First sights upon walking into Azealia Banksâ€™ Mermaid Ball: Gigantic seahorse balloons, choreographed dancers â€œreadingâ€ and â€œvoguingâ€ and gyrating go-go girls wearing nothing but flesh-colored spandex and shimmering pasties. Theatrical fog and flashing blue lights created flickering illusions of movement, and excited concert-goers in bikini tops, seashells and glitter further enhanced the underwater ambiance. Just when I was sure Iâ€™d hit visual overload, the DJ suddenly dropped the beat to Zebra Katzâ€™s â€œIâ€™ma Readâ€ and out rushed Azealia Banks in a see-through jumpsuit with glow-in-the-dark patches covering her female anatomy. As Banks launched into her remixed version, the crowd grew more and more hyped with every flip of her long, magenta hair. However, what really sold me on the experience was when Banksâ€™ â€œgaveâ€ the stage to one of her female dancers for a solo routine. As the nimble young dancer started to incorporate all of the popular â€œball cultureâ€ dance moves such as the â€œcatwalkâ€, the â€œdipâ€ and â€œhands, I began to feel as if Iâ€™d fallen into a time warp and magically transported to one of the East Coast drag balls made popular during the 1960â€™s.
In a time where Hip-Hop is going through a radical period of cultural change â€“ including widening acceptance of homosexuality â€“ I think that Azealia Banksâ€™ incorporation of drag culture is not only innovative, but fascinating as well. For many gay and transgendered men in the â€˜60â€™s, participating in underground drag balls wasnâ€™t just a creative mode of expression, it was a captivating blend of glitz, glamour, fashion, dance and camaraderie. The balls, which were primarily hosted in New York by popular â€œdrag housesâ€ such as â€œLaBeijaâ€ and â€œXtravaganzaâ€, were popularized by songs such as Madonnaâ€™s â€œVogueâ€ and the documentary film, â€œParis is Burning.â€
As Azealia continued to impress the crowd with fan favorites such as â€œBambiâ€ and â€œRunninâ€ â€“ and amazingly never running out of breath even though spitting lightning-fast rhymes â€“ it seemed like the spirit of the old drag balls had descended into modern times. Men danced and grinded on other men and so did the women. When Azealia started to rap â€œ212â€, the crowd erupted into chaos and started chanting â€œI guess that cuntâ€™s gettinâ€™ eatinâ€ (one of Azealiaâ€™s popular yet raunchy lines). Towards the end of the song, Azealiaâ€™s colorful â€œFantaseaâ€ balloon banner â€“ along with hundreds of smaller balloons â€“ dropped into the crowd and the sound of balloons bursting filled the theater. Then, with a pop of wild confetti, Azealia Banks ended her set and thanked her fans for coming out. As all the revelers streamed outside, I overheard someone say they couldnâ€™t wait for next yearâ€™s Mermaid Ball. While Iâ€™m not sure if Azealia has any intentions of hosting another â€œBallâ€, I, like the thrilled fan I overheard, am kind of hoping she does.
Check out Azealia’s “1991” EP: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/1991-ep/id528698856