Welcome to Zoom Date, our feature series where we get up close and personal via Zoom screen with our favorite celebs. They'll be giving us an honest peek into what their "new normal" looks like—from new rituals they've adopted since quarantine, to work projects in the age of isolation, to the beauty and health products they've been using to self-soothe.
One name: Tinashe.
For many artists, it takes them years to achieve the status of a single-name celeb, if they're ever able to do so at all. Tinashe has always been a superstar. When she hit pop and R&B radio in 2014, it was clear that within the pop atmosphere, she was a rare cosmic phenomena. She arrived a fully formed popstar, with references that harkened back to a lineage of legends like Janet and Britney, but make no mistake—Tinashe is a star of her own design.
Years later, with multiple mixtapes and two albums under her belt, 2019 saw her part ways with her label RCA and venture out on her own. November of that same year saw the release of Songs For You, her first album as an independent artist.
Songs for You was, and remains, a triumph. The album seamlessly shape shifts its way in and out of multiple genres while somehow rejecting them all. While her major label previous projects are a collection of R&B bangers, big pop moments, and moody slow jams all stacked on top of each other like a math equation trying to solve itself to appeal to multiple audiences, Songs For You works because it hones in one exactly what she does best: whatever the hell she wants.
Tinashe doesn’t need a genre. Tinashe doesn’t need a label. Everything Tinashe needs, she already possesses and always has. Now, with no one at the helm creatively but her, and no other opinions to blur the vision, we’re at the receiving end of the best work of her career.
And she shows no signs of stopping. Tinashe recently released “Rascal (Superstar),” a menacing single with a video to match, and when we recently linked up over Zoom while she was in the studio, she hinted that there was more on the way. Keep scrolling to get to know Tinashe.
How did “Rascal” come about? Did you record it during quarantine?
I recorded that song a while ago. I recorded it with Songs For You, which came out in November. It’s a song that I’d played on Instagram Live one night, and ever since then, my fans were asking me for it. I was like, “give the people what they want,” so I just fuckin’ decided to release it.
I notice in the video, it’s just you in a room, with a drone flying around and monitoring your every move. Was the video supposed to reflect quarantine and isolation?
Totally. I was obviously really inspired by this weird Black Mirror vibe that we’re all living in currently. It’s not the future, it’s reality, and it’s so weird how I was all of a sudden doing everything virtually, socializing virtually, and doing shows virtually. Not even breaking the fourth wall but adding a fourth wall—on some weird shit.
We’re almost more isolated than ever before, and just thinking about that from an artistic perspective...like, how can I show both the madness that this induces, but also pose it as how weird this reality that we’re in is, and imagining that this person was live-streaming all day long. Those lines between personal life and career are now completely blurred because you’re doing everything out of your home.
I know you were about to tour this spring. What was it like when quarantine was coming into view and you realized that your tour would probably have to be postponed?
It was something that I had to mourn to a certain extent because I was really excited. But I feel like a lot of people went through that in their own ways, because all of our plans and expectations for the year definitely got ruined. It wasn’t a feeling that only I had, so I guess I took some comfort in that—knowing that we were all forced to let go of expectations that we had.
For Songs For You, how did you approach creating songs that are so diverse, yet make up a cohesive body of work?
I think that just is a testament to who I am as an artist and also as a person. I really, genuinely feel like I have a lot of different sides of me. There’s a lot range there.
I have a real aversion to being limited to one particular style, look, vibe, or another. That’s something that has been pretty consistent throughout my career. I’ve never really liked to be stuck in one particular genre, and every time I feel like I’m getting stuck in one particular one, I don’t like it.
It’s natural for me to gravitate toward making a variety of different feelings and moods and vibes, and I think the way that it feels cohesive is because they’re all coming from me. That’s the only reason they make sense—it's because they all come from a genuine place.
As a human, all of it makes sense to me. It makes sense that you can have range and be all different components of a dynamic and full human being, so why do people have a hard time seeing that in art? Or expressing that in art? I also have a big aversion to genres and placing artists within a genre and expecting them to create a certain type of music all the time. That’s boring to me.
I saw the clip on YouTube of you in the studio recording “Life’s Too Short” and you just heard the beat and riffed the entire song. Is that how you usually write?
It’s usually like that. That’s when I usually feel like I’m the most locked in—it’s really an instinctual thing that happens with me. It’s like, I hear the beat and the vibe and it comes from a different place. I don’t think about it too much and I can kind of hone in on that idea from there. The ideas that are my first instinct are my favorite or the best. There’s something very non-calculated and very natural, very instinctual about the creative process for me.
Is your writing process different now that you’re solo?
I don’t think the actual creative process is too different, because I still have access to work with the same people and have the same kind of relationships, just based on what I’ve created for myself over the years. So from that standpoint it’s not as different. It’s more from the promotional, marketing, and rollout process where it’s like the biggest difference.
The biggest difference from a creative standpoint is probably just my mental state, how I feel in the studio, which is just a little more free and liberated. I can do whatever I want in the studio because I don’t have these expectations going in, or different people’s opinions on the output of the material.
What would you tell other artists about being signed to a label vs. doing it yourself?
It’s hard to say “don’t sign to a label” or “do sign to a label” because every situation is different. You have to be really cautious in that situation. You definitely have to do whatever you can to maintain creative control but even if you have that in your contract, it’s way more insidious than that appears to be.
The best piece of advice is just to work with people who you think truly get it, from every level. If it’s your management, your team, your A&R—they have to get who you are, like really get it. And I think that those relationships are what pans out to be success in the business. So just choose your team and who you work with wisely.
Can you talk about approaching your music videos? I’m part of the TRL generation and it’s hard to get excited about music videos right now because we digest content so fast, but your videos for “Company,” “Superlove,” and “Me So Bad” all feel like major pop moments in ways that we don’t get anymore
I’ve always seen myself as a performer, almost first and foremost. As an artist, I love the aspect of performing, I love putting on a show, I love entertaining people. And that’s why with videos, I love telling that story and having that platform to express myself as a performer and a visual entertainer. That’s always been an important component for me and I just always want to continue to do it as best as I can.
Do you rely more on fashion or beauty to tell a story?
That’s a whole aspect of the entertainment process that I really value—it'’s being able to tell that story through beauty, art, fashion, and continue that narrative from what you hear sonically to what you see, and also how those play into one another. They really compliment one another when you have a really amazing or beautiful visual to look at, and you can listen to a song and see how it inspires your imagination or how it frames the song in your head.
Do you think that there is a difference between your new material and what you were putting out when you were on a major label?
That the biggest difference is again just that intangible quality that makes it feel slightly more authentic because I did it on my own. I just love that. Even if it’s just something I feel, I feel that people can tell the difference or they can feel that it’s coming from a really raw genuine place.
What’s up next for you?
One thing about me is I’m always gonna stay busy, so I’m working on the next creative journey, or how this kind of builds out for me. I don’t want to end the Songs For You era, necessarily so, we’ll see what happens next. But I’m in the studio right now. ‘Bout to make a banger.