The Curious Case of Tinashe

Just a few years ago, Tinashe seemed destined for stardom. So what happened?

It is not uncommon for a certain artist to hold significantly more meaning to a music listener than others. Oftentimes, an artist’s work creates sentimental value, or defines a person’s coming of age, or soundtracks a favorite memory. For me, the list of these types of artists would be endless. But I want to take a second and get personal about one specific artist who I hold in very high regard.

I’m talking about Tinashe.

Let me rewind it back a little bit. My introduction to the singer born Tinashe Kachingwe was about a decade ago — when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old — on the Cartoon Network television show Out of Jimmy’s Head. This was around the time that CN was heavily advertising its string of non-cartoon, live-action TV shows, which ended up being a flop for the network. (The premise of the show, in retrospect, was pretty laughable, but I found entertainment in it all, as most preteens do with terrible things. But I digress.) She obviously became one of my many television crushes in my tweenage years. However, the show was one of her last acting endeavors during that time period, and I would not see her on TV again for many years.

About 4 or 5 years later, maybe around 2011 or 2012, I came across a music video while I was watching Teen Nick for a song that turned out to be “Chainless.” Tinashe, who’s name I still didn’t know at the time, looked incredibly familiar, and then it dawned on me: “Isn’t that the girl from that terrible show I used to like?” I was captivated by the music video, but I couldn’t really figure out why — it wasn’t because it was super cinematic or psychedelic or anything, and it wasn’t only because I thought Tinashe looked stunningly gorgeous in the video. The early 2010s marked a point of inception in my adolescence characterized by my active interest and engagement in the world of popular music, and the “Chainless” video became a staple of that time period for me.

However, I had little means, outside of the radio and music videos that aired on TV, of actively keeping up with some of the artists I was discovering during this time. So once the music video left Teen Nick’s music video rotation, I would, once again, not see or hear from Tinashe for a span of a few years.

Fast-forward to around 2014, my freshman year of college: around this time I have the means to take music seriously — my own laptop and my first smartphone. I was constantly downloading and listening to albums I found on iTunes or the “news” section of music websites or saw trending on Twitter. Tinashe’s debut album as a RCA Records signee, Aquarius, came up on my radar, and I was immediately hit with a wave of glorious nostalgia. “Hey, that kinda looks like the girl from that music video — wait a second…that is the girl from that music video!”

It was the first time, since I had first seen her on Cartoon Network, that I officially took note of her name. “Tinashe.”

Putting a name to a face I had recognized for over half a decade, and finally being able to listen to a full body of work from this girl whose music video remained etched in my memory, is the moment that really made me fall in love with Tinashe. “2 On”, “Feels Like Vegas”, “All Hands on Deck”, “Pretend”, “Wildfire” — basically the whole album was in my music rotation multiple times per day. It was, without a doubt, my favorite R&B album of that year and probably one of the best albums that I had heard up to that point. Even now, one would be hard-pressed to try to convince me that Aquarius is anything other than a stellar album.

From there, I felt compelled to indulge in her entire discography, so I went back in her catalog and listened to her self-released mixtapes. They are definitely better representations of her artistry and the musical lane she occupies; but of course, Aquarius remained my favorite Tinashe project, since it had the added benefit of holding sentimental value.

I recollect all this mainly to express why and how Tinashe has held a special place in my heart for a little over a decade now. Perhaps that is why I’ve purposely overlooked some of her obvious missteps in the past few years, like the unsavory complaining, or the misguided colorism comments, or whatever this is. And I guess it is also why watching her career not reach the heights that most people expected it to has been really perplexing.

She’s a gifted singer, a fabulous dancer, and a talented producer, and still has tons of potential. However, the trajectory of her career seems to have…faltered, to say the least.

Since her last Aquarius single, “All Hands On Deck” (a song that I love), she has released over 10 singles from late-2015 up until now. The best performing single was “Player” featuring Chris Brown, which never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 but peaked at #3 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100. None of the singles performed exceptionally well on any charts. None of them seemed to gain significant mainstream traction, and very few of the songs really sounded like Tinashe. And that’s not to say that songs like “2 On” and “All Hands on Deck” sound like Tinashe either; the difference was that Aquarius was connecting with a wider audience. Tinashe seemed unable to replicate that impact with much poppier songs like “Player”, “Superlove”, and “Flame.”

In 2016, Tinashe dropped the commercial mixtape Nightride, which was a pleasant surprise. It was a shift away from the pop sound she was pursuing on some of her singles and was a return to a more alternative R&B sound, with trappy instrumentals and ambient vocals. It was a beautiful project that was very well-received (it made Rolling Stone‘s 20 Best R&B Albums of 2016), but more importantly, it was music that finally sounded like Tinashe. If there was ever any doubt that she could still manufacture great-sounding music, Nightride surely cleared that up…right?

Then, in April of this year, Tinashe’s long-delayed, long-awaited, heavily-revised album Joyride dropped after it was first announced in 2015; it was generally well-received but the album did not perform spectacularly (only 9,000 units in the first week) for an artist that, just a few years prior — with a hit single, numerous celebrity co-signs (Drake!), and a burgeoning fanbase — seemed destined for greatness.

During this period of time she seemed to be involved in an ongoing standoff between her and her label, RCA Records. From the lack of buzz that caused her to self-release “Party Favors”, to the label compelling her to work with Chris Brown on “Player”, to implications that RCA was more focused on promoting Zayn Malik…there clearly was a lot going on. And with rumors currently flying around about RCA rejecting a new album called Nashe, featuring Tinashe’s “alter ego”, the frustration continues to mount — for fans as well as for Tinashe herself.

And I suppose the aforementioned missteps have not played kindly to her public image either. The colorism comments were undoubtedly ill-judged, and it’s plain to see how her Snapchat videos might have come across as a little obnoxious, but for someone who has over 2 million followers on Instagram and almost a million followers on Twitter, but whose album pushed only 9,000 units in the first week, it’s easy to see why she might have been grasping at random straws.

I continue to hold out hope that Tinashe will be given the opportunity to define her own artistry and achieve the recognition and acclaim that her talent deserves.

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