Thirty minutes into the second episode of Tiannah’s Empire‘s sophomore season, I messaged a friend asking what he thought about the show. “It’s trashy content and I enjoyed the first season at least,” he said. I haven’t seen the first season of Toyin Lawani’s egregious reality show Tiannah’s Empire, which debuted on EbonyLife TV in April 2017 and is directed by Pris Nzimiro-Nwanah.
The reality television format requires its players to show an openness to viewers, and Toyin Lawani literally does that in Wednesday’s episode. At her eponymous spa, she relaxes naked on a bed with her face up, white towels thrown across her torso while a female hand dutifully applies an innocuous, fruit-sourced mixture on her body, designed to polish and detox.
“It really irritates me when people say I’m bleaching,” Toyin says, letting the yellowish-green application spread on her skin. “All these things that I’m using are from fruits.” And in the obligatory diary session: “Most people don’t know that I’m an albino. I used to have this hair that looked almost reddish when I was a kid and whenever people say that I’m bleaching, I always tell them to show me photos where I’m dark.”
Toyin does so much exposition, in a way that blurs the boundary between her unscripted reality world and diary sessions. “It’s Toyin Lawani. Everything is extra,” my friend said basically in a text when I messaged my observations. Toyin habitually breaks the fourth wall, at the Yaba-located hospitality establishment that glaringly functioned as an advert, with its plush rooms for 15,000 naira and Instagram-ready spots. And also at Tejuosho Market, where she dispatches her students from her fashion academy on the task of buying fabrics, which would be made for fast-rising singer Teni Apata.
“This is where I used to come to buy crepe before I started buying from China,” Toyin discloses to viewers in a shop spooling with fabrics, “Don’t let these fashion designers deceive you. Some of them come here and they will be forming.”
As a fashion designer myself, I had to laugh. Her relationship with Toyin Abraham, in the opening scenes of the episode, is warm and chummy than I had led myself to believe. In their conversations, Yoruba is thrown in, casual and frothy. Toyin is loquacious, her energy rippling through space in a way that draws viewers in, right down to the most inconsequential things. Tiannah’s Empire is good trashy content, and the show is blisteringly self-aware on this. Even Pulse admits it’s not the worst show on television. Now, excuse me while I go binge on the first season.