2012 was the year that Azealia Banks arrived on the scene in a major way. Like we told you in her Crushable 25 listing, she’s been shaking so many butts, flipping so much green hair, and spewing such clever rhymes that if you haven’t heard of her yet, you most definitely will. (From people other than me, I mean.) And while I’m reluctant to treat sexuality as the go-to topic of conversation with regards to any conventionally attractive female artist, I think her particular negotiation of it is interesting, precisely because it’s not the go-to topic of conversation surrounding her.
In a year in which Frank Ocean made headlines for disclosing his romantic relationship with another guy, Azealia Banks’ bisexuality was something she referenced casually in her songs but didn’t have much interest in discussing with interviewers. (She has said she considers the question boring.) This is, of course, an example of sexism at work: in male-dominated hiphop culture and mainstream culture as well, a girl hooking up with another girl is considered “hot” while a guy hooking up with another guy (especially without behaving outwardly like a gay stereotype) is considered weird and threatening. It’s not that groundbreaking for an attractive female performer to publicly reference getting down with other women. Just ask Katy Perry.
That said, I think Ms. Banks is different because her relations with women are not something she does primarily to titillate men. Sure, she’s making a conscious choice to talk about sex, but she’s not doing it just so she can talk about it. She’s doing it because it feels good. And unlike Perry, Banks follows through. She’s not just another drunk sorority girl annoying actual queer girls by trying to “experiment” with kissing them. She can be as coy as she likes by putting “I guess” in front of it, but you can bet that cunt’s getting eaten. She is putting her mouth where her mouth is.
While it’s true that she’s not the first female pop star to successfully convince us she’s licked a vagina, I would argue that there’s something to be said for resisting bisexual erasure. But the thing I find most amazing about her is that she can be sexual in a public way without it completely taking over the conversation about her. I find it especially awesome that she can do that as an African American woman, because society tends to view black women as automatically more sexualized than white women. Her sexuality is a part of who she is, and she’s able to play around with it in her image, but it’s far from the whole story. She might pose for some sexy pictures, but the profiles that go along with them focus more on her skills as a rapper, singer, and self-styler than her status as a sex object. Just compare Esquire‘s ridiculous article on Rihanna: Sexy Sex Person with fellow lad mag GQ’s article on Azealia Banks: Talented Musician Person.
And just look at the pictures that get taken of her. She’s posed for just as many pictures like this:
As pictures like this (which I think reads as a little tongue-in-cheek, but is nonetheless pretty sexual):
She also likes to wear outfits that are revealing, but less in a male gaze way, and more in an artsy, fashion-y, Lady Gaga way:
Is this encouraging phenomenon the result of intense savvy on Azealia Banks’ part, or are we simply progressing towards a slightly less idiotic society? I’d say a little of column A, and a little of B. But in any case, it’s certainly a step forward for the way we talk about female artists. Maybe someday, all hot women will get treated like people in their magazine profiles. Even Rihanna.
PS: I just did SEO for this post, and hey, guess what? The majority of the people Googling Azealia Banks are trying to find and/or steal her music and lyrics, not masturbate to scantily clad pictures of her. Good job, internet!