Taken from the Winter ’16 Issue of Wonderland.
Dancer Teyana Taylor slipped effortlessly (and oiled up) into the mainstream overnight and she’s not about to retreat to the sidelines any time soon.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS? Money? Fame? Power? Glory? Yet to experience any of the above, I can’t be certain, but when Teyana Taylor tells me her Halloween costume as satirical internet sensation Joanne The Scammer included a lace-front beard, I found the answer I’d been searching for. “It was just a given,” she wildly cackles down the phone. Approximately 30 seconds in, I’m already besotted with my interviewee. “I honestly can’t believe that I pulled that off! I thought it’d be really itchy all night but it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!”
Lace-front beards aside, no matter what you define success as, Taylor — a dancer/model/musician/actress/fitness DVD star (more on that later) — has it. Despite holding all of her talents for ample time, it was her coconut oil-dipped appearance in Kanye West’s music video for “Fade” that made her iconic overnight. Premiered in the five minute slot MTV gave West free reign over at the annual televised Video Music Awards, Taylor embodies his vision. Slinking through a gym, she writhes around hypnotically before turning into a lioness in the shower. She reappears surrounded by sheep, holding her new baby Iman “Junie”, alongside professional basketball player hubby, Iman Shumpert. There’s a message amongst all that, surely?
“When [Kanye West] came out with those damn sheep!” Taylor howls again. “I was just like, ‘No… What the hell, I’m just gonna go with the flow.’ I saw some shit on my foot, and I was like, ‘Alright now, these damn sheep over here, pooping some more on my damn leg!’ Then Junie is just pulling on their hair and I’m just sitting here like, ‘Who is this baby?!’”
(People will be buying that baby drinks in bars across the world when she’s of age. Imagine pulling out that anecdote at happy hour? Junie also has her “own” line of mini head wraps for tots — already a formidable force in the making. “She plays no games,” Taylor assures me. “She’s so ahead of her time. She is something else.”)
“Overall it was just a dope experience,” Taylor continues once we’ve both composed ourselves. As often happens when you are pirouetting in the eye of the storm, she couldn’t predict the clip’s effect on set. She was actually thinking about her bed. “Everyone kept saying, ‘This video is going to be epic!’ I was just so tired, like, ‘How many more takes we got?’ You just think, ‘You’re only saying that ‘cause you’re filming me!’” It was only once she’d hit repeat “68 times” that she saw its impact. “I felt the passion immediately,” Taylor breathes, slipping into a more serious tone. “I definitely felt emotional during the performance… When it came out I was able to exhale… The more I watched it, the more I saw it in my face and in my body language. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that before.”
West and Taylor’s working relationship is a longstanding one. Signed to G.O.O.D. Music since 2012, West’s Def Jam imprint, she earned credits on what’s often cited as his most influential album to date: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “He’s like a big brother to me,” she says with sweet oblivion. “I forgot that Kanye really is the man… I got so used to us talking about fashion and being hood. He’s so humble. It’s easy to forget how the world really looks at him.”
“I’m so appreciative because he’s seen something in me,” Taylor says, as humble as she insists her mentor is. “All I ever needed was a moment.” Planning to extend her 15 minutes of fame, she’s been in the studio making 90s tinged “sexy” R&B, promising me its arrival is imminent and is what we’ve been “missing”, hoping to bridge the gap between fans and fame.
“Sometimes people look at art as if it’s so different from everyone else,” she scoffs. “My thing is, I’m still a female, I still catch my period like everyone else, sleep and shit like everyone else. I’ve still been in love with a person, been crushed by a person, had my heart broken. I want people to be like, ‘Oh my god, she’s so relatable!’”
As for the people Taylor relates to, she paid tribute to Lil Kim at VH1’s Hip Hop Honours earlier this year, playing such a convincing part, she subsequently landed herself a role in the channel’s drama about the genre, The Breaks. “I completely transformed,” Taylor rightfully boasts. “[VH1] sent me an email about the audition and it went into my spam! Oh my god I was so pissed!” She made some cranky calls, caught up with her team and feeling “crummy”, bashfully removed the message from her junk. The rest is history. Her recurring role as a rapper on the show was revealed in August. The details are being kept under wraps but the series is due to premiere next year and will be based on David Charnas’ book, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop.
Time is ticking and I’m reluctant to say goodbye to Taylor. Who else am I going to meet this week who’s going to chat periods, sheep shit and faux beards? There’s one more thing I’m desperate to discuss — her impending fitness DVD. “Yes!” Taylor exclaims at its mention. “1 January girl, 1 January. Submit to get fit,” she laughs for one last time, when I promise to buy a copy. I’ve got a phantom stitch in my side already.