MAGDALENE: Album Review

By Lilyanna D’Amato

Flashy and intoxicating, MAGDALENE, the second full-length album from English Avant-Pop artist FKA twigs, is mesmerizingly conceptual. Written and released following her recovery from fibroid removal surgery, as well as the escape from her heavily scrutinized relationship with wayward vampire Robert Pattinson, the tracks unveil twig’s desperate introspection, personal strength, and absolute defiance of oppressive gender stereotypes.

In recent interviews, twigs said she found inspiration in the story of Mary Magdalene, among the Gospels’ most chastised and misunderstood characters. Over the centuries, Magdalene’s many complexities have been abridged to construct the cornerstone “fallen woman” narrative, one that continues to torment women. Now as the album’s namesake, Magdalene has come to represent a common ancestor for all women, joining them in a legacy that is to be upended and obscured.

The first track,  “thousand eyes,” opens with fragile gothic harmony, twigs’ spectral vocals ringing through the instrumental. She sings over and over:

If I walk out the door it starts our last goodbye
If you don’t pull me back it wakes a thousand eyes. 

Grappling with the loss of her longtime boyfriend, and most obviously, being watched and patrolled by the media, she identifies the gendered expectations of public life, echoing Magdalene’s fall from grace. In an interview with i-D magazine, twig explained the song’s meaning, saying:

Whatever the ruin is, whatever the ruin of a woman I’ll be, everyone is going to be watching and I’m not going to be able to escape it. And even when they’re not watching, I’m going feel like they’re watching. Even when no one cares, I’m going to feel like there’s a thousand eyes, you know?

On “cellophane,” the album’s last track, twigs delivers a soaring piano ballad dripping with insurmountable sorrow. A rumination on the racist and sexist insults that British tabloids and Twilight fans hurled at her throughout her relationship with Pattison, the song beautifully articulates insecurity and the anxiety of loss in the public eye. Her papery vocals are punctuated by a sparse, beat-boxed rhythm, accentuating the timidity of the refrain

Didn’t I do it for you?
Why don’t I do it for you?

In the same interview, she said those words are

particularly emotionally desperate for me. It’s funny that, as women, we’re asking those questions subconsciously without realizing how epic and iconic we are.

Critical to the album, although not included in any purchase or download, are twigs’ masterful music videos.  Brilliantly self-directed and wildly abstract, they perfectly articulate her intention, allowing the viewer a window into her creative genius. The most impressive, the visual counterpart to “cellophane,” begins with the echoing sound of twig’s sky-high-heeled footsteps as she walks toward a pole at the center of a stage. Her pole dancing performance, an extraordinarily impressive show of physical and psychic stamina, is diametrically opposed to the emotional courage she sings of losing. Talk about epic.

Through this act, she reclaims pole dancing — an art-form often derided as low-class and licentious, which Pitchfork writer Julianne Shepherd explains, “toes the line between agency and subjugation” — as a forum for female expression, transcendence, and solidarity rather than as a spectacle for men. The visuals, coupled with MAGDALENE’s empowering reimagining of womanhood as the nexus of desire, resilience, and self-sufficiency, utterly rejects the “thousand eyes” constantly directed towards women in an attempt to rewrite the New Testament’s ancient error.

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