Azealia Banks, the 21 year-old, 212 repping rapper, singer, model and cunt-ruiner is an interesting case. With her dark-brown skin, big lips, wide nose and hood up-bringing, she's the antithesis of the blonde, pale, white, slender, blue-eyed American ideal of a woman. Yet, here she is with over 40 million YouTube views, her own MAC lipstick shade and a gaggle of men, women and in-betweeners longing to get a taste of the "licorice bitch."
When Jeremy Lin started to gain notoriety, people everywhere suddenly began looking at Asian men with a bit more interest. If she keeps it up, Azealia Banks might be poised to do the same for black women and it's about goddamn time.
I first got hot to Banks when she released her debut single and biggest hit to-date, "212," back in 2012. Since then, I've watched as she went from relative an unknown to indie hip-hop royalty. Somewhere along the way, it became obvious that she had an unusual amount of appeal to people outside the usual circles.
The comments sections on her videos are filled with people gushing over her beauty in a way that is generally reserved for people like Marina and the Diamonds or Lana Del Rey. Other than Beyonce and Rihanna, there are very few black women towhompeople of other races highlight as a model of beauty. Those who manage it tend to skate under the lines of acceptability with light skin and “refined” features.
Even though she’s incredibly talented, it’s surprising and exciting that she’s been able to gain such a following. Considering that Banks' features are distinctly African-American and her aesthetic celebrates that without becoming afro-centric, it's a rather large accomplishment.
Black women who look like anything but black women are always in season. But black women who look like black women tend to be neglected and relegated to bit roles in media and society. By luck or force, Azealia Banks seems to be bucking the trend.
Black women, like all other women on the planet, are gorgeous. Sure their features might not be “refined,” but there is a beauty, strength and sensuality there that no other ethnic group can touch. Unfortunately, it’s usually ignored. Although I’m not one to make grand declarations, I think Azealia could change that.
There are many things, including her sophisticated 90’s aesthetic that could be suggested as the catalyst for her success. I could even write it off as a bit of luck. But I think the answer is much more deliberate and subtle.
It’s not an accident that Azealia has stayed away from common tropes of black women in media. She, like fellow artists New Boys, Frank Ocean and Wiz Khalifa, is from a new and growing generation of kids to whom race isn’t much of a consideration. This allows them to break free of established norms and make a name for themselves by being authentic to their experience, even if it isn’t what’s “normal.”
If you look at her image, her race is not a factor; she neither erases it (Halle Berry) nor idolizes it (India.Arie).Her skin is dark, her lips are full and “oh, it’s so supple, the ass so round” but that’s as far as it goes.She’s sending the message that her features do not exist because she’s black, they exist because she’s beautiful and people are listening. It’s a very progressive message, when it comes to beauty, and one that will change the discussion.
Look, sex and life are better when they’re in Technicolor. Just by being around and interacting with people of a different skin tone, you’re opening yourself up to experiences, knowledge and abilities that simply can’t be replicated.
Living in a monochromatic world is boring and I’m thrilled to see yet another person of color breaking through ignorant and pointless social barriers.