iara Thomas is proud to be an Oscar and Grammy winner, and the Indianapolis, Indiana, native has every right to be.
In the history of Black women, Thomas and H.E.R. are the only two to celebrate an Oscar win for Best Original Song, an honor for music written in motion pictures.
They won for “Fight for You,” lifted from the Judas and the Black Messiah soundtrack, at the 93rd Academy Awards. Moreover, both women are the only recipients to accept the latter prize and the Grammy for Song of the Year in the same award season.
Thomas and H.E.R. accepted the award for Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe” at the 63rd Grammy Awards.
Thomas featured an image of both awards in a post on Twitter earlier this year. She also flaunted the trophies in the collage artwork for her latest single, “Don’t Talk Back” (more on that later).
Her post might seem like a major flex to some, but it’s much deeper for Thomas. At age 12, she envisioned a future very similar to her present. “I manifested the Grammy for myself when I was younger,” Thomas tells Rated R&B.
I never gave up on myself.. pic.twitter.com/jsCBexLNGL
— Tiara Thomas♛ (@Tiara_Thomas) June 3, 2021
Securing an Oscar grab was “something extra God or the universe threw in,” Thomas says.
Since the early 2010s, Thomas has experienced the challenge of breaking away from the one-hit wonder title of “Bad,” a Wale-led track on which she featured that scored a top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hit.
Of course, Thomas has released the occasional single and EP, her last of which was 2018’s FWMM (F**king With My Mind). However, she hasn’t had the right song to catch fire and jump-start her music career to infinite heights.
For some artists, the envy of fast-acting superstardom could be a reason to throw in the towel. Thomas didn’t, knowing that her greatness would be eventually noticed.
“I think the thing about me was that I always believed in myself and knew that I was dope. So I just kept going,” Thomas affirms.
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“I kept writing songs [and] kept working; that’s the difference between me and a lot of people that are also extremely talented at whatever they may do. It doesn’t have to be just singing, but it gets so discouraging because things don’t happen as fast as you want them to happen, or they don’t happen like you think they should.”
Thomas’ Oscar and Grammy post was a motivating reminder for underdogs everywhere. “It was important for me to share that message because I want other people to be able to relate to that kind of underdog story,” she explains.
“A lot of people are underdogs in their family, at their job, at school, or whatever. Now, in this age, it’s more popular for people to try to say something negative about something than be positive. So, people can be easily discouraged. I want to be encouraging for people on the come up or who are underdogs like myself and show ’em like, ‘Yo, keep doing that shit cuz you’re fire.'”
In November, Thomas and H.E.R. earned two more nominations, this time for their participation in Mary J. Blige’s most recent album Good Morning Gorgeous.
At the 65th Grammy Awards, Blige’s 15th studio album received a nod for Album of the Year. Its titular self-care anthem gained three considerations, one of which is Best R&B Song, which credits the two women.
“She was just mad cool. It was crazy being in the studio with Mary J. Blige. She was really involved in the songwriting process and what she wanted to write about,” Thomas recalls.
“We didn’t even know she was gonna name the album [Good Morning Gorgeous]. That was just the name of the song. When the album came out, that’s when I saw that the album was called Good Morning Gorgeous. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s fire.’”
Ahead of those nominations, on Oct. 17, Thomas returned from an extended hiatus with the brand-new single “Don’t Talk Back.”
Co-written with Ron Gilmore and Sam Ashworth, the enticing track fuses seductive lyricism and a tempo perfect for swaying a low-key spot. It marks her first piece of new music since the vibey “So Necessary,” released in July 2019.
Thomas had no intention of being away for so long. “You never know in this business. You cannot plan to be gone and then you be gone,” she notes with a laugh.
“I think it was just about finding the right space and time to start dropping new music.”
During that off time, Thomas recorded a lot of solo music and contributed to H.E.R.’s 2021 debut album, Back of My Mind. Now, with music stored under her belt, she’s ready to be more consistent than ever with her drops.
In Rated R&B’s interview with Tiara Thomas, the Oscar and Grammy winner talks about where she stands with a debut album, her new single “Don’t Talk Back,” working with Mary J. Blige and John Legend and more.
What made you go with “Don’t Talk Back” as the comeback single?
I was actually gonna go with another single, something that seemed more what my fans would expect from me. But I have been sitting on “Don’t Talk Back” for like a year, and I’ve listened to it a lot. I love the song. I had a strong inkling that I wanted to go with “Don’t Talk Back,” but it was confirmed when Drake dropped Honestly, Nevermind, and his stuff was sounding like those dance vibes. I didn’t wanna put “Don’t Talk Back” out first cause I was like, “I don’t know if people will get what kind of vibe I’m on.” But when I heard Drake and Beyoncé, I was like, “Oh, here comes the new wave. I’ve had my stuff in the bag, so let me go ahead and put mine out.”I think that was confirmation. I just wanted to do something that was different than what people expect after being gone a couple of years [and] just show how I’ve transformed the sound a little bit.
How does this new single set the stage for what’s next to come sonically and lyrically on the next project?
“Don’t Talk Back” is kind of a fun song. It’s sassy. It doesn’t sound like the other songs on the project, so I don’t think if you listen to that song, you’re gonna get a good idea of what is to come. I have so many different types of music. I haven’t chosen all my music for my project that I’m putting out next year yet, so I think I’m gonna have the fans help me with that, as I’m posting on TikTok and see what songs people are getting excited about.
Besides Mary J. Blige’s album Good Morning Gorgeous, you also have recent songwriting credits on John Legend’s album LEGEND. What was that experience in the studio like and what did you take away from him, whether musically or personally?
I was actually thinking about the John Legend session yesterday. It’s so crazy when John Legend first came out, he was opening for Alicia Keys before a whole lot of people knew who he was. I remember I saw that concert in Chicago, and I just thought he was so dope. I’ve always been extremely inspired by John Legend. When they asked me, “Yo, John Legend wants to write a song with you.” I was like, “Whoa, really?” I went to his studio, and he was really nice. He’s like what you would imagine John Legend to be like. You can tell he respects creatives; sometimes artists are not like that. With producers, engineers, and songwriters, they act like you owe them. With John Legend, for someone who’s at his stature, he was like, “Yo, what do you think about this?”
He would sing something and ask me what I thought about it, and I was like, “I do this all the time, but John Legend is asking me what I think about something, like how he’s singing.” I thought that was really cool. Even with the splits, he did on the song, you can tell he respects artists, writers, and producers. The guitar that’s actually on [“Good”] is one of my friends’ guitar loop. He lives in Ohio, and I brought that guitar loop in, and I played it for John, and that’s what we ended up writing the song over. I was like, “I just wanna make sure my friend gets his credit or whatever,” and him, with no problem, gave fair splits and everything. So for an artist that’s big like that, that was really cool.
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You’re relatively new to TikTok, right?
Yeah, just joined two weeks ago. I was mad anti-TikTok ‘cause I didn’t wanna get on TikTok ‘cause I’m like, “Bro, it’s for kids. I’m not doing these dumb dances.” But my manager kept saying, “Yo, that’s how artists get their music heard now.” So I was like, “Okay, well, I’m just gonna make a TikTok. I’m just gonna vibe to my own songs — songs that are out and songs that I have in the vault.” I use it to be kind of goofy, serious, and put on clothes and shit.
Speaking of songs in the vault, I’m always excited when artists share unreleased music on social media. You’ve recently done that on TikTok. One includes a song with Tone Stith. What can you tell us about that record and any others you have?
I am excited about the song I have with Tone called “Hit You Right Back.” Some fans were really excited to hear that clip. But, man, I got vibes too. I got different types of songs. We still have the same type of Tiara Thomas type of songs, but a lot of the records are more of a sophisticated, elevated sound. I don’t know what the vibe is [for] this single I just dropped, but I’ve got R&B shit, kind of country-sounding shit. But I do have a song with H.E.R. I like that song a lot. It’s called “Move.”
You’ve accomplished a lot in your career, but is there a highlight that stands out most?
There’s a lot of moments, but I was happy to be a part of [H.E.R.’s] “I Can’t Breathe.” That was a very important song for the time, and I was happy to be a part of a song that was so moving.
What’s next for Tiara Thomas in terms of music?
I wanna shoot videos, dope visuals. I’m a visual gal, so visuals and just putting out more music. [Also] going on tour. I would love to be on festivals [lineups] and stuff next year. I miss performing — that’s my favorite.
Stream Tiara Thomas’ new single “Don’t Talk Back” below.