Words: Joshua M. Jenkins (@callmefag)
Photos: Nicky Nylon (@nicky.nylon)
You saw her on the news during her spat with Russell Crowe (pun intended). You read, in disbelief, her tweets showing support for President Cheeto during the election. Hell, some of you are showing her your bootyholes for free ass-bleaching soap. Whether you love her or hate her, Azealia Banks is a force to be reckoned with. She is simultaneously one of the most frustrating, talented, and outspoken artists of our generation – whether you agree with her ideas or not, she is, at the very least, compelling.
To begin, here is a quick timeline of my exposure to Ms. Banks:
- Heard her music for the first time - the song “1991” – in its debut year of 2012
- Followed her on social media and downloaded everything she released (and loved it)
- Saw her perform for the first time, in Chicago, in 2015
- Following that performance, I published a very long-winded article accusing her of being a petty child and using “hatred” to fight “hatred” (the article has some solid points, but reading the musings of my 25 year old self makes me cringe. *two snaps for personal growth*)
- Saw her perform again in 2017
- This September 2018, attended two of her performances in one week – one in Santa Ana, the other in Hollywood two days later (I know, I’m insane.)
Which brings us to today. While my writing skills, capacity for self care, and aversion to pettiness have improved a great deal over the years, my ability to understand and completely support Banks clings to me, stagnant – like an ex-boyfriend who always comes back for my (black) dick while simultaneously bringing white men home to mommy and daddy. Like these men, I have a constant adoration and frustration toward Azealia Banks. Like a long-distance relationship based on awful communication.
Let’s start with her concerts. As I mentioned above, I’ve seen her perform four times in three years. Each performance starts strong, but ends with the crowd feeling…underwhelmed. During her two Chicago performances, she came on stage, sang a few tracks (beautifully), then – despite everyone cheering for an encore on both occasions – she quickly disappeared from the stage and never returned. Perhaps the venue gave her a strict end-time. Maybe she was deliberately shading Chicago. I DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW. Regardless, it left a bad taste in my (and others’) mouth. Last week in Santa Ana, she was similarly unenthused. Only this time, she did come out for an encore, “YUNG RPNXL”, yielding her megaphone and declaring she has soupy drip on the roof of her clit. Seeing her with a megaphone truly is a spectacle, and appears to now be one of her many staples (she encored again with her megaphone during her Hollywood performance two days later.) At this same concert, a surprising amount of people left the venue minutes before the concert actually ended (not gonna lie - I left early to preorder the new iPhone at 12:01am, so I missed the last fifteen or so minutes of her performance.) Maybe the other folks who left were doing the same. Maybe they had to go to bed early...but I truly think people got bored. I know I did.
This downward trajectory of excitement from her fans throughout her performance is - from what I’ve seen - consistent over a three year period. The reason? It isn’t (exactly) her stage presence...(I mean, her vocals kill and she appears enthused). It isn’t because she’s calling the crowd faggots and perpetuating the narrative seen and read on “The Shade Room”. The reason is way simpler, and easily mendable: she doesn’t engage the audience.
Like, at all. Well, okay…after the first song she’ll say, “how y’all doin’, (insert name of city)?!”, and after the last song we’ll maybe get a “thank you”, but not much else. While it is 100% her right and prerogative to come on stage, sing what she wants, then peace the fuck out, this silence seems unlike her character. Her instagram stories - which oftentimes piles up to the dozens within a 24 hour period – show us a vibrant, funny, soap-making starlet who can slay a kitchen and, like all of us, were gagging when the Nicki and Cardi B beef started. She’s now often heard and known for saying, “What’s the tea!? The girls are fighting!!” referring to Minaj and Cardi’s fashion week feud. Why do we get this bubbly character on instagram, but in-person a robot - going through the motions and not engaging her gleaming crowd? I’m not here to psychoanalyze or speculate on her psyche (frankly I don’t have the training or expertise to do so), but as an introvert myself, and someone who respects and admires her, this is what I’m feeling:
- she prefers to constantly keep her mind and craft growing and changing. She’d rather be in the studio making something new, or making ass-bleacing soap for her gays, than performing old songs over and over again. I have no doubt she loves her fans, but concerts = coins and that’s it.
- she is insecure – a classic case of being outgoing only when your front camera is in the audience, enhancing your face and skin behind a bunny filter.
- she’s not out here to make friends - ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- she’s a gemini (this is the only unquestionable fact of my predictions, and bitch does it FIT)
I don’t expect her to justify her actions to me, or anyone. As a fan, hell…a superfan, I’ll always be curious about why and how she is or isn’t engaging her fans on stage. Since I’m tired of guessing, I’m going to bring my ongoing confusion and frustrations to rest:
Banks’ cursory performances - in addition to these four aforementioned traits - result in and from the fact she should absolutely already be a millionaire, covering magazine covers, and have numerous chart-topping hits, far beyond Nicki, Cardi, Migos, Drake, and all these other niggas, and she’s fucking over it.
While she has done and said some questionable things, so has literally every other person in the spotlight. Migos is homophobic as fuck. When Nicki first came on the scene, she told everyone she was a “gay rapper” for clout…but is she gay, though? Where are these women she’s fucking? (During Nicki’s first installment of Queen Radio on Apple Music, she mentioned a “girl crush” she had on Cassie, expressing it as if a gay crush was just some kind of phase.) Eminem continues to call people “faggot” - like Tyler The Creator - yet his latest album still made history in the UK. As for Azealia, she isn’t any more or less controversial than the others, but as far as talent and content are concerned, Banks’, I’d argue, is at the top. Her lyrics are intricate and smart. She can start a new thought on the third beat of a measure, seemingly disconnecting from the tempo as she spits, then powers through sixteen more bars and flows to the end on a clean beat, ready to attack again. It’s truly an experience. And, SHE CAN ACTUALLY SING. Have you heard Nicki Minaj try to sing? Giiiiiiiiiiiirl.
To be clear, I am not trying to pit her against any of these other artists. I actually enjoy Nicki and Cardi’s music – but not to the same caliber as Banks. Why is someone who is (arguably) more talented than most of the musicians of our time not given campaigns with Diesel like Minaj, and isn’t consistently wrapped in Dolce & Gabbana like Cardi B? Too dark-skinned? Painted by news outlets as aggressive and racist? Blacklisted by the always powerful (and always ashy) white patriarchy who controls her narrative? All of the above? Yeah, probably.
I do think her time will come. She’s put in the work. She’s focusing on her mental and emotional health. She went from using the word “faggot” to giving her most loyal fans – gay men – free soap for their “purple balloon knots” (I wish I had saved the video of her recruiting gay men to model their assholes for free soap. It was a treasure). I have no doubt she’s going to piss me off for saying some hateful or ignorant ass shit in the future, but she’s human. And all things considered, she’s intuitive, smart, and you can really hear it in her music (and in a lot of the shit she says on social media, despite the always-shocking delivery). I hope she does engage her audience more in person…since she’s got instagram persona locked down. Her fans will appreciate her more for it. Either way, I don’t doubt she’ll get millions. She already deserves it, IMO, but let’s be real: how often do black women get what is owed to them without a fight? Especially when racist and/or misogynistic men hold all the keys?