Why Azealia Banks is the toxic lover I keep returning to

True fans were likely unsurprised by the dramatic events that marked Azealia Banks’ messy Australian tour this month. Chaos and controversy are the hallmarks of her brand. The US rapper cancelled her Melbourne and Brisbane shows, vowed never to return to Australia again, then rescheduled her Melbourne gig and delivered 37 minutes of her seductive sound.

Azealia Banks performs during the Noise Pop Music & Arts festival at The Warfield in February, in San Francisco.Credit:Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

The saga of her down-under stint began weeks earlier when the ticketing company failed to release the presale code for her Melbourne show. As members of her large queer fan base, my gaggle of friends and I were poised at our inboxes at 9am, ready to purchase tickets the minute they went live on the website. Fifteen minutes passed, then 30, then an hour. Still no code. I was fraught with anxiety, attempting to run errands around the city, unable to walk 200 metres without refreshing Gmail.

Fans began pleading with the ticketing company on its Instagram page. Knife emojis were used, blood was drawn. Six hours later, a polite message apologised for the delay and explained that due to technical errors, the code was not being released that day.

If you have not heard of Azealia Banks, strap in. She is the intersection of chaos and creative genius. An unapologetic feminine presence in the hip hop scene, she rose to fame in 2012 with her hit track 212, praised for her witty lyrics and ability to effortlessly blend genres. She’s since cemented herself as quite possibly one of the most controversial characters of the internet, with a long list of Twitter feuds and rants on Instagram.

She called Cardi B a “poor man’s Nicki Minaj”, she engaged in a years-long social media war with Iggy Azalea, she abused a flight attendant, calling them a “fucking f*ggot”. She’s made transphobic remarks, endorsed Donald Trump for president, told gay men they were “appropriating horse culture” for wearing harnesses and using ketamine, and described the Australia dollar as a third-world currency. She claimed to be practising witchcraft, posting videos of dried blood, feathers, and dead chicken flesh in her closet, and she filmed herself boiling her deceased cat before making earrings out of its bones.

Banks is morally questionable, unhinged in shocking but creative ways. And yet, she’s the toxic lover I keep coming back to. I’m infatuated with her music. Anna Wintour was in the top five of my Spotify Wrapped. Luxury was a crowd-pleaser at my housewarming party. F**k Him All Night was the soundtrack of my hot they/them summer.

Somehow, she has mastered the tightrope of being a highly problematic icon while retaining a loyal fan base. The question is: How is someone who has made comments that are so hostile to queer people, so popular among our community?

Part of Banks’ appeal comes from her unique sound, never prone to trends and unable to be boxed into a single genre. For someone who has expressed views that are openly homophobic and transphobic, her music has been a surprising staple of queer party playlists. Its crude discussions of sex, snappy lyrics that fly effortlessly off the tongue, and a beat that makes you feel viciously powerful resonate with a promiscuous and unashamed culture. Her references to high fashion and luxurious living embody the aspirations of many queer people. Ten years after its release, Luxury remains a track ahead of its time.

Equally relevant is that she is unabashedly herself. While many women in popular culture are forced to be palatable and digestible, Banks exudes messiness and martyrdom, unconcerned with her likeability. She is a black woman unapologetically taking up space. Her social media posts are filled with drama and shock value; they’ve arguably become an extension of her art. The recent Australia tour saga was no exception, in one Insta rant, she exclaimed “if I don’t sh*t in the f*cking grass you don’t f*cking eat”. It’s now my personal affirmation. In an era characterised by cancel culture and respectability politics, Banks refreshingly cares little about her public reputation.

There is no rational explanation for her erratic behaviour, but does that make her so vastly different from other public figures? Banks is not a cookie-cutter, two-dimensional character, she belongs as a new kind of celebrity, commanding both appreciation and critique. Perfection is out. Being complex and multifaceted is in. In a simpler world, perhaps we could expect moral righteousness but these current times call for ambivalence and ambiguity.

We can hope she will learn and evolve from her anti-LGBT views, but for now, the brand of chaos and controversy is as problematic as it is captivating.

Jacob Gamble is a student journalist, writer, and community radio host with an interest in the environment, politics, and LGTBQIA+ affairs.

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