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It was scarcely a week ago when Azealia Banks announced to the world via her Tumblr that she was deleting her Twitter account; “No more twitter for me,” she wrote, “it makes me entirely too accessible.”
In the same spontaneous career makeover, the Harlem rapper slammed her “bald” ex-manager (potentially Troy Carter, who also manages Lady Gaga) in a series of uncomfortably personal tweets, before announcing that she was quitting her career as a rapper for good. Still on Tumblr, Banks wrote that she was “no longer wishing to be a rapper. I never was…and as soon as I started paying attention to bullshit urban media, I started getting myself in trouble. From now on I’m a vocalist, and will not be associating myself with the ‘rap game’…or whatever the fuck that means.” Confusingly, in the same week, she released a new video called ‘Liquorice’, in which she raps, and a new track called ‘Aquababe’, on which she, again, raps; not to mention, her Twitter account hasn’t actually been deleted. All of which suggests that there might be more, or less, to last week’s outburst than meets the eye.
The contradiction that Azealia is chewing apart here is her career path as a member of the “rap game”, and her desire to make music. Rather than follow a career arc like the one mapped out for Gaga, the Harlem star sees herself as more of a loose cannon, desiring a little bit more unattainability, and a little bit less of the ease of exposure provided by Twitter. She doesn’t want to be seen as a player in a game that’s already been determined for her by her bosses and her followers; instead, she wants to attack expectations, and to lend only her vocals, and not her entire self, to the business of being an artist.
There was a time when the arc of a popstar’s career was a delicately manufactured act of precision; a smooth course followed by the likes of Madonna and David Bowie, masked superstars who crafted an untouchable aura that made them anything but “entirely too accessible.” Today, social media and tabloids make such an ideal practically unachievable, slotting famous figures into categories and then watching them fail, in a spectacular and painfully public way, to live up to the character they’re supposed to be. In the Liquorice video, an uncertainty and a quiet discomfort can be glimpsed through the po-faced, dry moments in which Azealia swooshes about in a leather costume with a faux-stern expression. It almost seems like she’s not particularly serious about this whole couture-Western thing; it almost seems that she’d rather just be dancing in the street in a Mickey Mouse jumper.
Flippant and cheeky, Banks’ “Behind the Scenes” video , filmed for Noisey on the set of ‘Liquorice’, reveals a whole lot about her attitude towards her art. For one thing, she tells the filmmakers, “I don’t really know what I’m wearing today, but it looks good.” She also describes herself as a “nobody”, saying that when DJs began to play ‘212’ on the radio, she realised for the first time that “this [was] happening”. She adds, in a near-wistful tone that comes as close to serious as she gets, “I honestly thought it would happen sooner.” Then, with a laugh and a leap into her getaway van, Azealia explains that “wrapping”, the end of the shoot, is for her “the best part of the day.”
Rather than the rapping itself, Azealia embeds herself in the wrapping, or the rapt moment of her ephemeral and sporadic output. Emphatically “still a nobody”, she’s disengaged from what the game wants her to be, and belligerent towards the authorities that try to make her more accessible. Again on Tumblr, Azealia solidified this by writing, “I’m still going to rap…I just don’t want the label and all the other crap that comes with the ‘rap game’…it’s boring.” The bodily, spontaneous, fun act of rapping is still definitive to her; but the path she’s expected to follow is an overgrown and outdated way into the industry, and it’s one that the most exciting stars of today find boring.
For Banks, the lure of fame is the wrap, the dramatic fizzle-out, the glamourous exit that comes with the folding up of her rap career; it’s the glimmer in her eyes as she watches bridges burn; it’s the danger of not being sure what will come next, or whether anything will come next at all. In pop music today, the question of “where is this going?” seems almost redundant. It’s all in the moment; it’s all in the intake of breath that came the first time you watched ‘212’. As a rapper outside of the “rap game”, Azealia could go wherever she wants to go next. For her, it’s the sudden-ness, the “now”-ness of her music that characterises her career, and the occasional reckless reminder of its precariousness only makes the whole journey that bit more thrilling.