Bank on it: smart money on 2012’s next big thing goes to Azealia

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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

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