Tinashe is used to the spotlight. For the past 15 years, the Kentucky-born actress has pursued a film and TV career, with roles in 2004’s The Polar Express and on Two and a Half Men in 2008-09. But when she was 16, Tinashe ditched the acting gigs for a full-time career in music. She recorded mixtapes in her Los Angeles bedroom, gained a devoted following on social media, and signed a contract with RCA. “I just wanted music to be why people knew me at the end of the day,” Tinashe, now 22, tells EW.
She scored big with her 2014 debut album Aquarius and its sultry, Top 40 R&B jam “2 On”, but she’s about to hit warp speed with her second album, Joyride. “Motherf—ers, I won’t be ignored,” Tinashe breathes heavy on the album’s trailer.
After opening for Nicki Minaj’s Pinkprint tour and the South American leg of Katy Perry’s Prismatic tour, she has a point. “I realized that was just genuinely how I felt,” the singer says. “That [message] is relatable, especially for young women that sometimes feel under-appreciated for our accomplishments.”
That revelation was partially inspired by touring with feminist powerhouse Minaj. “I really learned Nicki has an ability to be unapologetic. I find that really special,” she says. “I’m trying to encourage that in the industry. I feel like there’s been a lack in the past, especially in the recent past of women supporting other women artists. People in the media tend to pit us against one another. It’s great and exciting to support each other and go on tour with each other and collaborate with each other. More of it should happen.”
This month she released a thumping single, “Player,” featuring Chris Brown, and she’s putting the finishing touches on Joyride, with tracks from some of pop’s most in-demand producers (Dev Hynes, Max Martin, Boy1nda). She’s also got an endorsement from Janet Jackson, whom she cites as a major inspiration, but Tinashe isn’t looking to be the next pre-fab pop star.
“A lot of times … if you’re a young girl, or if people think you’re cute, they’re like, ‘Oh that’s why you are where you are, not because of your talent or your work ethic — it’s just about your looks,'” she says. “For me, it’s important for people to know I worked really hard. As far as every creative decision I made on my music, I’m behind it every step of the way.”
For her, that means finding influence in hip-hop, pop, and indie rock, “I don’t want people to think of me as what historically R&B is. I want to push the boundaries of what R&B is.”