Azealia Banks is essentially the rap industry’s Courtney Love: too loud, too visible, too aggressive and too smart. Like Love, if Banks isn’t working with the right crew, the public gets less of the art and more of the spectacle. Both artists are famous for their online personas: Love was among the first people banned from a website, and Banks—well, Banks is as famous for her online arguments as she is for her music. In numerous arenas, Banks is ahead of her time, earlier than most will acknowledge and messier than most will let her forget.
Due in part to her Twitter beefs and seriously misguided endorsement of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy in 2016, Banks has received an underwhelming response to her recent releases over the last couple years: her acting debut in the RZA-directed movie Love Beats Rhymes (2017), the supremely underrated Slay-Z EP and the “Soda” music video—a single from Banks’ 2016 album Broke With Expensive Taste, which led her to cut ties with Interscope Records in 2013.
In 2018 Banks released the hit new single “Anna Wintour.” Born as a remix of her 2015 single “Ice Princess,” “Anna Wintour” blends house, rap and screamo to express feeling in love and finding God. The lyric video uses Josie and the Pussycats aesthetics, and the music video features Banks dancing in an empty warehouse and industrial park in a crisp blue-jeans-white-shirt silhouette, at times referencing her meme-famous Coachella 2015 performance of “Yung Rapunxel.”
Simultaneously, Banks sparked controversy over remarks about entertainers Cardi B and RuPaul. Cardi B briefly quit Instagram over Banks’ Breakfast Club interview, where she called Cardi B a caricature of a Black woman after having insulted her online in the past. What most won’t acknowledge is that Banks was not trying to court controversy when asked her opinion on Cardi B, or how aware Banks is that most articles about her work will contain a tit-for-tat update on her online opinions.
Banks then accused RuPaul of plagiarizing her 2016 single “The Big Big Beat” with an over-aggressive, unauthorized sample in his 2017 single “Call Me Mother.” It is worth noting, though, that “The Big Big Beat” takes its beat from An Expresso’s 2014 song “I Wish A Muthafucka Would,” which sampled Notorious B.I.G.
While RuPaul has said little about Banks or her claims, he’s allowed contestants from VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race to wage a proxy war through music and gay media outlets. Billboard ran several stories about Drag Race alumni responding to Banks, while simultaneously declaring “Anna Wintour” one of the top songs of summer 2018. VH1 echoed the Billboard stories. The blogs for hookup apps like Hornet and Grindr also weighed in.
Banks’ primary, verified Twitter account was permanently banned after numerous controversies, and was briefly banned from the account for her Cheapyxo cosmetic line, which she founded during her so-called blacklist period. She can still be found on Instagram, however, promoting Cheapyxo, “Anna Wintour” and her long-teased Fantasea II EP, which is set to release Friday, July 13.
Banks is never afforded the same “separate the artist from the art” bullshit argument made to preserve problematic, straight male artists who fall anywhere on the spectrum from H. P. Lovecraft to XXXTentacion. Aaron Carter, who also messily endorsed Trump for attention at the same time as Banks, was allowed back into the fold after an apology-slash-coming out tour. This is not an argument to downplay times when Banks has been hurtful, racist or homophobic. It’s just that men are allowed to get away with far worse far more often, which stems from numerous cultural expectations that frame women as responsible for reflecting a society’s morality.
Music and fashion influencers seek ways to divorce Banks from her aesthetics. This is seen in Banks’ early music videos that have been visually mimicked by pop singers with bigger budgets, or by observing how fashion houses have found ways to use her music without paying her. Imitation is no form of flattery to Banks, and it’s a small wonder how she keeps it together as much as she often does.
While Banks is known for being messy in regards to public controversy, she’s definitely not known to be a liar. Her well-publicized allegations of abuse at the hands of the actor Russell Crowe and Coldplay’s manager Dave Holmes were initially denied by associates and witnesses, leaving Banks no other option but to drop charges. However, RZA, who previously contradicted Banks’ claims, casually changed course and verified Banks’ version of events. Ultimately, even in the global wake of #metoo, neither case resulted in any consequences for either man. Banks has now taken it on herself to raise funds to sue Crowe over his alleged violence against her.
Similarly with fans of Courtney Love, worshipping at Azealia Banks’ altar is a difficult practice, even for the devoted. But for every media frenzy (like that time Banks declared Lorde is not the next Fiona Apple), a previously-unobserved facet of her triple-threat artistry is revealed. Banks might not have invented the current emo nostalgia wave, but who else was going to give us “Anna Wintour”’s truly iconic, screamo-inspired second verse? Pop media keeps trying to drown Azealia Banks, but they forget she’s a witch––and witches don’t drown.