Coming off the heels of her 333 album release, Tinashe stars in new Youtube Originals The Outsiders?, out today. The six-part series, by filmmaker Simon Frederick, profiles young Black talent from around the world shaping entertainment and culture. They include artists and creators like Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Insecure’s Amanda Seales, and author Chidera. In the series, each talks about experiences of discrimination, racism, and being excluded and marginalized in society and their industries.
“It’s important to show stories of Black people, especially Black artists, creatives, from a different perspective,” Tinashe tells ELLE.com. “A lot of times we don’t get the chance to tell our stories firsthand. And I love that this was so nuanced. [We] all have different stories but similar things that we go through.”
Now on a nationwide tour for her fifth studio album, the second since going independent in 2019 to form Tinashe Music Inc., the 28-year-old singer, performer, and songwriter says being part of The Outsiders? allowed her to speak about the biased narratives surrounding Black artists in a way that people could understand.
Frederick says the inspiration behind the project came out of frustration with how Black artists like Tinashe are regularly stereotyped and unfairly treated. Especially now against the backdrop of last year, where there were calls for racial parity in the industries covered in The Outsiders? following George Floyd’s death, with many companies quick to pledge to change. Yet, little to no measurable shift has been seen in those spaces since.
“A lot of organizations and industries became more socially conscious and culturally aware that they needed to be seen to be doing more regarding racial inequality in their organizations,” Frederick says. “But I honestly believe that a lot of it was knee-jerk and performative.”
So, he set out to change those perceptions and spotlight systematic disparities in the series. “Those of us who are born Black in the western world are considered outsiders even before we are born,” Frederick says of the title. And yet, in making it big, in becoming successful, “the very same people who consider us to be outsiders are the very same people who are telling everybody else that we are now people everyone should be following.”
That contradiction is why he added the question mark to the series title.
“I just want people to look at creatives and artists with a little bit of empathy and compassion,” Tinashe says of some of those contradictions she’s experienced. “My particular story has been a real testament to how I’ve built my career and how I’ve created what I have for myself. I wouldn’t be where I am now, if it weren’t for things that I’ve gone through.”
In the series premiere, Are All Men Are Created Equal?, Frederick asks artists whether they believe in that line from the Constitution. Then, he asks how this has worked out for them because, as he sees it, “Black people in the West know the answer to this question instinctively.”
During that episode, Tinashe opens up about being bullied growing up in predominantly white Glendale, California, and being the only Black kid at her school. She says people would call her home to threaten her, saying things like, “Don’t come to school tomorrow. We’ll beat you up you Black bitch. No one likes you.”
This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Remembering another painful moment from her childhood on episode three, Is There A Game?, which focuses on assimilation, colorism, and code-switching, Tinashe tells Frederick, “I remember the first time I straightened my hair and wore my hair straight to school, the popular kid came up to me and was like, ‘Oh wow! You look way better like that. You actually look kinda hot today.’
“At the time, that was such a huge compliment and meant so much to me,” she says, “but [now I’m] realizing how fucked up that is. To this day I still have a problem with wearing my natural hair.”
And as she’s risen in the music industry, from her first mixtape in 2012 to starring in Rent: Live seven years later, she tells Frederick in episode five’s What Was It Like Being Discovered? that it’s still harder “for Black artists, especially in the pop space. We automatically get placed within these genres that maybe we don’t even necessarily fit.”
Here, Tinashe discusses her involvement in the docuseries, the inspiration behind 333, and the industry’s unfair treatment of Black women, often pitting them against each other—like with the rumored beef between her and Chlöe.
You talked about building a sense of empathy with viewers when describing why you wanted to be part of The Outsiders? What did you mean by that, and what do you hope people take away from the series?
People assume those in the public eye don’t have struggles because all they see is the glam. They don’t think about all the obstacles it’s taken or how many glass ceilings we’ve had to break to reach that position. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for the things that I’ve gone through, from when I was growing up to when I was on the come up. So, I think it’s important for us to share those difficult moments so people can have empathy. Because with that compassion—by placing yourself in other people’s shoes and feeling what other people are going through, and reflecting on your own life and experiences—you can see aspects of your own story in our struggles.
Part of the series talks about the struggles of being discovered and whether it was worth it in the end. For Black female creators, especially, do you think that fight is more challenging, and is more of that empathy you talk about needed?
Absolutely. There’s that stereotypical trope that we have to work twice as hard and be twice as good. But, those stereotypes come from reality, from society. When I talk to Black creatives, we each have had to figure out how to navigate the world and culture to get to the positions we’re in now.
And a lot of times, when people look at Black artists, it’s easy to dehumanize us because we’re thriving. So with more of these conversations about what we went through and how we felt, maybe people can understand that we’re just people too. And that, yes, we’ve been able to accomplish these amazing things in what we’ve been able to create, but it’s hard out here. It’s not an easy journey.
In the docuseries, you also talk about how the childhood racism you experienced had a psychological effect on you, to where you sometimes felt isolated. Now that you’ve overcome that to a great extent, with sold-out shows and being an inspiration to up-and-comers, what does it mean to be a Black woman right now?
Black women, we’re strong and ambitious. We have dreams and goals that, for so long, we’ve been told are unreachable or that there aren’t enough seats at the table for all of us. And it’s exciting that I am part of that narrative changing those stereotypes that move us forward, empowering Black women and girls with my story. Because dealing with racism has made me stronger, more empathetic and understanding of the psychological abuse some young Black girls growing up have to go through just to fit in. So I’ve used those experiences to empower myself and embrace all the things that make me a force to be reckoned with. I can’t dim any part of myself—the good, the bad, the ugly—that has gotten me to where I am now.
But there’s still so much pressure in society and the entertainment industry for Black women. I’ve pressed on, showing confidence through who I am and my art. A lot of my songs make you feel good about yourself and embody those positive energies. Even down to things like how I’ve been wearing braids now for over a year. That’s empowerment, that’s confidence. It’s finding ways to incorporate culture and things that maybe I would’ve been scared to do when I was younger. I’m not afraid of those things anymore.
Speaking of your many empowering moves lately, when you said you “needed to free myself,” in an interview about the split from RCA, I found that compelling and revealing. How does taking such actions to be “free” and be seen bring about the sorts of change needed in the music industry, especially for Black artists?
I want to inspire people who may feel similarly to how I did when working under my former record label. So, if they got involved in a contract—even a mental contract—where they feel stuck or have to compromise their art or do things just for the sake of fitting in, I hope they can see it’s possible to stand up for themselves.
Taking that step felt right to me. And I’ve just been trusting my intuition to guide me down the right path, even when people questioned whether that was the right decision. And yes, it was a risk leaving that kind of major label, but it’s paid off psychologically, mentally, and emotionally. I feel much more fulfilled in taking that step to be free, to be myself.
333 is your second album since splitting from RCA, following 2019’s Songs For You. How was creating this last album different from your four other studio albums?
Both albums since splitting from RCA were me stepping into my own as a creative and embodying my creative vision and owning that. So the process of creating this album was centered on the same as the last one: I create art that is intuitive and speaks to me. I trust my instincts, and I make what I want to make. I don’t second guess that, or question that, or try to be too strategic. I just make it from the heart.
When I was signed to a label, there were times where I had to make compromises in my art, in who I was, and water myself down to fit specific genres or lanes. Or to just be accepted into certain circles. And I don’t feel that pressure anymore.
Almost two years in, how has it been managing your own label and having that creative freedom to do whatever you want?
There’s no typical day. When it comes to releasing music, it feels so natural. It’s me listening to my gut. I get in the studio—I have a studio in my house—and work with my engineers to make whatever feels good to me that day. I don’t try to force anything creatively. And by doing that, I create the best art that I’m able to make.
Then comes the creative decisions. Like what I want to do with visuals, what I want to do with music videos, the live show, the tour, how I want to package it, how I want to roll it out, when I roll things out. Those are all underrated things that make a huge difference psychologically to artists. When you create a song, and you want to put it out, and the record label management is like, “No, this isn’t the one,” or, “Maybe we can keep trying,” or, “Let’s give it six more months”—that kind of second-guessing and hesitation was detrimental to my creative process. Now I feel liberated to just make whatever and release it whenever it feels right.
That’s amazing. So, what were some of your inspirations behind this latest album, and why is it called 333?
For this particular album, I created most of it during lockdown last year. And in the past couple of years, I’ve been focused on spirituality and empowering myself. So I wanted those themes to come across. 333 is angel numbers, representing that you’re on the right path, you’re protected, and that things are gonna work out for you. And that’s the message I’ve been trying to embody myself, as a person, as an artist. With 333, I wanted to share that message and that good omen with my fans.
What was it like writing and recording during the pandemic? Did it influence your artistic process at all?
As a creative, I thrive when I can just lock myself in my home studio, with my sweat pants on, and feel true to who I am. It’s not performative, and I don’t have to be anyone other than myself. And that got me through that period—looking at creativity as an outlet to express and deal with emotions. I feel fortunate that I’m able to create art and use that as a cathartic release.
And in a lot of ways, the pandemic affected my creative process. I made a lot of songs that felt happy. I didn’t want to make art that brought me back to feeling apathetic and slow and melancholy because those were a lot of the emotions I was feeling in my day-to-day. And in creating music, I went against that in the rhythms, in the instrumentation of uptempo. It made me feel excited and energized, and hopeful for the future.
Thinking back to that time now, is there any song on the album that has more sentimental value than others?
They’re all pretty sentimental because I threw in little Easter eggs into songs that kind of means something to me. And by doing that, you put magic in your music because somehow, even though they mean something to you personally, they translate to other people, even though they may not know exactly what you’re talking about. But some of the more personal songs to me are “Angels,” “Undo,” and “Let Go.” They are mantras that I want to embody and take to heart during this next era of my life.
Speaking of this next chapter in your life, which includes being a mentor to the next generation, how have you handled this rumored drama between you and Chlöe (even though you both have been clear there is no drama, there’s been this obsession over it)?
Black women are the first people who typically get pitted against each other in terms of finding a seat at the table. I found the rumors interesting because people seemed genuinely excited that there was beef, when in fact, there was none.
Chlöe is amazing. We texted about it, and that’s why I didn’t take any of the rumors to heart because I know the personal relationship that I have with her and other women in the industry. It’s exciting to see these young Black female artists thrive. We have this great synergy right now among us Black female artists. We support one another, and we’re excited to see one another. There’s no competitive energy behind the scenes at all.
I hope that in the future, people don’t take any and every single little petty opportunity to create false narratives around Black women because it’s unnecessary.
What are some other challenges that you still face when it comes to racial and gender equity in the music industry? Especially when thinking about Frederick’s question In The Outsiders? about equality—how it’s a fundamental right belonging to everyone—not being real in society as we know it today.
There’s no support. There are still a lot of times where being a Black woman, it’s hard to find the same level of support as maybe even our male peers in the industry. So, we have to support each other and show up for each other. And that’s been the case for me. When I was breaking into the industry and people were bullying me on the internet, I’ll never forget how SZA and Kehlani came to my defense and spoke up on my behalf. And, I don’t know if they know how much that meant to me over the years—knowing that I had the support of such successful women. And I want to give that same energy and love and support to other women.
In the final episode of the docuseries, Are We Culture?, I loved when you said, “We’re the best kept secret that everyone knows.” Tell me more about that.
It’s in the way we influence culture. In the way our art is seen throughout the world, whether recreated or used as inspiration. That always empowers me instead of getting me offended. It’s wonderful to know that we have so much impact on the world and culture and art, and even if people aren’t speaking about it directly to us or about us, those who know, know—and that’s like everyone.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io