Tinashe: "I Always Feel Like I Have Something To Prove"
Tinashe sounds surprisingly calm talking about releasing her album, Joyride. Amidst a jam-packed week of rehearsals and promo, the only way we can talk is over the phone, and she doesn’t sound the slightest bit frazzled on the line. It was probably my mistake for expecting her to. After years of struggling to release this body of work, she’s emerged stronger rather than weaker. She declares it right on the title track: “Ain’t lookin back on the old me / No more waiting’ round for a sign / It’s my life, it’s mine.”
Since first announcing Joyride in September 2015 (less than a year after her acclaimed debut, Aquarius), the 25-year-old has hit detour after detour before finally releasing it this month. Her tour was delayed indefinitely. She claimed the label prioritized Zayn Malik’s solo debut over her album. She leaked one of her own songs (“Party Favors”) just so she could release something. At one point, the track “Joyride” was even acquired by Rihanna for Anti and she had to buy it back.
In November 2016, Tinashe released Nightride, an offshoot of Joyride that kept her fans somewhat satiated while they waited for her official sophomore LP. The 15-track project was “more vibey and intimate,” the singer describes. The songs had a slower tempo and a seductive, laid-back groove.
But on Joyride, Tinashe exudes high energy and full-on swagger, proving she’s back in the driver’s seat. Her single “No Drama” has become somewhat of an anthem for her Joyride era. With it, she brushes off criticism that she’s fallen short of mainstream stardom and she shuts down attempts to pigeonhole her as a cookie-cutter ingenue. “Said I’m fallin’ off, but they won’t JFK me / Tried to be myself, but they won’t AKA me / AKA a popstar AKA a problem / AKA don’t hold me back, I swear I got ’em,” she spells out in the first verse.
The singer/dancer/actress also displays her versatility through the album. She flaunts her signature, feathery vocals on “He Don’t Want It” and “Ooh La La.” She serves a dark, edgy dose of R&B-meets-pop on the title track and “Salt.” She offers necessary club bangers with “Me So Bad” and “Faded Love.” She collabs with genre-bending Little Dragon (“Stuck with Me”) and closes with a piano-led power ballad (“Fires and Flames”).
Power and confidence are ongoing themes in Tinashe’s new music, which is both a surprise and relief for listeners who know what it took for her to release it. That’s because she wrote most of the songs after a turning point in her Joyride journey—last summer, after she got a house in the Hollywood Hills, she collaborated with other young creatives and started feeling powerful again.
“I just really felt like I took control and regained my confidence and mastered my own business, steered my own ship and was out here having fun every day, just having good energy around me,” she says. “I also was more sure of my vision and able to communicate that more clearly. ” After all the rough patches in Tinashe’s album-making process, this part was actually “really, really fun.”
“Going through my life has just been such an adventure the past few years,” the star reflects. But the roadblocks haven’t crushed her spirit. “This is the dream. I just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”
Days before releasing her long-awaited album, Tinashe talked to BAZAAR.com about regaining her confidence, feeling powerful, and being a woman in the music industry.
Harper’s BAZAAR: You’ve been talking about releasing your second album since 2015. If you had actually released it then, would it sound anything like it does now?
Tinashe: It would probably be 80 percent different. The project definitely has evolved a lot since then. There have been several incarnations of the project. The general vibe and tempo and feel has always been the same. I think I pushed myself to create even better songs throughout the process.
And what is that vibe?
I think just energetic, high energy, a lot of powerful stuff that feels braggadocios, stuff that feels confident. Even the songs that are maybe about rejection or a breakup or sadness still come from a place of power and that vulnerability. There’s a lot of energy to the project, which is the biggest point that I tried to make sonically.
Did you feel powerful while writing this album?
Yeah, and I’ve always taken that position as an artist. I think it’s important that people feel that way when they listen to music as well. I think there have been times when I felt powerful and times when I didn’t. But I think the greatest takeaway from the whole project is being able to still own any setbacks, any bad things, any roadblocks, any adversity, and own your power in that, and so maintain your confidence. Confidence is kind of a theme.
What were some of the moments when you didn’t feel so powerful?
The biggest one was when I initially said that my album would come out and then it didn’t, and I also planned a tour, and the biggest confidence killer was when I had to basically indefinitely postpone my tour because the project didn’t come out. I was like, “Well, here I am, I’ve spent all this money, I’m on the road, I’m promoting a project that isn’t out yet. This is just embarrassing.” So it left me feeling a little discouraged. And then I had to regain that sense of confidence in myself and in my art, and take a new approach to how I was creating the music. It’s much more purposeful, much more confident, and that was last summer.
A lot of women go through situations where they feel like they’re lacking confidence in their lives or careers. What exactly did you do to find that in yourself again?
I’ve never really had a Plan B or another option, so it really wasn’t a matter of giving up on anything, it was just, how am I going to look at it a different way? Even the thoughts of doubt in my head were so foreign to me, ‘cause I’ve never really doubted myself. That was something that I realized quickly that I needed to fix. I really believe that your energy that you put out into the universe is very powerful, so your own thoughts can really have an effect on your world.
It was important to not allow myself to think of myself in that way and to just look at the project as something I was still really proud of, still really happy with. That’s when I got a house in the Hollywood Hills and made a creative sanctuary. That, for me, was a big turning point because I was socializing, I was having people over. I felt more grown-up. I felt smarter. I felt more confident.
“I’ve never really had a Plan B or another option.”
And you were collaborating with people there?
People would come in. We might collaborate pretty much, I was there every day working and seeing different producers, writers, artists, designers, videographers, photographers, friends. We would have taco parties. Would have all sorts of things, just creating an energy around being creative and finishing this project. Trying to just live life.
In addition to taco parties, what did you guys do for fun?
We would go to breakfast at the Chateau Marmont and we would have mimosas and come back and paint a little bit and run up the hills, and chill and smoke weed and play music and make art, and have friends over, go on hikes, and go out to dinner a lot.
What was something new you learned about yourself from the process of creating and writing Joyride?
I think the biggest thing that I took away was that sometimes everything happens for a reason. The time that it did take to create the project was important, because it led me to create better work, it led me to push myself to be a better artist, better writer, better producer. All those things are important lessons to learn. Maybe along the way, you don’t understand why all the things are happening but then at the end of the day, hindsight is 20-20.
I read that you worked on about 200 songs that you didn’t put on the finished project. Are you eventually going to release them?
Of course not. No way. It’s all part of the creative process. I’m never the type of person who writes 10 songs and that’s the album. The process is like a continuous thought, a continuous journey as you’re being creative. You’re going to have a lot of different songs, different things, stuff that works, stuff that doesn’t, and that’s all important.
I loved that you have some hip-hop features on the album, but you also have one from Little Dragon. How did you get together?
I’ve been a fan of them for years. I initially reached out to them probably in 2014 or 2015 over Instagram DM. I said, “I’m a huge fan and would like to work sometime,” and they didn’t write back.
So then three years later, I created this song “Stuck With Me” and I just thought, I had this crazy—not crazy, but at the time it seemed crazy—idea to get them on the track. So I reached out again, like, “Hey, I’m still a huge fan. I would love for you to collaborate with me on some things. Can I send you this song?” And then they finally wrote back, “Yeah we’d love to hear it, send it through.” It was that simple.
Your track “Joyride,” at one point, was under Rihanna’s control; she had bought it from you and you had to buy it back. How did it feel to have something that you were working on suddenly out of your hands?
For a while, I was pretty frustrated with how that happened, because I felt just ambushed by it. It didn’t feel like I really had a say in it, and that was the most frustrating thing about it. But in terms of losing the record, I wasn’t too worried, because I will always create more records, so I just went back into the studio for more songs.
Did that song have a significant meaning to you? You you ended up naming the album after it anyway, whether you had the track or not.
It was the whole concept for my project, and I wasn’t trying to quit on the concept regardless of whether the song was on there. I was still married to that whole idea.
When SZA spoke out about the issues she had with her label in releasing her album, Ctrl, did you relate to her story in any way?
Yeah, I think we had different approaches. A lot of artists can relate in certain ways. There’s so much of a business side of the music business that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t understand, and it’s constantly changing and shifting and evolving. I think a lot of artists have trouble, and also a lot of businesses have trouble understanding the creative perspective. So I think it’s something that everyone goes through at some point to some degree.
“There’s so much untapped talent in the music industry that just isn’t appreciated.”
You and SZA are only two instances, but have you noticed that this is something women might have experienced more than men in the music industry?
Women have it a lot harder in the industry than men. There’s a lot more support for a male artist than female artist physically and as well as just from a behind the scenes standpoint, talking to producers, engineers and executives. It’s a very male-driven environment. So it’s interesting, and difficult, and hard to be able to integrate yourself into that environment and still be respected all the same.
People are realizing there’s a double standard for women in music, especially after the Grammys this year, when Neil Portnow, President of the Recording Academy, said they need to “step up.”
That’s literally the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t even respond to that ’cause it’s just silly. There’s so much untapped talent in the music industry that just isn’t appreciated, so it’s not in terms of how hard anyone’s working or stepping up to the plate. I think it’s a representation issue.
How can men in the industry to be allies to help their fellow female artists succeed?
Just more support for female artists is awesome. More collaborations with female artists is great. Just more camaraderie, more sense of we’re all in this together, always helps.
You’ve had a Grammy as your phone background for several years now as motivation to win one. But after the “step up” comment this year, and previous criticism of the lack of representation for people of color in the nominees and the winners, it seems people are starting to question the integrity of the award. Is it still your ultimate goal?
Even for me, my perspective on it has changed. The longer I’ve been in music, the more I realize that there are so many amazing artists that don’t get acknowledgement ever, and are still so amazing, and I still respect so much. To me, it doesn’t really matter as much as it used to, but it still represents an accolade that growing up meant a lot to me. So because of that, I respect the the little girl in me. It’s still a goal of mine for that reason.
You’ve talked about Joyride as the album where you prove people wrong. Do you feel like you were ever underestimated?
I always feel underestimated. I consistently feel like an underdog. I always feel like I have something to prove. Maybe that’s what keeps me going all the time, so it’s important for me.
What message do you want people to get from you with this album?
I hope it provides people a little sense of escapism from the stresses of their life. I hope it makes people happy. I hope that it gives them something to dance to. I hope it makes people feel confident when they listen to the music, and sexy and fun. I just hope that my fans enjoy it and I appreciate everyone’s patience. I look forward to starting a new chapter creatively, closing this one, and getting on the road again and playing shows.
Joyride is available now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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