Bank on it: smart money on 2012’s next big thing goes to Azealia
IT’S CLUSTER music journalism season – a fevered race to predict the Next Big Thing. What invariably happens is that four or five names have their metaphorical balls tossed in the air by self-appointed media gamekeepers and there follows the indie Habemus Papam moment where one name is flung out with force and everyone else falls dutifully into line. This year that name is Azealia Banks.
Think Glee cast member who suddenly took to doing sweary hip-hop and you’ve got her in one. She first appeared on the radar with her Youtube hit track 212 (a paean to oral sex). She got media traction when she was nominated for Q magazine’s Best Hope for 2012 award two months ago, and this week she finds herself the clear favourite to win the BBC’S Sound of . . . award, which has a good track record of predicting the next year’s big names.
The Sound of 2012 shortlist (which has 15 nominees) is important because it is voted for by 180 UK music media professionals. In years past it has featured such then-unknowns as Jessie J, Florence and the Machine, Adele, Duffy, Plan B and Mika. She’ll know if she’s the overall winner in early January, but before that expect her to be anointed by most media outlets as next year’s big noise.
Banks, from Harlem and only 20, has an interesting musical background. She went to the same New York performing arts school as Al Pacino and Liza Minnelli, and was looking at a career in musical theatre before she started with the expletive-ridden hip-hop rhymes.
An indication of how everyone in the music media has gone all in on Banks as the next big star, the NME recently gave her the title “the coolest person on the planet”, which, considering Banks still has next to nothing to show for herself musically, says more about the editorial hysteria of a magazine that should have been put out of its misery more than a decade ago than it does about Banks.
What might just save her from the media love-in is her background in “real” music. As she puts it herself, “I was always more into musical theatre and Broadway and jazz and voice lessons and going to auditions. But once I tried getting in commercials and all that weird shit I realised that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on stages. So I started fucking around with rap. Rap and musicals are congruent in that they’re both trying to tell a story or convey a message. I still like singing way more than rapping.”
She’s (very wisely) thrown in her lot in with producer Paul Epworth for her debut album, which she’ll get around to recording in the new year. Epworth is best known for his work with Adele and Florence and the Machine, and is one of the best in the business.
You don’t get many record company bidding wars in these straitened times, but there was a feeding frenzy around Banks, and she is due to announce who the successful suitor is any day now.
Banks is an odd choice for all this attention. The last artist who garnered such industry and media consensus was Adele, and she had plenty of pan-generational crossover appeal. Banks isn’t cut from commercial cloth – unless she delivers a hip-hop version of West Side Story.
So already we can safely predict that the big Adele-vs-duffy-style war next year will be between Banks and Lana Del Rey. The boys with the floppy hair and their miserable indie guitar doggerel still won’t be getting a look in (and a good thing that is, too).
And in what could be the most musically descriptive phrase of the year, Banks has promised that her debut album will be full of “house-heavy pop and rap-bitch shit”. You heard it here first.
Banks: like Glee, only swearier