Ever since she uploaded the monochrome, low-budget music video for her viral hit, “212”, last fall, Azealia Banks has seemingly been everywhere and done everything. As her career has taken off like a rocket over the past several months, the 20-year-old Harlem native has performed at Karl Lagerfeld’s house, toured overseas, been called "the future of music" by Kanye West, picked fights with other rappers, worked with renowned high-end fashion impresario Nicola Formechetti, landed in third place on BBC’s prestigious “Sound of 2012” list, dropped another viral music video for her second single, and the list goes on. All in all, it’s safe to say that Banks has arrived. But until last weekend, one place the talented rapper and singer hadn’t properly touched down was Los Angeles. For a new artist with the amount of buzz that she has, it was hard to believe she had never performed a show in one of the biggest music cities on the map. Given the special occasion, a celebration was called for. And a party is just what Banks brought to The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood last Saturday night.
For her second ever ‘Mermaid Ball’—the first was in New York City on June 4—Banks pulled out all of the quirky stops that make her uniquely her. That included a lot of balloons and costumes. From seahorse and octopus balloons to custom corral-shaped ones, to silver ones hanging above the stage spelling out the name of her new mixtape, Fantasea, to the mass of multi-colored traditional ones held in a net above everyone’s heads, to the large portion of the crowd that dressed up in mermaid garb with hopes of winning the $1,000 costume contest, it felt more like a mermaid-themed prom or costume party than a concert. And that’s what made it special. All of that, combined with the scantily clad go-go dancers putting on their side show in alcoves above the crowd on both sides of the room; the revealing, metallic get-up Banks herself was wearing to match her red hair; and her two stage dancers—one of which, a man, was donned in a blinding neon outfit—made for an eccentric night of oceanic proportion.
Before Ariel—I mean Azealia—took the stage for the sea of people in attendance, she let some of her favorite buzzed-about up-and-comers warm up the water. With six opening acts that started around 7 p.m., the night began earlier than most people wanted to arrive. Amongst the diverse batch of openers, two stood out with superior presence. The first was the rapping, dancing, energetic crusader from Baltimore, Rye Rye, who not only had two blindfolded dancers accompanying her, but threw the crowd into a frenzy when she brought out Swedish pop legend Robyn for their popular duet, “Never Will Be Mine.” The other was Coldplay’s tour buddy, young British indie-goth-pop starlet Charli XCX, who has been garnering attention online from some of the most critical of music websites and will be embarking on her own string of U.S. shows in the coming months.
Despite an action-packed few hours, the show truly began when Banks hit the stage. In fact, a great deal of people began pouring into The Fonda right after 11 p.m. just to see the 21-year-old Harlemite who was set to go on around 11:45. When she pranced on stage, her punctuality wasn’t the only thing that pleased the crowd. The assortment of men, women, boys, girls and ambiguous costume wearers in front of her knew every word. That goes for popular songs off of her 1991 EP such as “Liquorice” and “Van Vogue,” as well as for brand new tracks that had been first heard only three days prior when Fantasea became available online. Although everyone put in a good effort, it isn’t easy to keep up with Banks’ lip speed. She may talk a lot on Twitter, but there’s no doubt that she backs up her sass with skill. For a girl who declared last month that she “will not be associating with the ‘rap game’” any longer, she sure can rap. And on Saturday she did so especially well through fast-paced, tongue-twisting songs like “Jumanji” and “Runnin’”.
But despite those fan favorites and a plethora of other well-received songs Banks has released since the limelight’s been on her, “212” is still the one. It’s the song with 24 million views on YouTube, it’s the song she performed at Mr. Lagerfeld’s house, it’s the song that presumably made Mr. West a fan, it’s the song that helped secure her spot on BBC’s “Sound of 2012” list, and it’s the song that shuts the house down at every one of her concerts. Sonically, “212” is huge, so it’s only right that Banks performed it for the grand finale of the ‘Mermaid Ball’ on Saturday night. Just when the crowd was caught in the moment, jumping up and down while screaming “212’s” crude, signature catchphrase—“I guess that cunt gettin’ eatin’”—it all came pouring down. Balloons and confetti, that is. In cinematic fashion, hundreds of multi-colored balloons were unleashed from their holding net above and thousands of pieces of confetti fluttered down and around the room, covering every inch of peripheral vision and giving the venue the appearance of a birthday festive snow globe.
People walked out of The Fonda at 12:45 a.m. with confetti in their hair, pieces of their costumes falling off and iPhones in hand, ready to give their Instagram followers a play-by-play of the eventful night in chronological order—the 2012 scrapbooking. Aside from the awkward looks that many probably got for their painted skin, wigs and skimpy tops wherever they went to eat a late night meal after that, life went on as normal once the venue let out onto Hollywood Blvd. But for a second there, Banks had us all fooled. She made it seem like the sold-out 1300-person performance hall was some sort of alternate, aquatic world where blue, purple, pink, green and silver are the primary colors, drum and bass beats are the only in existence and at any moment, Mother Nature might call for a blizzard of party supplies to burst from the sky. Deception accepted, though. After all, shouldn’t concerts be an escape from reality?
Photography: hustleGRL for HYPETRAK