Straight, No Chaser – Azealia Banks

Azealia Banks has been catching eyes and ears in a major way since she dropped her debut album last month.

Azealia Banks has received a lot of attention since November 7th, equal parts positive and negative. This is an update on Banks, since November 18th when I first wrote about her in Introducing Azealia Banks.

Remix Contest

Within a week Azealia Banks received over 7,000 submissions for her “Chasing Time” remix contest (as of November 26, 2014).

https://twitter.com/AZEALIABANKS/status/5376841926128721932872193

As I stated in my post last month, this is one of the freshest concepts that I’ve seen come from a celebrity or artist in years. The remix contest is a concept that comes from a woman who grew up on the internet. Back in 2008, when Myspace was the “cool” social network, Azealia Banks recognized the potential for using Myspace to showcase the raps she wrote and recorded including the remixes and mash-ups she made as well (Baron, 2012). She was only 17 years old when she introduced her music online, but as she’s gotten older she hasn’t turned her back on social media.

Two years ago Banks released a mixtape called Fantasea free to download online (and it’s still available). Produced by friend djs and producers (Diplo among them), the buzz online got the mixtape critical attention from such publications as The Guardian. Another fresh idea sprung to life and Banks headlined at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, performing songs from her mixtape and commercial repertoire. The venue called the show the “Mermaid Ball” after the under-the-sea concept of Banks’ mixtape.

Poster for Azealia Banks presents Mermaid Ball 2012.
Poster for Mermaid Ball 2012 Azealia Banks shared on her Tumblr.

The event drew a huge crowd and even a few celebrities like model Cara Delevingne.

Cara Delevingne and Azealia Banks at the Mermaid Ball
Photo Cara Delevingne shared on her Instagram account the night of the Mermaid Ball, June 3rd, 2012.

As with her album, Broke With Expensive Taste, the Fantasea mixtape and the Mermaid Ball were unexpected pleasant surprises for fans who were waiting for new material.

On December 22nd, 2014 Banks announced that she will be announcing the winner of the remix contest some time after the New Year.

https://twitter.com/AZEALIABANKS/status/547035366973505536

The issue with waiting until the New Year to announce a winner is loss of interest from your audience. People generally don’t like to wait and our human attention span is less than that of a goldfish’s: 8 seconds (Static Brain). There is already a music video for the single “Chasing Time,” so why the wait on revealing the winner of the remix? With tens of thousands of submissions, Banks might inspire some ire from contestants and fans with high expectations. Banks hasn’t built the kind of loyal and unwavering legion of fans as such music personalities as Britney Spears or Barbra Streisand.

Hot 97 Interview

What may or may not have alienated a substantial percentage of her fan base was a recent appearance on New York hip-hop radio station Hot 97.

The interview was one of the most candid interviews I’ve witnessed in a long time. Full of passion and emotion, coming to tears at two points in the interview, she expressed pain and rage over the misappropriation of black culture in the music industry, the treatment of blacks in America, and the erasure of black history. What has drawn people to Azealia Banks is her straight no chaser personality, but as Spock would say “You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing…” (Star Trek). The Hot 97 radio interview was apart of the Broke With Expensive Taste promotional tour, but it became something of a therapy session (you can read a transcript of the highlights from the interview here).

The Twitter storm that erupted following the interview was massive with many recording artists chiming into the fray, such as Q-Tip, T.I., Lupe Fiasco, and more. Promoting is an opportunity for artists and musical groups to increase sales by sharing a part of themselves. I liken promotional tours to first dates, where an artist(s) is trying to get audiences to fall in love with them. As with first dates, sharing one’s views on politics, race, and other complex subjects on a promotional tour for your album is risky. Attracting negative attention has wide reaching influence on image, reputation, and career longevity. There is a time and place for having a conversation about race, but it needs to be on the right platform in order to be appreciated. As interviewer Ebro Darden advised Banks in the Hot 97 interview, “Put it in the music” (referring to her feelings and thoughts) rather than rant and break down on the radio.

I read a comment that bears mentioning:

You need to build your reputation as an artist first. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re in the process of coming up in the game, and burning bridges whenever you can, just because you have a box of matches you wanna get rid of. Yes, at a certain point, you have to play the game as it were. You need to build clout. You need to establish yourself as an artist and build a foundation. Once people rally around you on that front. Once you have their attention on the merits of your work (and you don’t have fans waiting two years for your debut album to come up), Then, you can say almost anything and have people rally around you.

And as others have said, having spent so much time focusing your attention of one singular artist [Iggy Azalea] just makes you seem petty.

~KenKRK 12.20.14 at 8:40 am (Source: UpRoxx)

#16DaysofAzealia

Something that helped cool down the heat from the interview was a another fresh concept from Banks. Playing on the song “12 Days of Christmas,” Banks came up with #16DaysofAzealia, a series of 16 short videos in which she shares how she came up with each of the 16 songs from her album. So each day leading up to Christmas, fans got to watch and listen to Banks as she cooks in her kitchen and talk about her creative process. Not only that, if fans shared a tweet about the #16DaysofAzealia they could be one of the winners of some “Broke With Expensive Taste” Merchandise!

Last night Banks posted her last video in the #16DaysofAzealia series.

Some artists have provided commentary on tracks from their albums before in video form, but the setting and method Banks employed came off more intimate and endearing. Music promotion is getting more personal and transparent, as I mentioned in my post about Taylor Swift. The Azealia Banks brand is acerbic but it can also be warm and bubbly. As she hones her image and personality as an adult, the more positive attention she will attract.

What’s Next

Broke With Expensive Taste has been listed in countless Best Album of 2014 lists. Most prominently, the album has been ranked #10 on Time Magazine‘s Top Ten Albums of 2014 list and #3 by The New York Times. The accolades that Azealia Banks has received are well deserved but are overshadowed by her at times negative speech and beefs, both on and offline. It was a hard road getting her first album released, due in large part to bullish self-sabotaging behavior and antics.

“People used to see her as a tutorial for how to screw your career up,” said Elliot Resnik, lawyer to long-time songwriter and collaborator of Banks, Kevin Hussein. After 6 years, 4 record labels, and some $2 million, Azealia Banks independently released her first album in partnership with Prospect Park this November. Could Broke With Expensive Taste have been released under Interscope, Polydor, or XL? According to Banks and others who have worked close to her over the years, no. (Buerger, 2014)

Her strong vision and refusal to be anything other than herself is admirable, but the way in which she has conducted herself and behaved made her journey rougher than it needed to be. There is a way to get what you want without drawing negative attention to yourself and burning bridges.

Attention is a very important part to making a living. How you present yourself and get noticed helps you obtain work and advance in your career. In the entertainment and music industries attention is the name of the game, and what you show and tell can either help or hurt your future potential to earn. To be secure artists likes Azealia Banks hire managers, agents, PR representatives, and more to help keep public attention and interest on them.

The question is, does Banks have a strategy? Has her strategy been successful?

Sadly Azealia Banks is not nominated for a Grammy, however, keep in mind that to be eligible for the upcoming 57th Annual Grammy Awards this coming February 2015, an artist or group’s album had to have been released between October 1st, 2013 and September 30th 2014 (Grammys).There is hope for Azealia Banks.

Although I don’t condone nor entirely share all her views and actions, I find her to be one of the most interesting new artists since Tupac, with her openness and imperfections. Remember she is only 23 years old and is still learning and developing as a person. As with all things, it takes time to build a brand. It’s not about chasing time, it’s about taking your time.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

References

Baron, Zach (2014). “The Making of Azealia Banks.”Spin. August 18, 2012. Retrieved December 26, 2014.

“TIME’s Top 10 Best Albums of 2014.” Time. December 3, 2014. Retrieved December 12, 2014.

“Attention Span Statistics.” Static Brain. January 1, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2014.

Buerger, Megan (2014). “Inside Azealia Banks’ Rocky Road to Releasing ‘Broke With Expensive Taste.'” Billboard. November 14, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2014.

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