Tinashe On Her BB/ANG3L Era, New Label, & Touring With Justin Bieber


If staying afloat in pop is a marathon, not a sprint, then Tinashe is right up there with the best long-distance athletes. Her sold-out February show at New York's Terminal 5 was a crash course through a prolific career defined by daring genre experimentation, as well as a showcase for her own resilience. In a two-dozen-song set, during which she hardly seemed to pause for breath, she was most electric when she sparked unexpected connections: fusing knotty electronic beats with athletic choreography, pairing her soulful vocals with a cape higher than TRL– period gloss. Her outfit—a voluminous oversized vest and miniskirt straps that flowed like Bob Fosse bangs—split the difference between rebellious style and glamorous showgirl.

A few songs in, he played “Talk to Me Nice,” a nervous workout from last year. BB/ANG3Land pointed the mic at the crowd for a line she knew they'd scream: “I couldn't be fake if I tried.”

For Tinashe, those words have become a mission statement. Amid the buzz of two self-released mixtapes, he signed to RCA Records in 2012 and helped create the template for a mainstream star with deep tastemaking appeal thanks to his club-banger rock “2 On.” Co-signs followed from Drake and Nicki Minaj, as well as collaborations with both A-list hitmakers and left-field innovators. But it was precisely this eclecticism that led her in 2019 to part ways with her label, which she said did not trust her creative vision. Now, through a nice streak of releases: in 2019 Songs for you2021 333i BB/ANG3LWhich one this year he has a complementary project — He has been making some of the most unique music of his career.

In a VIP area after the show, Tinashe looks a little groggy, like any human who just spent the last 90 minutes doing live cardio on a live mic would. While she's unfailingly friendly and professional, posing for photos and sipping from a glass of white wine, she doesn't have much time for compliments. His mind is already on the next show in Philadelphia. “My parents are here, so I'll take the train,” he says. “It's quite comfortable.” It's the kind of unglamorous detail you might not expect from someone who's just played to thousands of fans, but that's the life of an artist determined to forge her own path. And after years of answering to others, Tinashe wouldn't have it any other way. “The biggest difference in how I feel is creative freedom,” he tells me a few days later from his Boston hotel room. “This release is very beautiful.”

Diesel dress, Korobeynikov earrings, Swarovski rings, Giuseppe Zanotti shoes

What does it take to put together a tour like this?

I was conceptualizing this for at least six months. For an artist like me, who isn't on a major label, I'm financing almost everything. After the tour, I usually lose a few hundred thousand dollars. We have to hire new choreographers, new dancers. We have new screens, new production. That's apart of the logistics: the bus, the lighting directors, the production design, the people who put it on and off every night, the people who load it onto the trucks, different drivers. It ends up being a lot, but I also don't have the luxury of being able to spend months in rehearsals. So we plan, plan, plan, but we had five days of rehearsal and then two days of tech.

This is intense.

We put everything together in a week.

In your NPR Tiny Desk performance, you described yourself as “the newbie and the vet.” How do you relate to this sentence?

That's how I feel a lot of the time. There are so many things I still want to experience and so many milestones I hope to achieve. At the same time, I have the benefit of experience. When you've written thousands of songs and played hundreds of shows, you just learn something.

As a teenager, you formed a girl group called the Stunners, which was started by “Graduation” singer Vitamin C and included fellow pop star Hayley Kiyoko. Do you look back on that period fondly?

Yes. I had never recorded in studios before. I went on arena tour with Justin Bieber, who was very sick.

What surprised you about taking a look at this world?

The crowd was so loud. Those little girls screams are like nothing you've ever heard before. There would be thousands of people waiting outside the bus. I have never experienced anything like it since. He was very young and very excited, so I was milking him. I once went to the Mall of America with him and a group of girls were following us, and he whispered to me, “Let's start running.” So we start running, then the girls start running, security starts running. It was wild.

You've always moved freely between pop, R&B and hip-hop, but go ahead BB/ANG3Lsounds like you've really found a sweet spot with this kind of lush club music.

The songs were very natural. They went out, I guess. None of them felt particularly strenuous, or like I had to dig out the lyrics. That's probably why they feel somewhat synergistic as a group. [Most of the time] I just freestyled it. That's how I write 99% of my songs.

Which is not how most pop songs are made.

A lot of pop songs are made with a big team of writers, and that creates a lot less of that instinctual aspect. When I was with my old label, I still wrote this way, but I always felt less confident in my own ideas and more susceptible to the opinions of others. Whereas if I'm working with a songwriter now, which is kind of rare, I'll just say, “No, I don't think so.”

Did you feel like a fish out of water in those big rooms?

I was just young. I had created all my mixtapes on my own, so it was my first time working [solo] in the sector and with other people. I want to be a good collaborator. I respect these people I'm working with, and I also respect their opinions. It is an insidious process of losing the sense of direction. You work with people who have had multiple No. 1 records and they say, “Well, this is how it's supposed to be done.” And you say, “OK.”

Attico top, Dion Lee dress (worn as a skirt), Versace jewelry

You've always released mixtapes alongside your official studio albums. Why was it important for you to continue doing these projects?

I don't think I ever made an active decision to do that. It was the way I was able to release the music without permission. I did not want [2016’s] Night walk to be considered a mixtape. For me, it was an album, but my label didn't want to promote it or wasn't really okay with releasing it. So it didn't count towards my contract. I was very frustrated at the time. (RCA had no comment.)

Your fans had theories that RCA was sabotaging your career.

I don't think anyone was trying to sabotage me. What would be the benefit of this? I think it was just the wrong business – some bad decisions made, some decisions that didn't make sense to me. When you reach the meeting point between art and commerce, there will always be disagreements.

Sometimes the industry, and even music fans to some extent, has struggled to put you in a certain lane.

In my early days, I felt that there was a great need for people to fit me in and [make me] I feel like I needed to choose a direction. But I don't really subscribe to it anymore, so I don't feel that pressure. I just do what I want to do. From day one until now, you can see that the range of things that inspire me or interest me is pretty consistent. I think I'm kind of a hybrid, between many different feelings or vibes.

Do you think people are warming to this kind of fluidity?

Much more so than when I first got into the game. You see a lot more artists experimenting with genre hopping. You see it especially in streaming and people making playlists, although playlists are also a big deal because [they can be] so gender-rigid. It's uplifting and exciting to watch. There is a long way to go, though. I roll my eyes whenever I see any kind of genre marker in any of my music. It’s like, “Maybe this is it to you.”

you released BB/ANG3L to your new record label, Nice Life Recording Company, and teased that second part, titled Baby Quantum, is on the way

More to come for sure. I wanted to be able to focus on every part of the project. Content comes and goes so fast. I worked on these songs for two years, so you really want to give them their full shine. That was the idea behind launching this project in installments.

How have your career goals changed in recent years?

The goals I have are to create the best art I can and to do it as much as I can until I don't want any more. This is as deep as it gets. In terms of arbitrary goals, like “I want a #1 album” or “I want a Grammy,” those things are great, but I don't hold onto those in a literal sense anymore.

How are you feeling ahead of this year's Coachella performance?

I'm excited I've guested several times, but this is the first time I'll have a full set. Most importantly, it's not the same as doing your own show, where everyone is there to see you. It wouldn't give the same performance to a mainstream audience as it would to a “discovery” audience. So it's making small adjustments like this.

It's the “Rookie and the Vet” all over again.


Miló Maria top, The Attico pants, Swarovski jewels, sunglasses from the stylist herself

Top image credit: Fendi dress, Oscar de la Renta earrings, designer bracelets, and headscarf

Photographs by Eric Johnson

Styling by Tyler Esosa Okuns

Tailor: Jen Hebner at Carol Ai Studio Tailors

Talent reserves: Special projects

Cinematographer: Alex Pollack

Editor-in-Chief: Lauren McCarthy

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert


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