They say that nothing hurts like a broken heart, but what happens when the body it serves becomes damaged in the process? “I never thought heartbreak could be so all encompassing,” FKA twigs stated in a press release for MAGDALENE. “I never thought that my body could stop working to the point that I couldn’t express myself physically in the ways that I have always loved and found so much solace. I have always practiced my way into being the best I could be, but I couldn’t do that this time, I was left with no option but to tear down every process I had ever leant into.”
There’s no need to regurgitate what is already common public knowledge — the long-term relationship with a certain heart-throb actor that quietly came crashing to an end followed by the laparoscopic surgery that twigs would later disclose on Instagram. During recovery, twigs mastered pole dancing over the course of nine months to execute a vision she had specifically for the “cellophane” music video. Similar to Solange during the creation of When I Get Home, twigs had to rebuild herself on the inside to reconnect with the outside and MAGADALENE was birthed out of her radical healing process.
The rawness of it all marked a triumphant return, the type of comeback reserved for major stars in cinema rather than a moment in real time. In 2015, twigs left us in the ballroom with the M3LL155X EP. Now for her resurrection, she’s stepped through the screen of the looking glass, ushering us from watching on the sidelines to the front of the stage for the show of a lifetime.
MAGDALENE is inspired by Mary Magdalene, a devout follower of Jesus who witnessed his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The New Testament deemed her a controversial figure due to her background as a “repentant prostitute who found healing at the feet of Jesus.” Even though Mary Magdalene is considered a Catholic saint and was very much a companion to Jesus, she endured so much suffering because of her sinful reputation. It’s easy to see how twigs would be drawn to the idea of Mary Magdalene during such a transitional phase of her life.
Like any longtime twigs fan, I have been patiently waiting for this sophomore album to materialize for five years. An advance of MAGDALENE arrived to me on Friday the 13th, a few hours before a full moon, so I’ve been living with it for quite some time now. Months prior to receiving the record, I had the opportunity to watch her perform the material live for Red Bull Music Festival in New York which was an absolute revelation. I was immediately enchanted by the Gregorian-inspired chanting of “thousand eyes,” body, mind, and spirit in sync for a transformative and, dare I say, spiritual listening experience.
It’s hard not to get chills whenever twigs gets deep into her flow and taps into rapper mode, as demonstrated on the opening verse of “home with you” when she gracefully snarls “I’m so wired, fought it, seen it, tried it / I’d die for you on my terms / When I get my lessons learned.” But she balances it out with that sweet falsetto, crying out to the heavens with the support of big strings that propel her into a state of operatic bliss. twigs brings it out again on “fallen alien,” an outburst for emancipation paired with an arrangement of dreary, menacing beats that find her crawling from the shadows of darkness into a radiant, mystical light.
“mary magdalene” is the centerpiece of the album, the pivotal moment when twigs preaches the word of the damned “creature of desire,” beckoning women to commit to themselves above all else. “mirrored heart” is a piercing stab to the heart as twigs muses on romantic relationships where the partners connect so deeply that they merge into one, their love serving as a reflection of their truest selves. “Did you want me all? / No, not for life,” she sings. “Did you truly see me? / No, not this time / Were you ever sure? / No, no, no, not with me.”
This poignant moment of clarity is followed by “daybed,” a tender track about the thrill of indulging in pleasure at your own hand; masturbation as a way of alleviating depression. This charming commentary could not be circulating at a better time as seasonal affective disorder cranks into high gear with what has felt like a never-ending cycle of Mercury Retrograde. twigs still gets her kicks, even when she’s struggling.
There’s only one thing that pains me on the album, and it’s Future’s guest feature on “holy terrain.” While I’m fully aware that his inclusion was intended to provide a male perspective on heartbreak, the project is projecting such a strong surge of female energy that not only does his verse feel out of place, it seems unnecessary as it adds next to nothing to the narrative. Aside from that, MAGDALENE is a masterpiece.
Early on with EP1 and EP2, twigs showed her expertise when it comes to deconstructing the complex layers of intimacy with aggressive precision. LP1‘s “Two Weeks” saw her championing the art of sexual confidence, reminding everyone to utilize the body’s full potential. The closing track “cellophane” might be the most vulnerable song that twigs has ever written, but it’s more than a breakup ballad. It single-handedly defies all expectations that were set against her, further cementing twigs into a league of her own stardom. Part of me wishes that a recording of twigs walking on glass in stilettos was considered as an outro — imagine the power that that would have had.
MAGDALENE is the album that twigs was destined to create. That such a blessing came out of so much trauma is a tragedy, but what a privilege it is to witness such a miraculous period of growth. Her sacrifice is our gain, but the emotional baggage is no longer her burden to carry now that it’s been released into the cosmos. Bravo.