Following the release of the much awaited full-length debut from Azealia Banks a few weeks ago, it felt as if 2 hours passed before she was mouthing off again. This wasn’t entirely surprising, as she’d practically written herself out of a career with her often racist and homophobic Twitter rants against fellow collaborators Pharrell, Disclosure and more, as well media icons such as Perez Hilton.
Thanks to her disparaging remarks, and lack of new material following her smash single “212” in 2012, it was easy to give up on her. It also didn’t help she didn’t even show up for the concert I hoped to see her in a couple years ago, at Sasquatch!, an absence she never explained.
Banks’ debut was supposed to be released later that year, but conflicts with Interscope Records led to her being dropped from the label. She got lucky, though, as the label dismissed her from the contract and still let her maintain rights over the songs she’d put together thus far.
And that’s what helped Broke With Expensive Taste, a truly remarkable and brazen piece of work, come to be. So far I’ve been in true love with this album, and I’ve been overly impressed with Banks’ skills every time I listen to it.
That’s why it was deflating and extremely disappointing to hear Banks get right back to her unnecessarily catty ways almost the minute the album dropped. In an interview with The Guardian Banks rehashed her anger with Disclosure, going so far as this:
I want to punch one of them in the face – the little one [possibly Guy Lawrence]. The ugly one. I want to hit him so bad. I saw him at the airport in Australia and I came over to him and I was like: ‘Hello? Like, what are we going to do with this song?’ And he was just being a dickhead. I started crying, I was so angry. I wanted to hit him. I cannot stand that little boy with all those pimples around his mouth. I love their music, though.
Anyone with a clear head can see the confusion, uncertainty and desire to be audacious in this statement, but that doesn’t forgive Banks for her hateful remarks. Yet, as much as we may disagree with her social behavior and commentary, does it make it okay to still like her music?
I’ve thought a lot about that lately, because Banks isn’t exactly the only musician I both love to hate, and hate to love. There’s Kanye, of course, as well as everyone from Jack White to Odd Future. Each of these artists do a terrific job at cultivating attitudes and personalities I loathe, yet create undeniably talented and appealing music that’s generally impossible to resist. They go about this in different ways, but it still leaves me appreciating the music over anything else. Sure, the mere thought of who Kanye married and impregnated (no need to bring up her name, that’s done enough in the media) is enough to make one sick, but that doesn’t distract from the genius he possesses in creating innovative and unique new music. And Jack White’s just an asshole who not so secretly feels he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, yet I crank the radio every time anything from Elephant comes on the air.
Rap collective Odd Future, on the other hand, is made up a bunch of likable guys who write lyrics all women should hate and be offended by – yet a large number of females, such as myself, remain entranced with their music. Fader just wrote a great article about what keeps women fans in love with the group, and the interesting reason nearly everyone interviewed gave was: Odd Future don’t give a fuck about what people think about them. So even when they’re being blatantly misogynistic with what they’re saying, and rapping stories of rape and murder…it’s okay because the group doesn’t what care what people think? Somehow, yes. Odd Future, especially founder Tyler, The Creator, have done well at balancing their offensive lyrics and stage presence with equal parts love and respect for the fans, making it almost clear they don’t mean what they say with their music. Just as with Banks, this in no way forgives them, but it does somehow allow their music and/or social commentary to be offensive yet admired.
Now, as much as I hate to bring Taylor Swift into this conversation, a musician I in no way love, nor like the music she creates, I will commend her for the narrative she’s given in regards to Spotify lately. While Swift’s career has already left her reeking of money for the rest of her life, she remains against free and streaming services like Spotify because she feels “there should be an inherent value placed on art”, and such services don’t do that for her. And it’s that sentiment which helps somewhat explain my consent and adoration toward musicians I can’t stand for one reason or the other.
A piece of art, an album, a song – the higher the value and quality, the easier it is to separate it from the maker and he or she’s negative attributes. I will admit, sometimes it gets tough to like something designed by someone so obviously awful…yes, I will forever cherish “Toxic” but will never in my life say one nice thing about Britney Spears…but if something’s good, why deny it? This could lead to a broad conversation about my ethics, and questionably forgiving people for their wrongs, but this article isn’t about me. It’s about praising the value of art and music for what it is, not for who made it.
And on a closing note, while an artist may immensely increase the likability of a piece by being a nice guy or gal, such behavior also has the potential of lessening the edge to their work and leaving their character uninteresting to fans. It’s almost a double-edged sword for musicians, which in a bizarre way lends more support towards allowing them to be whoever the hell they want to be. Which I firmly believe anyone, musical or not, has the right to do. So keep on with your crazy ways, Azealia. Because at this point, your musical output still manages to speak more than your insensitive social output does.