TRACK MARKS 2019: “Cellophane” by FKA Twigs

Track Marks is a recurring feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

As far as materials with metaphorical possibilities go, cellophane has been more durable than its flimsy texture might suggest. Lest it have faded from your memory since 2002, John C. Reilly’s big number in the film version of Chicago casts him as a sad clown singing of how people “can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there.” But FKA twigs is singing about a different kind of transparency here: the kind that comes with the vulnerability of loving another person, of letting yourself be seen fully, perhaps for the first time.

FKA twigs has had a difficult couple of years. Following a very public breakup with Robert Pattinson, she announced that six fibroid tumors had been discovered in her uterus, forcing her to undergo an invasive surgery. For an artist of such lithe physicality, it must have been devastating, but she rebuilt herself in her typically idiosyncratic way: by learning pole-dancing. Her new skill is on full display in the video for “cellophane,” but she’s equally adept at expressing the song’s muscular intimacy when performing live, as she demonstrated on Jimmy Fallon’s show back in late October.

It’s one of the weirder pairings of artist and venue, which also makes it all the more remarkable to watch unfold. She starts seated on a piano, her voice tiptoeing out towards the audience. You can almost feel her listeners leaning closer, drawn into her singular vortex, the lyrics painting a portrait of a love doomed by the pressures a greedy public has exerted on it. “They want to see us apart,” she sings, the phrase fluttering like something about to be picked up by the wind. And later: “I don’t want to have to share our love.” Just because you asked for the spotlight doesn’t mean it won’t burn you. But she lifts herself up as she goes, both vocally and literally onstage, her great strength lying paradoxically in her defenselessness, inviting us to watch as she symbolically sheds her own skin. “THIS is how you flex on your ex,” says one of the YouTube comments on the performance, and it’s true. If you know they’re going to be watching, better make sure it’s a sight they won’t forget.