the self is also joy
on CapriSongs, the joyful triumph from FKA twigs
In a lengthy Instagram post to accompany her new mixtape, CapriSongs, FKA twigs shared that she thought she was finished making music after MAGDALENE, my favorite album of 2019, and one which mined the dissolution of a high profile relationship. twigs felt that putting her “insides on blast” for the world had taken its toll and no longer wanted to process her pain in public.
Then, as the pandemic took hold, she found herself talking with friends, listening to and recording their musings as she relearned the importance of simple connection. Those conversations were part of the inspiration for CapriSongs, which weaves the voices of her friends throughout a mixtape full of club bops and therapeutic, joyful odes to intimacy, both with the self and the world.
Songs like “ride the dragon” emphasize the urge to live in the present, encouraging a potential lover to kiss her before the end of the song. Here, twigs introduces the larger project with a dedication to the listener: “I made you a mixtape, ‘cause when I feel you, I feel me, and when I feel me, it feels good.”
The sensuality of this message runs throughout CapriSongs, as twigs works to “feel” herself in new lights, to cast new angles on her shadow self by connecting with other collaborators, friends, and more upbeat sounds. See “tears in the club,” the lead single featuring The Weeknd, where twigs actually tries working the opposite approach of feeling a “you” by casting off the traces of an ex-lover. “I move myself in ways that you could never do,” she proclaims, removing the person’s ghost from “my hips, my thighs / my hair, my eyes, my late-night cries.”
But on “meta angel,” a friend laments, “Each year I’m like, ah, I’m gonna own my shit, and then each year I’m still so shy and quiet.” Another friend chimes in, shouting repeatedly, “This is the year!” There’s a difference between the self we project to the world and the self we perceive ourselves to be, hinging on past experiences that hold us back from being free to break out. Between—or really, beyond—those poles, is the self we really are, a mystery to others and perhaps most especially ourselves. If we could recognize that, we could step outside of the self we see in the mirror and become more than mere reflection.
As twigs searches for herself again through the making of this mixtape, she makes that process apparent on songs like “lightbeamers,” where she sings in a high pitch: “Are you running from your life? Beat down ‘cause there ain’t nobody on your side? Tell yourself you love you so.” This radical self-love shines out to others who have “been sad for a while.” In stark contrast to the grief she articulated on MAGDALENE, CapriSongs teaches listeners how to love themselves again after—or through—so much pain:
Makе a list of the truth
Put down the things that make you you
When you smile, does your tongue come through?
When you cry, do you feel brand new?
Put yourself in the room
You’re so beautiful, you are the perfect view
“Put yourself in the room” is a beautiful line among many. You are somewhere now, reading this. But do you feel your presence wherever that somewhere is to you? For me, I know all too well how to make myself disappear, to shrink myself so that I avoid being seen. twigs is a Black woman, so her experience of making her presence known in a room is certainly different from mine, but the lesson still applies, a universal truth for those of us who don’t always see enough in ourselves.
After making this list, twigs tells you to “play it in your car, boom a little loud,” and CapriSongs plays as the soundtrack of this journey toward self-love (elsewhere, she warns not to see her process as “a pretty picture with a quote”). In her Instagram note, she shared that the recording process taught her to “push myself to channel my pain and anxiety into work that felt more inclusive and dare i say joyful.” And yes, joyful is certainly an apt word for the way these songs feel.
I recently read Why Solange Matters by the writer and punk singer Stephanie Phillips, who—in a paragraph that could have been a full chapter—compares Solange to FKA twigs, for the way that each woman has carved out space for Black women making art within the avant-garde tradition. If MAGDALENE was twigs’ A Seat at the Table, then CapriSongs is certainly her When I Get Home, a looser project that builds on its predecessor by embracing the longed-for freedom as a present-tense experience in a much larger struggle.
On “meta angel,” twigs sings, “I wish I had help from a deeper force / some kind of meta angel / Then they could whisper all the answers / and maybe life would slow down.” Over the course of CapriSongs, it’s her friends who reveal themselves to be those angels, encouraging and hyping her, making her laugh, and challenging her to love herself and slow down to take note of her growth and her brilliance.
The final track, “thank you song,” begins with twigs’ admission of suicidal ideation (“no longer afraid to say it out loud”) and how her friends or a partner pulled her back from the void: “Thank you, thank you, I’m okay / ‘cause you care, I made it through today.”
It’s a simple message, but one that we must learn time and again: through the isolation of the pandemic and modern life in general, twigs finds that connection brings her back to the world and herself. After nearly quitting music, she rediscovered her love for an art form she excels in by taking a different approach: joyful expression in the midst of pain, all while maintaining her striking vulnerability, even accessing new depths of it through brighter sounds. Put simply, she prioritizes joy as a grounding principle for her music and only strengthens what is already true about it.
I’m often prone to melancholy, what I sometimes jokingly refer to as my default setting. I’m a strong advocate for the validity of all emotions, including sadness. But sometimes so much sadness can have a numbing effect. The low feelings need a strong contrast—like joy—to set them off and show us a different side of ourselves, to make each emotion resonate at a higher pitch. Because of this, I’m looking to hold space for the idea that the self is also joy.
This recognition led me to a recent essay in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan, where she describes conducting an experiment to see if she could change her personality. Based on the psychological conception of personality as a spectrum of five traits, Khazan worked to decrease her neuroticism and become more extroverted and agreeable. She is ambiguous about the experiment’s effectiveness but feels that becoming more conscientious of ourselves as we are can lead to positive shifts.
Khazan speaks with Jessica Pan, author of Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, who offers this: “Having the ability to morph, to change, to try on free traits, to expand or contract at will, offers me an incredible feeling of freedom and a source of hope.”
I was reminded, too, of Jenny Offill’s Weather, her novel about despair in the face of climate disaster. (Spoiler: the book emphasizes connection as an antidote to despair.) At the end, Offill shares a link to her website, obligatorynoteofhope.com, which includes “Tips for Trying Times” (CapriSongs may be described, among others, by #18: Huddle Together and #39: Whistle in the Dark).
twigs said that each album has taught her something, and with CapriSongs she learned to “laugh again and remember who i am.” Likewise, CapriSongs has taught me to remember that joy is a valid, meaningful emotion that can cast me in new lights to myself. I can be more than I sometimes see in myself, perhaps even the enough that I already am to others.
Welcome to the general store, which houses my reflections on music, movies, books, and more. Like a store of knowledge, the general store looks to include something less definitive: my persisting questions and occasional attempts at answers, with space to change my mind as I think long and hard about what matters to me. As I listen, watch, and read, one might remind me of another, deepen or challenge my understanding of each, and lead me to places I would have never arrived without taking the time to consider them. I appreciate you stopping by the store, and I hope you’ll decide to linger with me.