MAGDALENE: A Lyric Review – FKA twigs Frames Femininity as Equal Parts Soft and Serrated
Written by Corey Anthony Tucker
Femininity is synonymous with fragility. That’s the myth perpetuated by patriarchal structures. Structures that secrete myopic mentalities that are absorbed and peddled by men, their machismo and its promise of oppressive power. Machismo, in part, thrives on the basis of emotional suppression. Sentiments such as, ‘men don’t cry’ and ‘don’t be a big girl’s blouse’, are far more insidious than they seem on the surface, because they frame emotional openness as inherently feminine, and thus, a form of weakness.
Women en masse are purported as being ruled by their emotions. It’s a poorly masqueraded attempt to invalidate the legitimacy of female rage, and any other emotion that doesn’t subscribe to the Stepford housewife “variety”. We live in a patriarchy that is anything but attuned to women’s emotional state, so as per, women are saddled with picking up the slack of our misogynistic society. Choosing to submerge rather than suppress, women can process the frigidity of emotional pain and purify it into a source of strength and productivity. This rings true to the revelatory music that is penned, produced and performed by female music artists.
Take RnB/ Electrosonic artist, Kelela, for instance. Her songs pack such an emotive pang because at the core of each one is a ‘feeling’ with universal resonance. Alternatively, the indomitable android FKA twigs allures listeners with how surreptitiously she simulates humanness. That is, until a wrenching celebrity heartbreak and a ‘fruit bowl’ of fibroids that temporarily wrecked her peak physicality. This poly-pain pulled apart her mechanised body, unearthing her battered heart; beating, beautiful and the birthplace of her sophomore record. A forest fire of an album, Magdalene insists that FKA twigs’ femininity is as soft as it is serrated. As vulnerable as it is vigorous.
On album opener thousand eyes a vigilant, all seeing scrutiny looms over twigs due to a hyper-visible romance, ‘if I walk out the door/ A thousand eyes’. The scrutiny played a part in snuffing out her relationship, ‘it starts our last goodbye’, the dissolution of which corresponds with the disassembling of her motorised form – characterised sonically by deadening, dystopian whirrs – an allusion to the themes of rebirth and rediscovery that arch the album. Standing firm in her newfound flesh, fearful yet forceful, FKA twigs braves the callous cold left by her ex-lovers absence, ‘I’m so cold without those eyes.’
Her programming defunct, FKA twigs dissects the merit – lack thereof – of women being conditioned to empower men on home with you. She positions Mary Magdalene as an archetype that all women unconsciously emanate because, like Magdalene, women’s subconscious are wrought by the patriarchy to internalise the imposed value that to be a “real woman” is to play the recurring role of a pain siphon and a pillar of support for men, ‘Mary Magdalene would never let her loved ones down’.
FKA twigs’ Magdaleneian instinct to enrich the lives of the men she loves is offset by a lofty reality. A woman’s enrichment of a man is most likely to be met with erasure. As such, twigs reasons that if men really needed women then that need would be represented in pop culture – spoiler alert, its not, ‘I’ve never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi/ So I wonder if your needs are even meant for me’. home with you dares men to deconstruct the self-imposed prison that is our machismo, because we could only stand to benefit from emotional honesty, ‘I didn’t know that you were lonely/ If you’d have just told me, I’d be home with you’.
On the breathtakingly propulsive sad day twigs takes accountability for leaving her ex worse for wear emotionally, ‘I made you sad before’. In true Magdalenian fashion, twigs has ‘tried to make it [their relationship] work before’, but whilst she was on fight mode, her ex was stuck on flight mode, ‘I see you running’.
On the entrancingly rapturous holy terrain, FKA twigs wonders whether her new paramour will still see her beauty when her rawness supersedes her refinement, ‘do you still think I’m beautiful, when my tears fall like rain?’. She knows that only a man untethered to machismo, a man whom embraces his own rawness, can fully engage with and celebrate hers, ‘my love is so bountiful for a man who is true to me/ For a man who can follow his heart/ Not get bound by his boys and his chains’.
Future trades in toxicity for a degree of introspection, recognising the habitual emotional harm he has wreaked on his lovers, ‘makin’ you fall apart […] I feed you poison, forever my lady’. His admission feels more hollow than heartfelt, in part because he fails to outline the behaviour he’ll implement to be deserving of the belief he so desperately craves, ‘pray for my sins, make me stronger where I’m weak/ And if you pray for me, I know you play for keeps’.
The production intro of mary magdalene – a layered hum pitched down to the depths of Gods grumble, the pitter patter of wind chimes chased closely by whirrs, burrs and clicks, followed by a swift, ever-increasing static that expands in your eardrums – sonically alludes to a serene truth. FKA twigs has arrived at a place of peace concerning the disorganisation of her feminine identity. That is to say, her femininity is perfectly imperfect, and it’s her embrace of this truth that emboldens this poignant titular track, the centrepiece of the album.
On mary magdalene, twigs’ femininity isn’t framed as being perfect or more optimal than any other woman’s, rather, her femininity, her agency – like that of every woman, simply is, ‘a woman’s work/ A woman’s prerogative […] A woman’s hands’. Twigs also recognises femininity as the fertile source from which all men stem, and as such, the fire that is femininity bears the power to warm and/or burn men in equal measure, ‘I know where you start, where you end/ How to please, how to curse’.
Altruism and patriarchal conditioning are responsible for twigs’ inclination to answer the call – unconscious and otherwise – to console the men she loves, ‘yes, I heard you needed me (Breathe on me)/ Yes, I’m here to open you (You’re so close)’. That said, twigs is wise to the male penchant for revisionist history, ‘a woman’s war/ Unoccupied history’, and so, she detaches from the narrative of continually empowering a man whom erased and/or mischaracterised the vital support she provided for him, ‘oh, you didn’t hear me when I told you’. A woman’s support shouldn’t be tantamount to sacrificing their sense of self, ‘a woman’s time to embrace she must put herself first’.
Mary Magdalene’s stigmatised portrayal as a prostitute is subverted and reconfigured here. Magdalene being brandished as a ‘whore’ was an attempt to unjustly reduce her desire to one dimension, effectively diminishing her agency. Knowing this, twigs defines herself as being ‘true as Mary Magdalene/ Creature of desire’. The lack of specificity concerning her ‘desire’ speaks to the fact that, like most women, sex is just one facet of desire she can choose from, and it doesn’t necessarily drive her. Twigs is a woman, women are multifaceted, so of course their desires are multifaceted. For those of you that assume that twigs’ being a self-professed ‘creature of desire’ solely equates to her being a sexual creature, now is the time to remove the misogynistic lens through which you view the world.
fallen alien is the primal scream of a woman struck by the disillusionment of a romantic relationship or alternatively, the patriarchy, ‘I feel the lightning blast’. Enlightened, FKA twigs kicks her man – the patriarchy – down, ‘now you’re on your knees’, making him bow before the forest fire that is her femininity, ablaze with justifiable rage. Rage sparked by his futile attempts to subjugate her, ‘I never thought that you would be the one to tie me down/ But you did’.
mirrored heart finds FKA twigs coming to terms with her ex’s inconsistent investment in her via a penetrating post-chorus, ‘did you want me all? No, not for life/ Did you truly see me? No, not this time/ Were you ever sure? No, no, no, not with me’.
daybed utilises a sluggishly sprawling, sinewy production that climaxes with a creeping crescendo, sonically symbolising the pervasively insurmountable attributes of depression. An anthropomorphic bed infantilises twigs, actively confining her to a depressive boundary, ‘baby are my footsteps/ Possessive is my daybed’ and eroding her emotional borders in the process, ‘lower is my ceiling/ Pressing are my feelings’.
FKA twigs reaches a state of introspective realisation on visceral album closer cellophane. Magdalenian until the very end, twigs details how she tried and failed to endure the high visibility that vied for, and succeeded in, deteriorating her former relationship, ‘and I don’t want to share our love/ I try, but I get overwhelmed’. The humility she unearths here, her earnest effort to push through the public nature of her relationship – an aspect that phased her – for the sake of her partner, enriches her sound with a humanity that deeply endears her to listeners.
The commodification of FKA twigs’ heartbreak could be taken as a tacit, tongue in cheek means of acknowledging the reality that news outlets rushed out a slew of slanted articles to make money off of her former relationship, ‘all wrapped in cellophane, the feelings that we had’. This lyric also functions as a means of reminding herself that, now that her love has been packaged, published and profited from in the form of salacious news articles, those articles – not unlike their love – are non-returnable.
With that confession, catharsis is achieved. Twigs can move on. The detractors that sought to diminish her by ‘hoping I’m [she’s] not enough’ for her ex can keep on hoping. Because to hope that she isn’t enough doesn’t make it so. And even if her efforts to salvage the unsalvageable weren’t enough, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t. She is more than enough. More than enough for us. And more importantly, she is more than enough for herself.