So you’ve heard about the new Robert Pattinson-led band FKA Twigs—and you might even know that she’s the solo project of the man once known as the “Sexiest Vegetarian in the World.” You’d never guess, based on the recent lineup announcements for their North American tour, that the group’s namesake had a brief, ill-fated marriage to the equally famous and pop-culture icon Katy Perry, nor that she had a falling-out with her parents over this decision. The 22-year-old Londoner has certainly come a long way since first stepping foot on a New York City stage in 2012, evolving from a talented singer-songwriter to a fully fledged performing artist and even fashion icon. If you’re curious about what life is like behind the scenes of FKA Twigs, take a look at our exclusive interview with the singer, songwriter, and visual artist. Here, she opens up about her journey so far, including the advice she’d give herself five years ago.

FKA Twigs’ Journey So Far

If you’ve been paying attention to pop culture at all in the past few years, you’ll know that FKA Twigs was a big deal. The British singer has been called “the female Adele” and “the Beyoncé of UK music,” and her meteoric rise to fame was certainly unprecedented. As a solo artist, she released her debut album, Basic Info, in 2014 to critical acclaim and won the prestigious Mercury Prize the following year. Since then, she’s released two more critically acclaimed albums, Honeycomb and Spinning, and toured the world as a supporting act for the likes of Frank Ocean and Taylor Swift.

With all the attention, it’s easy to forget that FKA Twigs has been working her whole life to get to this point. The daughter of a music producer and a classical violinist, she grew up in London and began playing the cello at the age of five. At 16, she dropped out of school and, along with her brother, worked as a session musician for the likes of Adele and Kate Winslet. After starting her own production company at 20, she signed with Pete Tong’s label, Smallville, and released her debut album with the label. At this point, she already had an established following as a songwriter and grew even more popular after the release of her second album, which she funded herself. The album, titled La La Land, was named after the Hollywood neighborhood where she lives and is filled with references to the movies she loves, including a song called “I’m So Excited.”

The Mix Tape: Essential Songs for Future Funk Radio

To celebrate the release of her third album, Spinning, in 2018, FKA Twigs created a new band, The Robert Pattinson Orchestra, and recorded a live mix tape at the Hollywood Bowl. The project featured guest musicians including Chance the Rapper and John Legend as well as appearances from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Bublé. The album was titled Spinning after the iconic film by Alfred Hitchcock and is perhaps best known for its epic eight-minute title track, which was inspired by the 1968 documentary of the same name. In the song, she evokes the feeling of being lost in the wind as the camera whirls around her. “I want to feel like I’m inside a tornado/ Like a character in a children’s show,” she sings, “trying to find my way home.”

While most of us have been focused on the public life of pop culture’s it-girl these last few years, she’s been quietly making music. In fact, she’s been so busy that she hasn’t even had time for a daily blog. But don’t fret, because she’s taken the time to put together an essential playlist for future generations of funk musicians. The “mini-mix tape”, as she calls it, includes songs that range from classic to contemporary and cover a variety of different styles and themes, from happy to sad. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“I just listened to it and cried.”

In the song “Tornado”, FKA Twigs compares her emotional state to that of a character in a TV sitcom: “I feel like a tornado, everything’s a blur / I feel like I’m in a time warp, like Olivia from The Good Place.” But while Olivia’s life is pretty fabulous, it’s clear that the singer is having a tougher time than the smart, sassy blonde. As she puts it in the song, “everybody’s life is a comedy, but it’s not always funny.”

“I wanted it to reflect that, on some level,” she tells me. “I didn’t want it to be all sunshine and rainbows.”

It’s clear that FKA Twigs has hit upon something powerful, because the mix tape has proven to be just as popular as her previous two albums. In January alone, it was the second most downloaded album in the U.S. after Ed Sheeran’s Divide.

The Biggest Surprise Was…

FKA Twigs didn’t grow up with stars in her eyes. In fact, she didn’t even know how to put on makeup until she was 14. But that’s what growing up in London is like. Back in 1999, she didn’t even think that she would ever be able to make it as a recording artist. “I went to school for journalism, but I knew that wasn’t for me,” she says. “I never got the hang of writing, so I thought I might end up working in something related to music.”

Turns out, she was right about her career path, but she had no idea how much it would change. “It’s still very early days, but it’s been amazing,” she says. “I’ve gotten to do things that I never even dreamed of, like going on tour. I love my job.”

…And The Advice She’d Give Herself Five Years Ago

FKA Twigs says that she’d tell herself five years ago that she had to be bold, to follow her heart, and not worry about what others might say or think. Although she’s been incredibly successful and happy, she admits that she also worries about being “underestimated”. But she’s learned to put those nerves to rest. In the song “Tornado”, she sings: “I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind / And I don’t intend on changing now.”

“I think sometimes we get so absorbed by what other people think that we forget how powerful we actually are,” she says. “I think it’s important to remember that we all have a voice, and that we all matter.”

While we’re on the subject of advice, let’s not forget about the other famous face on this list. The “sexiest vegetarian in the world” once sang that “love is all you need.” But what does love have to do with it? Well, consider this: Back in 2012, when FKA Twigs was just 14 years old, she fell for one of the few individuals who could’ve kept her from pursuing her musical career. But she was too afraid to admit her feelings, so she kept them to herself. Instead, she followed her heart and started a band with guitarist/producer Finneas, 15 years her senior. Little did she know that her future husband would become her biggest supporter, even playing a crucial role in helping her get her big break. Now 22, FKA Twigs is more confident than ever before, and she wants to share that with the world. This fall, she’s bringing her unique brand of music and fashion to New York City for the first time, and we can’t wait to see what she creates next.