January 24, 2019
She’s addicted to controversial, often bigoted outbursts – recently against the population of Ireland. Yet fans continue to root for the rapper – because she’s the opposite of safe
Azealia Banks: fearless truthteller or relentless troll?
Last week, in the most high-profile celebrity aviation incident since Kate Moss popularised the term “basic bitch” in a row with easyJet staff about sandwiches, the American rapper Azealia Banks removed herself from an Aer Lingus flight after calling a flight attendant an “ugly Irish bitch”.
According to a tearful video she posted on Instagram, Banks said a flight attendant asked her questions she couldn’t answer without checking her passport, which she had stored in the overhead locker. As she looked for her passport, the situation escalated. A fellow passenger told Mail Online they felt the crew were heavy-handed.
After disembarking the flight voluntarily, Banks called the Aer Lingus staff “ugly Irish women”, threatening to throw geese into the engine of the plane. When the incident sparked a semi-serious tabloid row about the beauty or lack thereof of Irish women, Banks apologised to her Irish fans, calling herself the “Queen of Ireland” and asking that they throw baked potatoes at her if they were offended by her comments.
Is there a tougher gig than being Banks’s publicist? You wonder if they get strapped into the same spinning chair they use to stress-test astronauts. Since breaking out in 2011 with 212, her fast-flowing celebration of cunnilingus, Banks’ gift for controversy would challenge even the most battle-hardened PR professional.
In 2017, she accepted a plea deal after an incident in which she bit a New York City bouncer on the breast and spat on her. In 2016, she claimed that the actor Russell Crowe assaulted her during a party in a Beverly Hills hotel room. Prosecutors dropped the case after other partygoers told police that they had witnessed Banks threaten to attack a woman with broken glass. In 2015, she was removed from a Delta flight after calling an attendant a “fucking faggot”. A year later, she called Zayn Malik a “curry-scented bitch”, and asked for Sarah Palin to be gangbanged.
Azealia Banks: fearless truthteller or relentless troll?
In spite of all of her bigoted and bullying behaviour, some people continue to root for her. “I can’t wait to see her, I love her music so much,” one fan told the Irish Times after Banks, belatedly, made it to Ireland for her gig. “She is a dickhead though.” Banks is after all, superbly talented, from her blistering debut mixtape Fantasea to the sensual 2018 single Treasure Island: a fact that is often forgotten amidst gleeful media coverage of her public spats.
Last year, Banks became involved in 2018’s most bizarre celebrity feud, after a recording session with electronic artist Grimes at her then-boyfriend Elon Musk’s house devolved into chaos. Banks made her text exchange with Grimes public, in which she called her a “brittleboned methhead” who smelled “like a roll of nickels”.
In an age when labels pressure-hose individuality out of their artists like crime scene cleaners, and a star such as Ellie Goulding talks about female empowerment at awards ceremonies because a shampoo brand asked her to, Banks’s refusal to engage in nonsensical publicity guff is an icy blast to the face in today’s temperature-controlled PR climate. She posts cheery videos about cleaning blood out of the closet where she ritually sacrifices chickens, calls Rita Ora “Rihanna’s understudy”, and describes the VMAs a “contest of the basics”.
In an industry that celebrates a certain type of positivist, girl-squad femininity, Banks is not “good”. Being a Banks fan involves a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, because she embodies so many contradictory qualities at once. She is a pugnacious troll who once encouraged Iggy Azalea to kill herself, but she is also someone whose irrepressibility has paved a way into the industry for underground female rappers such as Cupcakke and her former labelmate Rico Nasty. And she is a victim too: although she has spoken publicly about her struggles with mental illness, she doesn’t get the same understanding someone like Kanye West receives, a double standard she acknowledged in a 2016 Broadly interview.
Mostly, Banks rubs people up the wrong way because she refuses to be anything other than herself, even when it affects her public image by allowing the press to paint her according to the racist stereotype of the “angry black woman”. Banks acknowledges the media coverage that constantly swirls around her: after disembarking the Aer Lingus flight, she posted on Instagram criticising the people who are “addicted to Azealia Banks trauma porn”. She also told an Irish Instagram user: “Don’t you have a famine to go die in?”
Her Dublin gig ended up being a riotous success, and she will now embark on a tour of medium-sized UK venues. Why isn’t an artist of Banks’s calibre playing bigger stages? Perhaps it’s because while weare addicted to the trauma, she seems to be too. The music can’t be heard through the noise.
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