British performance artist FKA twigs released her latest EP Thursday. In conjunction with the release, called M3LL155X, twigs (given name Tahliah Barnett) put out self-directed videos for four of the EP's five tracks. Meant to be viewed as one 16-minute piece, these stunningly immersive videos feature imagery ranging from frankly sexual to abstractly disturbing to more straightforward showcases of twigs' choreography and performance (she began her career as a dancer). It's an ambitious project, with twigs as both auteur and ingenue offering her body as the canvas for her own wide-ranging creative vision.
What's remarkable about FKA twigs as a performer is how she experiments with expectations and boundaries. She does this as a dancer and singer with physical boundaries, manipulating her voice and contorting her body right up to, and sometimes beyond, human capacity. Much of FKA twigs' work, both in this video and elsewhere, approaches erotic imagery unflinchingly, and her lyrics deal openly with the intimacy, trust and potential for betrayal in sexual encounters. But the sense of unbroken eye contact her songs and videos impart interrupts the conversation viewers expect to have with such an openly sexual performer. Her choreography is angular more often than it's soft or round, and she doesn't hesitate to move from a titillating image to a deeply unnerving one. Her sexuality isn't offered as a product. It's wielded as a tool.
The videos for M3LL155X, then, are a master class in audience manipulation. FKA twigs is a preternaturally compelling performer, and these videos add up to her most confrontational project yet. Look for the moment when, after two videos of performing seemingly for the pleasure of a male spectator/lover, twigs elicits a disgusted response from one of them. The tonal shift in her performance is immediate, irrevocable and carries a clear message: There hasn't actually been a moment in these 16 minutes when she wasn't in absolute control.