Three years ago, all the signs pointed one way: Tinashe was on her way to pop stardom.
In 2012, when she was just 19, she produced two critically acclaimed mixtapes that landed her a deal at RCA. A year later her debut single, “2 On,” made it to No. 24 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Her 2014 debut album, “Aquarius,” was met with critical acclaim and she was nominated for a BET Award.
Since then, the singer-songwriter has toured with Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry, collaborated with Britney Spears, earned praise from idol Janet Jackson and issued two buzzy projects, including last year’s digital-only work “Nightride.”
Yet Tinashe’s career has hit an impasse.
Nearly two years after it was announced to much hype, RCA has yet to release her long-gestating sophomore album, “Joyride.” As a string of genre-hopping singles and collaborations with artists like Spears, Chris Brown and Young Thug failed to produce a major hit, “Joyride” and her young career have stalled.
Attempting a restart, she has learned many things: that pop hits speak louder than reviews, only crossover stars make real money and being a black female performer comes with inherent challenges.
“Critical acclaim hasn’t been enough in my experience,” said the 24-year-old, who was born Tinashe Kachingwe. “The label appreciates it, but the music business, in my perspective, is still so much based on revenue and how much they are making in sales. That’s where it gets really [crappy].”
“You just want to make art for the sake of art,” she continued, “and not have people [care] about a number, first-week sales or things like that.”
The meticulously planned debut of the single at 8am on Friday will kick off an Adele-style campaign to establish Harry as the world’s biggest male star. The superfan of David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney wants to be taken seriously as a songwriter and musician – and will distance himself from the teen pop direction of his former band. A source close to the star tells me: “Harry isn’t a typical popstar. This is an art rock project – and he wants to let the music do the talking.” Harry has spent months secretly ensuring that the music has a timeless quality reminiscent of Bowie and Prince at their peaks in the 70s and 80s.
He has rejected the current move towards dance music and his first release will, in fact, run to five minutes long. The song is so shrouded in secrecy that it is on just two iPods, which have no internet connection to stop hackers leaking the tune. Many who have listened to the song have been asked to sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements. Quietly determined Harry has been very personally involved in every aspect of the music, which has been produced by Jeff Bhasker who was behind the international smash hit Uptown Funk. My source adds: “Harry has written the songs and the meanings are very personal to him, based on his life. He has also been playing the guitar and the piano as well. He’s a very modest guy, but it was important to him that this music represented him totally.”
Access to Harry is going to be severely limited during the international campaign. The headline-grabbing star is desperate to avoid discussion of his personal life, especially romances with celebs such as Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner and Caroline Flack. And he also wants to avoid any discussion about his relationship with his 1D band members, who he has seen just a handful of times in the year-and-a-half since the split. Harry has agreed to appear on BBC1 favourite Graham Norton – but he will only perform and not join the other A-listers on the sofa of the hit chat show. He’ll also appear on US TV institution Saturday Night Live and give one in-depth interview to his BFF Nick Grimshaw on Radio 1 to coincide with the single release.
The source explains: “Harry doesn’t want to talk about his personal life or be asked constantly about One Direction. It’s not his style. He’s spent his entire life having his every move scrutinised. He doesn’t feel the need to do interviews or the promo circuit. There will be a couple of very big appearances to keep TV and radio on board, but it will be very limited and he’s learnt how to say very little. Harry’s idols are people like Bowie and Jagger. He’s closely studied their careers and that’s the direction he is heading in. He loves the sense of mystery they maintained around them.”
Harry’s small team of advisers is led by his manager and close friend Jeff Azoff, the son of music giant and Eagles manager Irving. Also intimately involved are Sony Music Entertainment chief executive Rob Stringer and Sony Music UK chairman Jason Iley – a sign in the importance of Harry’s success to the future of the company. He is being advised on PR by Dawbell, the company that also represents Harry’s close friends and personal mentors James Corden and Gary Barlow. Stringer has said of the project: “We obviously want everything to be beautifully done, because we think he’s here to stay. Harry has stepped up with the vision of someone who’s authentic.”
I never intended to like this record. I don’t say that to assert my hipster bona fides; I rocked out in earnest to “What Makes You Beautiful” for a good semester and was immediately on board with “PILLOWTALK” when Styles’ former bandmate Zayn Malik struck out on his own last year. But that was just the problem: Zayn was supposed to be the Timberlake to 1D’s *NSYNC, and I wasn’t ready to entertain a challenge to the throne. Luckily, Styles’ solo debut makes no pass at moody pop-R&B, instead laying bare his classic-rock influences. Harry Styles is full of shining moments: Styles soaring over the glorious “Sign of the Times” coda, the clever poignancy of his best lyrics (“Even my phone misses your call”), the winking, self-aware la-la-la-la’s in “Woman.” Even the album’s rollout was delightful: At a time when surprise drops are pop’s new normal, Styles’ more traditional campaign included an amiably ridiculous turn as Mick Jagger on SNL and singing “Landslide” with Stevie Nicks. The trope of the teen pop star hoping to reinvent as Serious Artist is well known; Harry Styles strives for artistry without taking itself too seriously. - NPR
Dylan O'Brien and Tyler Posey from ‘Teen Wolf’ pop bottles of champagne to celebrate their final season backstage after their Hall H panel during Comic-Con International 2017 at San Diego Convention Center on July 20, 2017 in San Diego, California.