/listen to M3LL155X. Why not let us, here at plasticmag, know what your perceptions of the short film are? Do you take the same meaning as I do? Let us know in the comments below.
Released: 13th August 2015
Genre: Trip-hop, Electronic, Alternative R&B
Notable Works: LP1 (2014), EP2 (2013) and EP1 (2012)
Influences: Siouxie and the Banshees, Billie Holiday and Massive Attack
Contemporaries: The xx, Frank Ocean and Tricky