FKA twigs Sword Fights and Pole Dances to Purge Heartbreak in Brooklyn

At Kings Theatre, FKA twigs served crowds the most emo pole dancing music of all time.

At Brooklyn's Kings Theatre, FKA twigs performed magnificent physical and vocal feats and mesmerized a massive audience with her technical acumen and emotional intensity.

During the show, she tap-danced, pole-danced, hit operatic high notes, and even demonstrated an incredible sword-fighting sequence during a musical interlude in the middle of her song "sad day." The show consisted of innumerable costume changes and intricate choreography, mirrored by four talented backup dancers and soundtracked by three impressive instrumentalists. Though she began the show solo, the dancers and musicians slowly became more and more incorporated into the act until they all moved together as a single entity, eventually ending the performance in an embrace.

FKA Twigs - Sad Day (Live with Sword Dance) Paris We Love Green 2019

Twigs was promoting her new album, Magdalene, and she fully leaned into its theatrical and biblical imagery, sporting a variety of traditional, religious, and regal costumes as well as barely-there lingerie for her pole dancing routine. Throughout it all, there was not a single misstep or missed note, but there was one underlying dissonance: How could Robert Pattinson possibly have let someone like twigs slip away? The kind of desperation in twigs' Magdalene songs also seems to be asking this very question. If I can reach such heights, and inspire such devotion from audiences, she seemed to be screaming throughout the show, why don't I do it for you?

Though undeniably impressive, the show may have been better suited to a smaller theatre. During moments of silence, audience members kept screaming and shouting up to the stage, distracting from the show. Then again, it's hard to ask an audience of that size to keep quiet, especially when witnessing someone with twigs' star power.

FKA Twigs - "Mary Magdalene" + "Home With You" LIVE! from the House of Blues Boston 11/19/19

Perhaps aware that she wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise without someone shouting, twigs only spoke to the audience a few times, once to greet the crowd and once to ask a series of pointed questions. "How many people came here alone? How many people are single? How many people have had their hearts broken?" she asked, waiting for hands to raise between each question, laughing at the enthusiasm of New York City's affirmative responses. "Well, I have."

It was a moment of rare intimacy and rawness which reminded the crowd that, in spite of her superhuman physical and artistic abilities, twigs struggles as much as the rest of us with matters of the heart.

FKA twigs - Cellophane


Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman.

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did.

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny.

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid.

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper.

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.


That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.


So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.


On "Magdalene," FKA twigs Resurrects Herself (and an Old Testament Mystery)

FKA twigs takes on the fraught and transformative legacy of Mary Magdalene on her newest album.

FKA twigs has always been a kind of an alien, a superhuman capable of incredible physical, vocal, and artistic feats.

The Tonight Show The Atlantic

On her latest LP, Magdalene, you can feel her touching on immaculate, unearthly perfection while also lamenting the pain of being unable to maintain it. In 2017 while writing the album, she went through two shattering events: a breakup and the emergence of painful uterine fibroids, which left her bedridden and unable to dance.

In light of this—all the multitudes that went into this album, the pain and the perfectionism—the character Mary Magdalene seems like a natural avatar, a vessel that seems to have allowed Tahliah Debrett Barnett to embody all the disparate parts of herself.

Mary Magdalene, a figure surrounded in dissent and mystery, appears as a central figure in the Gospel of Luke and the Synoptic Gospels. One of Jesus's most beloved apostles, she bore witness to Jesus's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

It's believed that she was born a wealthy woman in Palestine and ended her life in silent meditation in a cave in the remote mountains of Provence. As revisionist historians have found, she may have been Jesus's closest confidant, an enlightened figure in her own right, uncontainable by gender or time. In apocryphal Gnostic Christian writings, she is portrayed as the only one who truly understood Jesus's teachings.

Salt and Light

As Christianity became intertwined with power, Mary Magdalene's legacy was distorted. Pope Gregory I portrayed her as a "sinful woman," leading to the myth that she was a prostitute. For years, she was viewed as a harlot and condemned to obscurity. At the same time, she became shrouded in conspiracy theories, inspiring a cultish following among women and followers of Goddess movements and other fringe feminist groups.

Over the years, she has been portrayed as almost every feminine archetype, from the wife to the priestess; she's been condemned and deified, viewed as a savior and as the embodiment of the divine feminine. But Mary Magdalene's message can't even be contained by merely seeing her as one thing, such as the feminine aspect of the divine, since to define her by her womanhood would be to discount who she was.


Similarly, FKA twigs' Magdalene resists exact interpretation and classification. Sonically, it's a modern symphony, one that fuses classical and religious musical themes with modern beats and processed vocals. The album's first track, "thousand eyes," draws from the polyphony of Medieval church choirs, placing them over a quietly seductive beat."mirrored heart" and "mary magdalene" are also standouts, all delicate, furious, graceful, and alive, rich with themes that promise to expand with every listen. Every track is a roller coaster, moving from delicate, fragile piano-voice duets into furious and tense clusters of beats and brass and screams, making a constellation of textures so disparate that the fact they complement each other at all is a miracle in itself.

"Connecting with Mary Magdalene over the past couple of years, spiritually, I started to explore the concept of the virgin-wh*re, which is the idea that, as a woman, you can be pure, and you can be innocent, and you can be like a fresh flower—but at the same time, you can be dangerous, and seductive, and all-knowing and healing," twigs said. "It's been incredibly exciting for me to know that that's okay and it exists and I am as much sacred as I am sensual."

The dichotomy between control and liberation, between delicacy and violence, is a consistent theme in twigs' visuals as well as her music. That's a dichotomy that most women can relate to, between feeling the need to be submissive and palatable while also experiencing the violence of having a woman's body in this world. It's a dichotomy that most humans can relate to, actually, all of us tangled in the psychological wilderness between where we present ourselves to others and who we are inside or in terms of who we are and wish to be.

Ricocheting between these two sides can feel like falling from a great height—and in the album's final track, the magnificent "cellophane," twigs does just that. In the music video, a masterpiece in and of itself, she emerges as a pole dancer, her body twisted into superhuman perfection. Then as the song breaks open, she falls through a rabbit hole and winds up falling into a pit of red mud, where she's healed by a crowd of strange, gentle creatures.

FKA twigs - Cellophane

On Magdalene's cover, twigs appears to be made of mud or clay, so maybe the figure on the cover is the end product of that healing that took place at the very bottom of the rabbit hole in "cellophane." Out of the substance within her, using her own regenerative powers, she's rebuilt herself—she's literally been reborn out of collapse. It's an important message for our time, and not only for women. In an era of ecological collapse and global paradigm shifts, we'll need to think about the sort of world we'd like to see rise out of the ashes and the sort of healing that it'll take to get there.

All across the album, twigs embodies her different parts. On "home with you," she leaves the nightlife behind for a primal innocence that was living in her all along and finds that the two aren't mutually exclusive. On "holy terrain," she's sensual, powerful, and flesh-bound; on "daybed" she's so depressed she can't even get up. She's constantly dying, then rising again.

FKA twigs - home with you

In Jungian psychology (which draws heavily from Mary Magdalene's Gnostic teachings), often, the end goal of therapy is to reach individuation, which is a place where one's conscious mind can connect to the realm of the collective unconscious and all the archetypes that live within it. We're all the child, the anima, the crone, and everything in between at once, but as long as you're suppressing parts of yourself, that wholeness is impossible to reach.

Magdalene could be an exercise in Jungian individuation. All the archetypes who live in FKA twigs are allowed to speak out on the album, from the child to the woman full of desire to the wise goddess, and because of that, the album feels complete in spite of (and because of) how shattered its creator clearly is. Healing, as it turns out, might not be found by looking outwards. It might begin by looking back in time, towards someone named Mary Magdalene.