When it comes to pop stars, it can be tough to figure out who’s the real deal and who’s just coasting along on hype and marketing.
But Tinashe has been working in the music industry for a decade now, and it’s become clear that she’s here to stay. From “2 On” to “Flame,” her songs are actual bops that will get stuck in your head for hours. Not to mention, she’s an incredible dancer who’s totally bringing the choreographed music video back.
And with her adorable R&B throwback style, it’s no surprise that fashion kingpins like Alexander Wang and Karl Lagerfeld have taken notice of her.
We recently caught up with Tinashe and talked all about sexism in the studio, what it’s like to date while famous (hint: not easy), and where she gets her signature style.
I feel like I never see your dating life in the tabloids or blogs. Do you keep your social life private on purpose?
Yes, and I also don’t really have much of one. I guess I don’t necessarily try to be part of the Hollywood scene.
You can easily avoid it or easily make yourself part of it, as far as going to the Hollywood hot spots where you know TMZ will be and you know people will photograph you. It’s kind of a decision you make. You can go to different parts of the city and those people aren’t there.
As far as my personal and dating life, it’s relatively nonexistent. Half because I really don’t have the time and don’t make it a priority. Whenever I do get involved with someone, I don’t wanna just sabotage it right away [by going public]. Like it’s gotta be a real thing for me if I’m gonna get involved.
Do you ever feel pressure as a musician to be public with your relationships to gain more visibility?
Yeah, 100%. I’ve definitely heard over the years a lot of people being like, “Why don’t you date this person?” “Why don’t you date that person?” as if it’s a built-in career move that everyone needs to do. You’d think that shouldn’t matter to people, but it does.
I think with a lot of these industry relationships, it’s beneficial for everyone involved to be public because it is such a huge HUGE talking point. So I don’t knock people who are public, because I understand it. There is a lot of press associated with being in a public relationship. But I don’t necessarily try to do it. That’s not like my goal but I understand where they’re coming from.
Have you ever experienced sexism in a work situation?
Absolutely. More so towards the beginning of my career, and now it’s more like in smaller ways. It’s hard to point your finger, like that was sexist, because it’s a little bit less obvious as far as privilege that male artists get over female artists, whether it be at shows or how people treat them in different work environments.
The most blatant sexism I received was more toward the beginning of my career when people thought of me more as a cute girl who got a deal who didn’t necessarily earn her place here. It was an attitude of, “okay, this girl is hot,” and a lot of people just really objectifying me in studio situations when I’m trying to make a song with a producer or writer.
Especially because I was only like 18, 19 at the time, there were a lot of older guys seemingly more interested in the physical aspect or the sexual aspect of potentially working with me rather than making a good song. Which is obviously frustrating and a little bit upsetting. But as I gained respect as a songwriter, [and] as someone who deserves to be here, it happens to me less. At least to my face.
Do you think guys get away with behavior women would never get away with at work?
Yeah for sure… like being in studio situations. When I make a song, I’m going there to make a song. I never bring people with me or a posse, I wouldn’t bring friends. I just would roll up to the studio solo, because when I make a song I like to be in the zone. The least amount of people the better.
[But there] would be situations where I’d pull up and be there for the music and the right reasons, and [guys who brought big groups of friends would] deflect the session into like, how many one night stands have you had? How many threesomes have you had? Really inappropriate things.
Or people wanting to take me out. We were in the studio together and they were like, “Come to my house,” and tried to get me to get in their car and leave with them, different things like that.
It’s been a process but I think again the more respect I’ve gained, the less that’s happened.
“Flame” is such a cult favorite, people are obsessed. Was there a moment when you knew it was gonna be a hit?
I’m excited about it, thank you. I don’t think you ever know. You have high hopes for every single you release but it’s so competitive. And the thing is you’re always so emotionally invested in every single song that you almost don’t wanna set expectations because it can be extremely emotional.
It can be devastating if it feels like something you really put your heart and soul into gets overlooked, because each song is such an important, personal thing.
How can you tell when someone doesn’t have the flame for you anymore? Is there a telltale sign?
I feel like you know deep down. It’s just the little things, really, like when they stop responding to messages as quickly as they used to. It’s all about the little nuances. If they don’t seem as sensitive as they did before, or you go out with a group of friends and they don’t give you as much attention as they did before… You always can tell when someone is pulling away from you and you can tell when that initial energy is not the same anymore.
It’s always really hard to deal with because you think, “this is in my head, I’m overreacting, maybe I’m making this up… did I do anything wrong?” And that kind of questioning feeling and confusion is what “Flame” is really about. It’s when you’re in that questioning period and hoping things could still work out but deep down, you know. You always know.
When you’re recording, how do you keep from getting sick of finessing the same material day after day?
It becomes an obsession. It becomes something for me that I think about all day long. I go to sleep thinking about it, I wake up thinking about it. All I wanna talk about it is the music. I listen to the songs over and over and over and over again and the ones that I still find myself coming back to, I guess those become the ones that are more timeless and fit the album better.
So I guess the ones I get sick of just don’t make the final cut. It just becomes an obsession, like I don’t ever think I’ve listened to this music enough.
Do you have any fun stories from collaborating with Britney Spears?
I mean that whole experience was incredibly surreal. The first time we worked together face to face was in a teeny tiny little studio somewhere in the valley in LA that you would definitely never expect Britney to be rehearsing in. She pulled up and was wearing a velour tracksuit!
And she came in with the sunglasses on and she was like, “OMG, I didn’t even see you there.” And I was like, “Britney knows who I am, I’m freaking out.” Honestly that experience was extremely surreal and fangirl goals, and she was really nice and kind to me which is all you can hope from someone you idolize.
One time when we were shooting the story one of the craziest moments was when we were doing our scene together on that little couch set up she whispered in my ear at one point, “I’m gonna take off your shoe and you take off my shoe.” And I was like, “Okay, whatever you say, Britney!” And she de-shoed me and that ended up going in the video. It was really cool. Yeah, it was super spur of the moment. Just to see how her brain works just directing you, and it was like, oh my god.
To switch gears, since you’re a Juicy girl, what’s the key to pulling off a throwback Juicy look?
First, you just gotta have confidence in it. You can’t be doubting your velour tracksuit swag. Any time you wear anything you wanna feel super comfortable in, own it. That would be the first step.
The second step is to put your own spin on it. The tracksuits are slightly different than they were back in the early 2000s. They don’t have as much of the flare bottoms they did before so it’s maybe just trying to integrate pieces of the tracksuit or knowing how to modernize it.
It feels like you’ve made crop tops and low-rise pants your signature, where did this come from?
It starts with hip hop. Dance is a big influence. If you go to dance classes throughout the city, there’s definitely a look that dancers wear typically. It’s a lot of oversize baggy clothes that almost accentuate our movement.
A hoodie and baggy pants… that’s just the swag, the vibe — it puts you in a different mode when you’re dancing. It crosses that line. You can be super feminine but hit all the moves like the boys do, so that’s part of the inspiration.
I think another inspiration is just dressing for my particular body type. I just like how low-riding and baggier fit bottoms look on me. And I’m a huge fan of the 90s-style swag and I like to be able to integrate some of that as well.
What’s the key to elevating from a struggling entertainer to one who’s getting booked for real shows?
I would say make your own shit. Don’t wait for the perfect collaborator to come around. Don’t wait for the budget to make the best vid in the world. Just be creative and make your stuff. Whether you have to film your own videos or put your music on Soundcloud or YouTube, just get your stuff out there and keep creating as much as you can.
If you make stuff that’s really good, people will notice it. That’s all you really can do is be as creative as possible and don’t sit around and wait to get discovered or a magic thing to come out of the sky. Just hustle.
It seems like a lot of people talk up the creative struggle without creating anything.
Yeah, for sure. And I think you know sometimes I’ve felt most creative when I have had no resources, because it forces you to think outside the box. So [if you’re struggling,] use that to your advantage. If you have no money and all you have is a shitty camera that can make a video, be creative.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from someone in the music industry?
Recently I met Madonna at an Alexander Wang party and she told me, “Don’t ever compare yourself to anyone in the industry,” which I think is amazing advice coming from Madonna. Because it’s so true that as a woman there is so much competition placed on us, that we start to think about ourselves in that way and we start to judge ourselves and really pit ourselves against other female artists, because that’s what society will do to us. She said, “Don’t compare yourself to any other artist and don’t take shit from anybody.” And I was like, “Yes, Madonna, I won’t.”
Is it hard to find a guy who’s not intimidated by your talent and success?
I would say yes, the fact that I haven’t had a boyfriend in five years — yes. I definitely find people who are interested in elements of what I do, like you know the shows I get to go to, the events I get to be part of. But someone who is down for everything that comes with it is hard to find.
The biggest thing is probably my schedule. If I’m gonna be involved with someone I’m gonna have to do some flying… I’ll be so busy. You might have to fly out to see me. It’s really not necessarily conducive to building relationships. You can’t be in front of someone that often. You have to FaceTime and text and it’s not the same. It’s really hard to build those bonds. And for someone to just be down to hang out with someone who’s always on the move and always with other guys and other famous people, I get why it would be super intimidating.
Do you think male artists have the same dating issues?
I’m sure they do if they’re trying to build legitimate relationships. The thing about male artists is a lot of times they can get just enough of a relationship or just enough of companionship from groupies. They don’t have to feel lonely, because they can do whatever… there’s girls that are down to hang all the time. Whereas female artists don’t tap into the groupie pool, like, there aren’t necessarily male groupies at my shows who are like, “Let’s hang out after.”
Maybe there are, but that’s really weird. But [male artists] can kinda temper their loneliness with more girls around throwing themselves at them.
So you don’t have male groupies?
When you see in person how these girls approach these guys, that’s never gonna happen to me. It just doesn’t happen. There aren’t like squads of guys… Imagine a squad of six guys in their best outfits hanging around outside the tour bus hoping one of them will get chosen! It just doesn’t happen.
That’s a funny mental image.
Yeah. Like, “Hey guys, let’s go out to this club and maybe one of us will get to spend the night with Tinashe, OMG!”
How does someone high-profile like you meet new guys to date? It’s not like you can just go on Tinder, right?
Again, I don’t think I’ve mastered that, because I’ve been single for actually five years. I’ve found a couple of people I’m into but mostly they’re involved in the industry in some capacity because they understand it a little bit better. But it’s been really hard for me to find any type of genuine relationship. I’m not the one to ask because I don’t really meet any [new guys]. If you know any, set me up!
It must be hard to find a guy who’s on the same level as you professionally.
Yeah, and a lot of guys that I am working with professionally have their own goals and plan. So much of my life is dedicated to what I do that if someone else had that same sense of dedication to what they’re doing, to find even the time to hang out [would be] really hard.
In the perfect world I’d be like I’ll just find a guy who’s able to travel with me. But if he’s able to travel with me, he probably doesn’t have a job. And if he doesn’t have a job, he’s a loser. And I wouldn’t wanna date someone with no goals and ambitions, so yeah. It’s kinda hard.
If you could go back in time and change one thing you’ve done, what would it be and why?
If anything, I could just try to be more patient and, as cliché as it is, just enjoy certain periods of time in my life for what they are. It is really easy to just wanna hurry up and get to the good stuff, in a way. Like I can’t wait to get this album out or this song out, once this happens it’ll be good, and you’re always working toward that next goal and sometimes it’s easy to get caught up.