An artist/entertainer who can do it all, Tinashe is quickly making herself known across multiple genres and throughout entertainment fields as one of the rawest and most compelling musicians today. She has all the marks of a true artist: fully immersed in her craft — and handling almost all of it single-handedly — ambitiously serious and undeniably fun. Tinashe’s instinct for rhythm accompanies the kind of undressed lyrics that leave any listener feeling themselves, dancing in what she calls a “collaboration” with her fans, especially to her new hit single, “Needs.”
Fusing innovative sounds from R&B, pop and hip-hop, Tinashe has generated a global cross-genre fanbase of over 13 million social media followers. The multi-platinum-certified R&B disruptor singer, writer and dancer — who also produces, mixes, engineers, creative directs and edits — has headlined two world tours and accrued over 1.5 billion global streams all time. Not to mention, her steadily increasing recognition has landed her an extensive list of collaborations, including Britney Spears, A$AP Rocky, Usher, Charli XCX, Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott, Dev Hynes and Calvin Harris. To add to her accolades, Tinashe performed the lead role of Mimi Marquez in the Fox television special Rent: LIVE in 2019.
Since her first album, Aquarius, came out in 2014 and debuted in the top 20 on the Billboard 200, she has released four more studio albums, not including BB/ANG3L, as well as several mixtapes and numerous hit singles. “Needs” is the second official single of BB/ANG3L. Tinashe is currently on a US tour with grime/electronic club DJ Shygirl through November.
ED Magazine spoke with Tinashe, courtesy of Bob Chiappardi and StripJointsMusic.com, about how best to channel her strong-willed Aquarius energy into creative flow, including what she lets in and what she keeps out of her creative space. The conversation also ventures into the female entertainer’s love of the female body, sexuality, dancing and all things strip club, with a special interest in her sexy new single, “Needs.” (Note: The interview was conducted by Ilan Fong, Danny Meyers and Bob Chiappardi, with questions courtesy of ED Publications.)
ED: Your music is an unmatched blend of R&B, pop and hip-hop. Who are your predecessors in style? And who’s inspiring you right now?
Tinashe: My number one is Janet Jackson.
ED: Oh, really?
Tinashe: Honestly, yes. She encompasses everything that I love about an artist/entertainer. She also genre hops a lot, and I think that that’s really amazing. You know, like The Velvet Rope album, for example. There are songs that feel like dance records on there. There are R&B ballads on there. There are big pop songs on there. So Janet is like, queen, and also Britney Spears. Britney is a huge one for me. Hers was the first album I ever bought, and just having that full circle moment of collaborating with her has been really, really fun for me. So those are the big, big people that I love.
Right now, what am I listening to? I’m listening to a lot of drum and bass. I’m listening to a lot of — I don’t know — Thundercat…
ED: Oh, Thundercat’s dope.
Tinashe: I’ve also been listening to a lot of Wizkid. I go all over the place when it comes to what I’ve been listening to. I think that’s part of the reason why my music has a lot of flavors, because I enjoy lots of different types of music.
ED: Dude, you’ve got to hook up with Walshy Fire and those guys over at Diplo!
Tinashe: Hell yeah, of course.
ED: Do a major laser track.
Tinashe: We should. I’ve known them for a long time, so it’s overdue.
ED: You’ve said in other interviews, and it’s at the base of your sound, that you came from mixtape/DIY culture. How has fame affected the shape of your music, if it has?
Tinashe: I definitely think, initially, having that freedom to make whatever I wanted, and just put it out online, was really a big foundation of how I was able to make the art that I make now, and also gain the fan base that I have now. Over the course of the next five, six years that I was signed to a major label, it changed how I related to music and how I was attempting to create, and it got a little bit more strategic and like gameplay. There’s also obviously a lot more pressure, because you have the pressure from the fans, you have the pressure from the media. So I do think that fame and whatever has affected how I write music; however, the light at the end of the tunnel is that I’ve really focused on regaining that sense of just making music for the fun of it, focusing on doing whatever feels instinctual and not trying to play these games or fit in a box to make a song for a chart. I just make what I want. That where I’m at now, so I’ve definitely come full circle.
ED: Well, Recruitment said, “You are your audience.” You’ve got to make music for yourself, right?
Tinashe: Absolutely, you have to make the music you want to hear in the world.
ED: You’ve talked about the “insidious” voices of outsiders disrupting your creative process. Who is your biggest enemy in the music-making process?
Tinashe: Yeah, the reason why I used the word ‘insidious’ is because it is very sneaky. It’s hard to pinpoint. It’s not like a very obvious one person that’s trying to sabotage you. I think a lot of people have really good intentions, especially when it comes to working with major labels or just other cooks in the kitchen.
Ultimately, probably the biggest OP — the biggest thing that you have to overcome — is yourself, your own mind and not getting too deep in your head about whatever it all means. After that, you really learn to trust yourself and know thyself, and then all of the rest of the noise or the opinions of other people doesn’t matter as much anymore, because you know what you like.
ED: You’ll be going on tour with Shygirl pretty soon, a DJ with a major club fan base. What is your relationship as an R&B artist to club music? And are your songs meant to be danceable?
Tinashe: Absolutely, dance is a huge part of my foundation. I started dancing when I was four years old, so being able to incorporate it into my art is big. I’m also just a big fan of dancing — I love dance music, dance music culture, DJ culture. I love all of that energy, and I think that that’s really cool to be able to bring some of those elements into what I do. Linking up with Shygirl is amazing. She’s super, super talented, cool and fun, so I think the show is going to be really special.
ED: And personally, how do you relate to clubs and/or strip clubs?
Tinashe: I love the strip club. I just think it’s so fun. I mean, any environment where you have dancing, music, like that’s all you need to say to me and I’m like, ‘I’m sold. I’m there. That sounds like a great time.’ Those are my two main things: music and dancing. Boom, ‘nuff said.
ED: At this point as an independent artist, you can pretty much handle everything yourself: writing, recording, mixing, engineering, producing, creative directing. It’s giving Aquarius energy. How do you balance all the different aspects of your brand? And how do you know when to ask for help?
Tinashe: It’s important to have a good team, and I think knowing who you trust alleviates any micromanaging that you may have to do because then you know that people are going to be looking out for you when you’re not in the conversations or you’re not in those rooms. I think it’s really important to be able to do everything so that you have the skills to not have to wait for other people to do things for you, but it’s equally important to know that other people who are skilled and that you trust can come and help you elevate, to take it to the next level.
ED: What are some of the things that you can’t do on your own?
Tinashe: My finances? [Both laugh.] Manage my money, pay my taxes, stuff like that. I am not good with numbers, so when it comes to the business side of things, I’m much more cerebral. I’m much more in concept. I need people to help me from a real business standpoint, to get all that in order, because that’s important, too.
ED: Your list of collaborators includes everything from Britney Spears to Travis Scott, and many others. What role can collaboration play in your creative process?
Tinashe: Collaboration is really fun. I think it is really interesting what you can learn from other artists and their processes — how they approach a record or how they perform records. And also, it’s just fun to be able to have peers in the music industry, people that you can relate to, that are also making art and have a similar passion. I really enjoy collaboration, and I hope to do a lot more in the future. I’ve had so many amazing collaborations. I’m very lucky. But let’s keep ‘em coming.
ED: Experimentation and taking risks is an iconic aspect of your brand. Your bio describes you as a ‘disruptive singer.’ What does ‘disruption’ mean to you? And how do you relate to weirdness?
Tinashe: Ooh, that’s a very Aquarius question. I relate to it as an Aquarius, because I like to be kind of like anti-, like, if it feels too easy, too straight down the middle, too predictable, it’s not as interesting to me. I kind of like to think outside the box. I like to approach things a little differently. I don’t like being told what to do. It’s a very stubborn side of me is like, “Oh, bet, I’m gonna do the exact opposite.”
ED: Some topics which I notice recurring in your music are: intimacy, self love, beauty, sexuality and womanhood. To confront this mirror, what is your personal and artistic relationship to these concepts?
Tinashe: I feel like those concepts are something that, as a woman, or as a young person, you’re constantly reevaluating your relationship to. Maybe you feel super powerful, intimate, sexy some days, and then other days, you’re feeling more vulnerable, you’re feeling less powerful, you’re feeling more emotional. I think it’s fun to be able to highlight all the range of what it means to be a human being, to have the moments where you can have intimacy, both in vulnerability, but then also, intimacy in a very confident, sexy way. There are just so many ways, colors and nuances. I just like to explore those topics, because there’s a lot to unpack.
ED: I think men are finally starting to learn that stuff.
Tinashe: Yeah, of course. It’s nice to hear the conversations that are going on. I like it. I think it’s about time.
ED: As a woman in the entertainment industry, how do you feel about exotic dancers dancing to your music?
Tinashe: I love it. Like I said, I love to celebrate the women. I love to celebrate womanhood, I love to celebrate music and I love to celebrate dancing. So anytime those things come together, it’s just amazing. And I also like to be able to create music that makes people feel sexy and powerful and fun. There’s some collaboration that goes on in that sense, like I’m making something that hopefully makes me feel this way, so then when the girls put it on, hopefully they’ll feel that way, too, and then it’s like a great exchange of all this energy.
ED: I want to ask about the power dynamic in “Needs.”
“I’m not easy, but I’m feenin’,” says the speaker. While the object of her desire: “He’s simpin’ / Said, ‘Lord, please, forgive me,’ oh / Said, ‘I don’t like beggin’, but I’m on my knees.’”
Who is in control in this song? And what does the speaker “need” in “Needs”?
Tinashe: I think I’m definitely in control in this song —
ED: Shocking, Aquarius!
Tinashe: [Laughs] — kind of playing with that power dynamic, too, which is fun and also really sexy, because it’s like, I’m kind of making him beg a little bit. I’m kind of trying to see how much he really wants it.
I think that that’s always a fun power play, and I definitely wanted to highlight that on this song, the fact that— a lot of times, when it comes to women, we don’t really talk as much about their being able to use someone for their body, or having these types of moments, and I think it’s totally relevant.
ED: Y’all do. Stop it.
Tinashe: Of course we do! Of course we do, and so I think that this song is a fun nod to that, like, ‘Maybe I don’t NEED you, but I do, in a way,’ if that makes sense.
ED: Teasing is fun. Forget the instant gratification.