Five years ago, R&B songstress Tiara Thomas saw viral success after her feature on Wale’s “Bad” blew up. The track peaked at No. 21 on Hot 100 and an impressive No. 5 on the Rhythmic chart. She went on to collaborate with a trio of hip-hop heavyweights, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and French Montana, on “Another Day” in 2014. In years since, she has released several projects, including her debut album, Up In Smoke.
Now, fresh off her UK tour with H.E.R., Thomas has released FWMM (an acronym for “Fucking With My Mind”). The project reintroduces the singer as the no frills girl she’s always been. Rather than singing tracks she didn’t write and starring in big budget music videos full of effects, Thomas is ready to focus on the music. The stripped-down aesthetic is impossible to miss in her new music video, “I Need,” premiering today — a stark contrast to her past high concept visuals.
To celebrate the new video, Billboard talked to Thomas about her new EP and, despite having a female co-star in her new video, why she’ll never label her sexuality: “Somebody comes out and then [the media] makes everything about that,” she says. “All the sudden, it’s like their sexuality becomes bigger than the music and I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all. I don’t want anything to be bigger than my music.”
You have a cool story about how your track “Bad” with Wale came together. I know it’s five years-old now…
It still goes hard though!
Can you talk about how that collaboration happened?
I used to put acoustic covers on YouTube all the time when I was in college. I did a cover of this Trillville song called “Some Cut.” It’s real, real ratchet. I was like, “I wonder if I could flip that on a guitar and make it sound like something pretty.” I figured out the chords on the guitar and I just started singing. Instead of rapping the words, I was singing them. Then I just started free styling and trying to think of something else to put on there. And when I sang that line, “It is bad that I never” — I was like, “Oh, that’s tight.” So that was originally the cover.
I took it to my friend’s house, we recorded it in his bedroom and we put it on YouTube. I sent it to Wale because I already knew him at the time but I don’t think he listened to it. After about eight months on YouTube, it was getting a lot of views and somebody that was managing me at the time got Wale to really listen to it. He was just like, “Yo. Just put some verses on this and just put it on your mixtape,” and he did.
That shit was crazy because there was 33 songs on his mixtape and I think the song was number six or something. When it came out, everybody was talking about that song. He had other features and stuff, but people were just like, “That Tiara song.” My name was trending on Twitter! Nobody had heard my voice before. Nobody ever heard of me. They were like, “Who was that girl? Who’s that?”
That’s crazy! You were also on Fat Joe’s track “Another Day” with Rick Ross and French Montana?
Yeah. And I did that video. I was living in the Miami at the time and they were like, “We’re going to shoot the video in Little Haiti. Is that cool?” I was like, “Cool. Little Haiti. It sounds fun.” It’s not. We was just really deep all up in the hood with no credentials. The director was this 20-year-old white guy, no street cred at all. The guys had already recorded their scenes the previous day, so it was just us out there. They just had us out there in the hood in Little Haiti just blastin’ the music. These dudes pull up and they like, I guess the local neighborhood caretakers or whatever. They was like, “What y’all talking about? What’s this song about? “Just another day livin’ in the hood? Who y’all know over here?” Me and my friend cut out real quick because I was scared.
That was an interesting experience. I’ve met Fat Joe and all those guys before, but I don’t know any of them personally. I don’t even think they know that that shit went down during that video.
So your “I Need” video. You chose to have a female love interest in it. Let’s talk about that.
What about it?
Why did you decide to cast a female in the video?
Because she’s cute and she has a nice tattoo on her back her ass is fat. That’s like #goals because I could probably never have that kind of butt.
You’ve never really addressed your sexuality before. Is this video a way of you coming out?
No, there’s no coming out story. I live in my own world and I’ve always done what feels good for me. When I was in kindergarten, a girl named Jasmine kissed me. I liked it. That, “Hmmm I liked that” was my first memory of crushing on a girl. But I’ve dated men and liked that too. I’m not ashamed or in the closet and I’ll never put a title on it. We live in a world where people make decisions based on other opinions and influences and I just do what’s best for me and there’s no perfect title for it. “
I just think a lot of stuff in society’s just really made up, like labels and stuff that they put on people. They’re made up. Somebody, one human one day was just like, “Oh. We should call this, this,” and that’s what it is. I feel like I’m more complex than that.
Then also, they make sexuality so distracting. Somebody comes out and then [the media] makes everything about that. All the sudden, it’s like their sexuality becomes bigger than the music and I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all. I don’t want anything to be bigger than my music.
It frustrates me when people follow me on Instagram and they don’t even know what I do. They just thought, “Oh, I think she’s cute. Her hair’s cute,” or whatever. I’m just like, “I’d rather you not give a fuck about me and listen to my music.” Because man, I’m a real artist. I care about my music.
Absolutely. So your EP is called FWMM. Obviously that’s the name of one of the tracks, but does that title have a significant meaning to you?
Mm-hmm. I live in my head a lot and I overanalyze stuff. Whether it’s about something that’s fuckin’ my mind in a good way or a bad way, I obsess over stuff. I like to think about hypotheticals. That’s what I do. I say a line in there, “Something’s wrong with me. I can’t grip reality.” It’s just because sometimes I feel like I live in my head so much that the outside world, stuff that’s going on with me, it’s not real. It’s not reality. My dad tells me, “You’re just such a hippie because you wake up and just think.” I literally live in my own world and so sometimes, the real world doesn’t feel like reality to me, but that’s not in a bad way. It’s not bad. I like it there.
How would you describe the difference between your old stuff and this video?
I have stuff that’s more big budget. There’s some videos that I think are really cool, but they’re not as indie and I think this “I Need” video, it’s super indie. Sometimes, I think that’s better than trying to do these big budget videos. I did a video with Interscope and I didn’t feel like it was me. I didn’t even write the song. That’s not normal for me. I’m real simple and people can tell that I wear simple stuff. I think it’s different in that aspect. It’s not a bunch of effects and stuff.
And like you said, you want people to focus on the music.