Tinashe has been grooming herself for stardom since childhood. The 21-year-old R&B singer has been modeling, acting, girl-grouping since her early days in Los Angeles. When her group The Stunners disbanded in 2011, she retreated into to her bedroom, where she patiently and thoughtfully created three critically acclaimed mixtapes. Her first one, In Case We Die, was surprisingly dark and complex, and established Tinashe as more than just a manufactured pop doll, earning her comparisons to Aaliyah and The Weeknd. During her first television appearance at last month’s BET awards, Tinashe, who’s recently gotten coverage from the likes of V, announced that her highly anticipated debut album Aquarius, would be released this September. The record’s debut single, “2 On,” established Tinashe as a breakout star, its video reaching viral status with over 12 million views. We recently spoke to her about dressing down, being compared to other artists, and writing her own music.
Aquarius is coming out in September. What are you most excited for us to hear?
I’m excited to be able to put out a solid body of work so people can hear what I’m about as an artist, especially people who haven’t heard what I’ve made before.
Your mixtapes were all written and produced by yourself in your room. Is there anything you miss about that kind of private creative process?
Yeah, that’s still a special place for me. I’ve recorded some tracks from this album in my home studio because I wanted to keep that same vibe.
You said that sometimes you think of songs in the car. What do you wear when you sit down to write them?
I like to wear sweatpants. I like to just be comfortable.
Speaking of comfort, you’ve stated publicly that you’re either barefoot or in stilettos, that you haven’t owned a pair of sneakers in ten years, yet now you’re performing in Jordans. What’s with the change of heart?
(Laughs) I think I said that when I was like, seventeen. I wanted to wear high heels so people would think I’m older. Now that I am older I don’t need to wear high heels anymore.
You’ve worked with a lots of impressive people in your new album, but if you could work with a cartoon character, who would it be?
I’d like to work with Stewie from Family Guy. He’d have an interesting perspective.
How do you feel about people comparing you to other artists, even when they’re nothing like you?
I think people just do that automatically, because it makes it easier for their brains to put people in a box and categorize them. They like to pin female artists against each other that way. Of course I’d prefer to be known as myself.
When a girl gets fame as a teenager, nobody wants to let her have her own identity. Having started young, do you ever feel like you missed out on anything, since you were working all the time? Do you feel you missed watching too much TV and getting bullied in PE?
I actually did get bullied a lot in school. I went to public school until 9th grade and had a pretty bad experience. I missed out on prom and graduation and the whole college experience but I don’t feel bad about it because everything else I was doing was what I actually wanted.
What advice do you have for picking up boys?
I wish I was an expert but I’m not that great at it. I’m just myself so if they like me they like me, if they don’t they don’t. I have no secret. I like to be real and I don’t like to play games.
You’re very silly in your personal videos, you’re sexy in your music videos, and you’ve been a little spooky in your mixtapes. Do you have any new personalities we can look forward to?
I think all those different sides are a part of me. They all kick ass and I like to express all of them!
It’s good to avoid promoting the one-dimensional pop star image.
Been there, done that.
Recently there was drama when Nicki Minaj bashed Iggy Azalea for not writing her own music. You write your songs, so do you get upset when people don’t get recognition for it? I remember being crushed when my Mom told me the Backstreet Boys didn’t write theirs.
I don’t think people get recognition for writing music, I think they get recognition for performing material. Performers will always get more credit than songwriters, which kind of sucks, but at the end of the day people just want to hear really good music and sometimes those who write great songs aren’t able to translate it to people the same way performers do. I respect music, wherever it comes from.
What do you hope that teenage girls can learn from you?
I hope that they can learn that you don’t have to sit around and wait for somebody to do stuff. You can go out on a limb and become successful by yourself and support yourself. You just have to go out there and do it!
Your last music video got millions of views. What do you think was so special about it?
I definitely think that the fact that the song was all over the radio helped, that’s always a plus. Also I think that people were getting introduced to me for the first time. I think I showed off all of my different dynamics, like dancing.
Would you rather have Rihanna’s wardrobe or Obama’s contacts?
Like his phone contacts? Those could get any wardrobe I want.