dress, ADI KARNI VAGT. ( @adikarnivagt )
2020 has not panned out the way anyone thought it would. Not only are plans being cancelled and delayed, but entire institutions are being reevaluated. Collectively, we’re being forced to take a good, hard look at ourselves, for better or for worse. Though the events of this year are unprecedented for all of us, Tinashe is no stranger to navigating tumultuous waves of change. The agility, grace, and resilience in which she’s navigated her career thus far proves that she’s a force to be reckoned with — and she’s just getting started.
Like many musicians before her, Tinashe burst onto the scene with a chart-soaring hit (2014’s “2 On”) and was hastily swept up into the machine that is the mainstream music industry. She was signed to RCA Records two years prior following her debut solo mixtape In Case We Die, but now, she was an extremely visible figure in music. However, being slapped with labels like “Urban” and “R&B” quickly became suffocating for the now 27-year-old.
“These categories can be damaging to artists in terms of limiting how we’re presented, marketed, what spaces were allowed to perform in, what playlists we make it on. Those are all really affected by the genre that gets placed over an artist,” Tinashe tells me over the phone. “I think that that’s just something that we should all be more cognizant of.”
dress, ADI KARNI VAGT. ( @adikarnivagt )
In early 2019, after seven years with RCA Records, Tinashe announced that she had departed from the label and was moving forward as an independent artist. To me, the words “independent” and “artist” just make sense together, but choosing to leave a major record label is to go against the grain of the industry. It’s a risk. But for Tinashe, it was well worth it. Her fourth studio album, Songs For You, was released independently last year, and is arguably her best work yet. On the 15-track project, the artist floats freely between genres, from slinky R&B (“So Much Better”, “Save Room For Us”) to breezy pop (“Perfect Crime”) to hard-leaning hip hop (“Link Up”). This fluidity, she says, is natural for her.
Unlike her previous records, she isn’t concerned with pleasing her label or hitting certain streaming goals. “I think I just feel more liberated,” she said of her newfound independence. “I just make my music and I don’t worry. That’s the stuff that makes all the darkness come in. When you’re considering ‘Oh my gosh, is this gonna do well? Is this gonna chart? Are people gonna like it?’ It just like, kills art.”
Despite, or perhaps even because of, Tinashe’s lack of interest in public opinion, critics raved about Songs For You. Welcome praise, surely, but the singer mostly cares what her fans think. The title of the album speaks for itself; these songs are for her ride-or-dies, the ones who have stuck by even when the charts weren’t so kind to her. “I think my fans are excited to see me in my element,” Tinashe says. “They can feel the difference.”
Of course, not being able to tour the album has been a major letdown. “That was something that I definitely had to grieve over for a little bit and kind of just let that go,” she says. “And yeah, just change your expectations of how you planned on this all going. I do think that one thing that I pride myself in is being very adaptive and I’ll always just kind of like figure it out. So I stay really busy in that sense.”
gloves and leggings, SERPENTI. ( @serpenti_apparel )
And 2020 has certainly been busy for Tinashe. Eight months after the release of “Songs For You”, Tinashe gave listeners a taste of her new music with “Rascal (Superstar)”. On Twitter, Tinashe referred to the cheeky track as a “braggadocios bad bitch anthem”. Along with the single, Tinashe dropped a quarantine-style music video in which she plays a socialite performing for a drone that’s documenting her lavish home life.
“Obviously, we’re having to adapt all of our videos to be able to shoot them with really minimal crews and that really affects the creative process,” she said of the video’s production. “It is kind of interesting how that’s being reflected in the content and just yeah, making a video that was kind of that theme. The feeling of just being stuck in the house going crazy.”
This year, Tinashe also lent her vocals to “Love Reggae”, a brand new track on the Deluxe version of JoJo’s recent album, good to know. After initially connecting, JoJo and Tinashe attended a Black Lives Matter march together. “She came with my family and I, and that was like the first time we hung out,” Tinashe says of their relationship. It’s not lost on me that both artists had similar experiences distancing themselves from major labels, but Tinashe says that they didn’t commiserate.
She has, however, discussed her journey at length with Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, who also recently cut ties with her record label. In August, the pair released retro-style track “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching”, the first single off of Azalea’s independently-released third studio album. “We’ve kind of had that discussion at least from a creative perspective,” Tinashe says, “She feels so much more like she can do what she wants and more sure about who she is as an artist and I can relate to those feelings as well. Just like the psychological impact it has on you to have control of your art. How much that empowers you. I think that’s really important.”
I then ask a question that I desperately hope she doesn’t take the wrong way: Do you consider yourself an underdog in the industry? “It was something I used to identify as, but I actually completely switched my mindset,” Tinashe replies. “Now I don’t see that as a way at all. I feel like if you think of yourself as a victim, then like you are. If you think that I’m always underrated then like, I’m always putting that energy in the universe, I’m always gonna be underrated. So no, I just think that like, for sure, I’ve got like work to do. I’m moving up. I just don’t see it as like, a sad story.”
No, I assure her, her story is anything but sad. It’s inspiring, truly, to watch an artist grow into herself, to tune out the siren song that is external validation and choose to prioritize her own intuition.
“Everyone sees my content whether or not they put it on the playlist or whatever,” she says. “I know that the people that I respect see my work. I know that other artists see my work. I think that’s what makes me successful. I’m still in the game. And I feel encouraged to know that if I make like, really amazing art and focus on just making really amazing content, and then like, whatever happens, happens, and that’ll speak for itself.”
CONNECT WITH TINASHE
photos / Jasper Soloff ( @jasperegan )
creative direction & styling / Phil Gomez ( @styledbyphil )
fashion assistant / Branden Ruiz ( @branden.ruiz )
makeup / Francie Tomalonis ( @francieluxe )
hair / Eduardo Ponce ( @eduardoponcehair
story / Catherine Santino @csantino
editor / Koko Ntuen @kokontuen