It’s safe to assume that majority of the crowd at last night’s SPIN and Refinery29’s NYFW event watched Azealia Banks perform from behind cellphone screens. It was the only way to catch a glimpse of the purple-tressed rapstress and her two dancers as people packed in tight around the floor-level stage at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel.
Banks kicked off her 20-minute set with “1991,” the title song from her EP of the same name. As soon as the “1991” beat dropped, the floor turned into dance pit with fans unapologetically grinding against one another, as if to say, “I can’t help it.” Only a few die-hards really knew the lyrics, but that’s more indicative of the difficulty of mimicking Banks’ delivery and flow than of the crowd’s love for her music.
“Thank you to SPIN magazine,” she cooed once the song ended, revealing a personality significantly less aggressive than her raps suggest. “Thank you for making me your last physical cover.”
It’s this duality of saccharine and audacity that makes Azealia Banks so endearing. She’s not afraid to take risks, be it through brash, unrepentant lyrics or through sartorial choices. And if you’ve seen the outfits Banks donned during her coast to coast Mermaid Ball shows, then her outfit last night was the least provocative. Banks rocked a black pointy-tipped cut-out romper and a dark purple lip to match her gorgeous long, wavy tresses. Her bold style choices have paid off as she’s become a darling in the fashion world. In January, Azealia was invited to perform at Karl Lagerfeld’s house in Paris while also being named the new face of Alexander Wang’s latest campaign.
“Bambi” served as the soundtrack for designer Mugler’s Paris show within the same month. Azealia took “Bambi” off the runway and into last night’s intimate setting. It led into a quintessential song of hers, “Liquorice.” Simultaneously grungy and sweet, she shows her range as both a rapper and a vocalist over the slap-fast beat. It didn’t take long before one fan was compelled to shout out, “Ooh-wee!”
Ramping up the vibe, Banks pulled out “Esta Noche” which lays atop a chopped sample of Montell Jordan‘s “Let’s Get It On Tonight.” The “Fantasea” song started sexy and slow, but when the beat switched a third of the way through for a manic chorus, knees dropped. Judging from the chatter, it seemed like a first listen for most but also an instant favorite.
“There we go,” laughed Banks, noting the shift. And as if waiting for this cue, she went into her last track of the night.
“I wrote this for you!” she said about “212” to an audience, that judging from the shrieks and bellows, contributed significantly to the video’s 30,000,000 and plus views. They frenetically tried to catch the tail bits of each verse and imitated the hand-on-hip thrust she does behind Lunice. (How could you not?) But when Banks got to the chorus, there wasn’t a person who didn’t shout back at the song’s stand-out line, “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.”