The words “British” and “sexual” are rarely placed side-by-side unless it’s on the cover of a pamphlet commissioned by the NHS. The assumption that anybody in the UK even knows what sex is is constantly brought into question by our outrageously high turnover of inane vloggers and Channel 4 presenters for whom sex is just a thing that happens to other people so they can make jokes about bumming. So, when someone like FKA Twigs comes along and drops an album that’s critically acclaimed for being “40 minutes of sex and touching”, it actually means more for the music industry than you’d think.
Even if you haven’t gotten as far as listening to it, it’s very unlikely that FKA Twigs’ debut full-length LP1 will have passed you by. The striking artwork that draws out her characteristic goofy teeth and geometrically impossible eyes has been blown up on billboards and hung in record store windows throughout the country for months as well as being one of the most recognisable images on the internet. The cover is unusual not only visually but also in the sense that it gives absolutely no indication as to what lies within. On the surface, LP1 has the playful surrealism of PC Music artwork designed by Tim Burton, but the contents are steamier than Satan’s sauna.
“Weird things can be sexy,” Twigs said in an interview with the Guardian last month, with the awareness that she’s probably the weirdest, sexiest artist to come out of the UK since David Bowie’s legging-clad crotch co-starred in The Labyrinth. Channelling Aaliyah circa Queen Of The Damned via GHE20G0TH1K, Twigs' music is like a refresher course in sexuality after a decade of Adele’s, Coldplay’s and Ben Howard’s have been repping us with all the eroticism of a pool party round Michael Barrymore's house.
You only have to look at the lyrics to see that Twigs is on another level. Adele’s “I heard that your dreams came true / Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you” or Sam Smith’s “Your touch, your skin / Where do I begin?” are about as seductive as a gilet fleece as it is, but in comparison to Twigs’ “Harder / ‘Till you fill it with me / Harder / Am I suited to fit all of your needs?” they are laughably coy. While everyone at The Brit Awards has been making bedroom eyes at each other from across the room and then going home to pen a ballad about “that beautiful stranger” while crywanking, FKA Twigs has been out there, seducing all your baes.
For whatever reason, the UK very rarely produces a popstar whose sexual energy is the driving force of their career. And on the rare occasion someone breaks through, it’s usually a man (think David Bowie, Freddy Mercury or Mick Jagger). Twigs is incredibly sexy, which is uncharacteristic not only as a British artist, but as a female artist.
Obviously she’s not the first female singer in the history of female singers to address sex; a cursory glace at the current state of the American charts will tell you that, but American pop is built on a kind of sex that tends to identify women as an amalgamation of body parts and pelvic muscles. What separates Twigs from the Miley’s and Minaj’s of the world (other than the fact that her music is sonically implacable) is that she understands the actual sexiness of sex, and that comes across in what she says and how she says it.
LP1 manages to be blatant without being particularly explicit. It has all the sultry sentiments of The Weeknd’s House of Balloons, but with a subtlety no commercial artist has been able to pull off since The Spice Girls had 8 year-olds singing “I want a man, not a boy who thinks he can”. Somehow, Twigs can whisper things like “My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in” through the speakers of the car you’re sitting in with your parents and you wouldn’t jump to switch stations faster than a fourteen year old caught watching Eurotrash. It’s because she understands the difference between sitting on a throne with your legs apart, touching yourself, and sitting on a throne with your knees together, singing about how much someone wants to touch you. Both are expressions of dominance but put across in very different manners, and it’s important that we have both.
Twigs’ music is a constant, convulsing state of resist and release – a thoughtful league beyond Rihanna’s literal camera humping or Taylor Swift’s PG-rated girl-next-door image. Her approach to sex comes with a rare intelligence and natural curiosity that alters not only the sexual identity of women in British pop, but women in general.
Follow Emma on Twitter: @SickBae