First of all, let’s all just agree that genre classification in 2014 is stupid. Music is such a melting pot that there are no clear lines anymore, but we use genre labels because it’s the easiest way we have of speaking about something and giving people an idea of what it sounds like. Maybe it’s just lazy, but it certainly can be helpful in communicating about music without just using a bunch of vague adjectives that literally describe the sounds in the songs.
It’s just because I’m mixed race. When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: ‘I’ve never heard anything like this before, it’s not in a genre.’ And then my picture came out six months later, now she’s an R&B singer. I share certain sonic threads with classical music; my song ‘Preface’ is like a hymn. So let’s talk about that. If I was white and blonde and said I went to church all the time, you’d be talking about the ‘choral aspect’. But you’re not talking about that because I’m a mixed-race girl from south London.
I love annoying sounds, beats, clicks. Kakakakaka! I don’t see anyone else doing that now. It’s got loud noises in there, the structures aren’t typical, it’s relentless. It’s like punk; fuck alternative R&B!
For us, it wasn’t about race. The cast of characters experimenting with sounds and styles traditionally associated with R&B is a diverse one. When we used the term R&B, it was mostly because of the vocals and the melodies. Where pop and rock music have always had more of a repetitive, rigid vocal structure, the flourishes of varying melodies and abandoned format is what led us to use the word R&B when talking about FKA twigs.
But it’s true that race, location, image, presentation, and association with other acts can sometimes affect genre classification more than the music itself, and that can be harmful for artists who don’t deserve to be oversimplified for the sake of music writers’ desire to lump things together. For R&B, a genre with a deep history and constantly shifting connotation, it’s even more complicated.
Anyway, labeling music is hard these days, and maybe we should all think about abandoning it altogether. I prefer the “kakakakaka!” description far more than any genre classification anyway.