Azealia Banks cares what you think — at least, she cares about quality and it’s clear. She gives fucks. At Coachella 2k15, she dominated the gargantuous main stage, green never-ending field of wannabe flower children splayed out in front of her, all open-mouthed listening like it was church. They were distracted like it was church too, of course, because we ~ millennials ~ are phone-attached babies with attention-seeking mind missiles and we want our Instagram/Snapchat/Tweet-able moment and we know that Banks is good for it.
Except she wasn’t. The crowd was hanging on words, waiting for the angry ones. They didn’t seem to get what they came for. Banks was powerfully peaceful in a peasant top and daisy dukes, singing and spitting the truth, driving bars and beats home that most people in the audience hadn’t even bothered to bump off her album before coming to see her set. It’s not original for me to say any of this, I’m sure festival coverage is all about how she got through something without inserting her opinion into the mix. But she did, that’s the thing — the whole point of her music is that it’s pumped-up opinion, inflated with nuance and self-reflection that 140 characters can’t handle.
Have you ever been in a room at that moment when it gets all hush because someone cool walked in? That’s how the crowd was when Banks was on stage. It was like everyone knew to listen the fuck up when she was talking, maybe a sign of respect. Maybe a sign of fear, or maybe an indicator that everyone expected something different and was transfixed by what we should have actually expected: a quality show.
Banks sees no utility in pretending to be something else, she’s so much in her own lane that she forces her audience into theirs. Screaming, ‘Yung Rapunxel’ went off with a megaphone pressed into the mic: “Brrrr-brrrrrr-brrrr-at, bitch better quit that chit chat.” No one seemed to be trying to dance, everyone was just moving in a mob. This was different than the crowd at Lil B’s set, many posturing and shoulder-shrugging off beat, half the hand gestures appearing to call “I’m down! I get it!” Not for Azealia — I mean, would you have the nerve to lie to her face? During her set, the crowd was just live and jumping and mouths-open, listening. She forced a crowd who was there to watch her mouth off — “do you think she’ll call out Iggy?” was shouted from one tone-deaf ear to another several times — to listen to what her music had to say.
Of course, her music is full of opinion, just not the sensational call-out kind that clickbait cares about. If the Internet is some sadly stratified high school party, Azealia Banks is the popular girl who everyone talks shit on when she’s not around, only to scramble to be in her good graces the second she walks by the keg. After all, she throws the coolest, drama-filled, ending chilled parties: Broke with Expensive Taste is full of songs you can dance and cry to, the kind of hits that aren’t empty.
Watching the girl who was “born to dance in the moonlight” basking in her own glow was simple and sweet, affronting in just how good it was. It was a certain kind of magic, mystifying in its simple boldness. Even in 2015 when we think someone’s active social media presence makes us more familiar with who they are as a person, that someone can still surprise us just by doing their job. Azealia Banks’ job is to be good, to make good music and perform it. To spectators, she’s scary good. But better than being scared straight, we’re awestruck into ease, able to dance like ourselves. To see each other, be annoyed with the girl who can dance better than you and the bro sweating and getting in your way — to hate each other a little, but for what we are instead of what we’re always pretending to be. To deal with all the problematic problems without pussying out to pretend they don’t exist. Even in 2015, we’re still startled by seeing a multifaceted, imperfect girl take the stage and fucking crush it: problematically pleasant, terrifyingly talented, and simply self-aware.