The Ascent of Mary Magdalene

Photo Courtesy of entertainmentvoice.com

Photo Courtesy of entertainmentvoice.com

In 2019, singer-songwriter FKA twigs released what can arguably be considered as her best work yet. The album, Magdalene, was a complete transcendence for the singer’s career and personal life.

After a painfully publicized breakup with actor Robert Pattinson and a threatening illness that required surgical operation, twigs chose to depict her story through the album. At the very least, she is a singer. Magdalene transformed this perception by offering a glimpse into her array of talents, including dancing, storytelling, and, quite interestingly, sword fighting.

Prior to Magdalene, twigs took a 4-year hiatus after the release of her consecutive albums, LP1 and M3LL155X, which captured her unique take on the genres of electronic, R&B, and art-pop. These albums introduced listeners to her art style, which broadly includes the use of synthesizers, traditional choral instruments, and hip-hop beats.

However, Magdalene was the album that truly reflected experimentalism within her realm of art. It possesses heavy influence of singers Kate Bush and Björk and electronic producer Nicholas Jaars, but it remains a work distinctive to twigs.

The album’s title alludes to the biblical figure within the New Testament, Mary Magdalene, a loyal follower of Jesus Christ who witnessed his resurrection. However, centuries of misleading narratives, particularly within Western culture, have portrayed her as a prostitute, downplaying her role in the Bible. In the album, twigs cleverly presents herself as Mary Magdalene to emphasize her opinions on femininity and emotional strength. She once told the press, “I found a lot of power in the story of Mary Magdalene; a lot of dignity, a lot of grace, a lot of inspiration.”

Her personal experiences with heartbreak and being criticized by the public parallels the invalidation of Mary Magdalene. While the implementation of biblical references in modern music is typical among artists, twigs does it like no other by challenging patriarchal structures and spotlighting female prowess.

All of Magdalene’s tracks are stylized with all lowercase letters. What initially came out as her comeback single, “cellophane” became the top song on the Magdalene album. With heavy remorse, twigs addresses her breakup with Pattinson, reflecting on the inevitable doom of a publicized relationship: “They’re waiting / They’re watching us / They’re hating.”

Maintaining a similar mood, twigs’ “mirrored heart” laments on a missing partner. The heavy percussion within the track contrasts nicely with twigs’ gentle yet prominent voice. In one of the most powerful moments of the album, she sings “And for the lovers who found a mirrored heart / They just remind me I’m without you.” She emulates desperation and longing, creating vivid images of depression.

However, Magdalene isn’t just about sadness from heartbreak; it also taps into courage, anger, and resentment. Magdalene’s sixth track, “fallen alien,” best exemplifies anger, for example, through the manic-like noises straying from the beat and through the near screech of twigs’ voice. The track is intoxicating, hypnotizing, and quite frankly, terrifying.

Meanwhile, in “mary magdalene,” twigs recognizes the courage many women must possess in a patriarchal society. In an empowering line of the song, twigs names a woman’s struggles as “a woman’s war / Unoccupied history.” The track consistent with the electronic genre through its use of synthesizers, but it adds a special touch with the violin and wind chimes that add to medieval sounds.

Like most albums, the order of all nine tracks are purposeful and executed with careful planning. There is a clear journey of emotions present throughout the listen, with the album beginning with “thousand eyes” and closing with “cellophane.” From beginning to end, with one exception, the album tells the listener a story of heartbreak.

This exception is “holy terrain,” the fourth track of the album, featuring rap-artist Future. Although twigs is well-known for her collaborations with several rappers, including A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, and the Weeknd, this track, being the only one featuring another artist, has no evident place in the gloryful Magdalene. It almost seems that its sole purpose was to bring twigs’ art into mainstream media.

This shouldn’t, however, stop any listener from tuning into Magdalene. Although it’s her own story, it is readily understood among listeners, which makes the album accessible. The tracks’ production and lyrics are well-thought-out to offer listeners an experience, rather than a mere song. Perhaps this is what makes the album such a revelation: fans are intrinsically pulled to analyze its sound, lyrics, and underlying message. Without a doubt, Magdalene surpasses expectations through its spectacular musicality and lyricism, qualifying as one of the best albums released in 2019.