Fans of troubled rapper Azealia Banks might not agree with everything she says – and she's been saying a lot recently about Ireland and Irish women in particular. But they all agree on one thing: Girl's got talent. That's why they've showed up for her gig at the Academy in Dublin on Tuesday night, looking youthful, edgy and brimming with enthusiasm for what lies ahead.
“I can’t wait to see her, I love her music so much,” says Felipe Ribeiro (25), from Brazil. “She is a d**khead though,” he admits, proceeding to tell me about a gig she cancelled in his country.
On Monday the New York rapper and controversy magnet felt the nation's wrath after calling Aer Lingus staff and Irish women "f**king ugly" in a sequence of expletive-filled Instagram videos.
Several hours after leaving a flight bound for Dublin from London following an incident on board, and now travelling by car and ferry, Banks showed little remorse for the offence she'd caused. "I've had enough of y'all oompa-loompa looking, spray-tanned, crazy-looking b****es tonight," she raged, not-uncharacteristically. "The girls have scurvy, they're vitamin deficient, need some calcium tablets."
“Obviously it was problematic,” says one young female fan at Banks’s sold-out show at The Academy. “And she is problematic. You’re not going to Azealia Banks because she’s PC, so don’t try to pretend that she is.”
The young woman, who is in her early twenties, is with a friend. They are holding a rather amusing sign that says “Ugly Ass Aer Lingus Bitches”. Security don’t want to let them in, but after assuring them they are fans and that Banks will like it, they’re waved inside.
Inside, the 800-capacity venue is starting to fill up with young fans of rap, counter-culture and, of course, Azealia Banks. They are chatting excitedly, dancing and taking selfies. It seems unlikely that the online threats she’s received of potatoes being thrown at her are going to play out in this pro-Azealia environment.
The gig is a 16+ event, meaning alcohol can’t be served downstairs, and it’s not long before the wristbands that allow access to the upstairs bars run out. “It’s weird that you can’t get a drink,” complains Laura Matthews, who is at the bar downstairs. “I don’t have my kids tonight, I’m raging!” adds a friend.
A chant rises up from the irreverent and energetic crowd – “F**k Aer Lingus”– while they wait for Banks to arrive during a lengthy DJ set. It is, undeniably, quite funny.
Why are you here? I asked Bryan Hogan, a scientist who at 29 says he feels “too old to be here”. “Cause she’s got the bops,” he shrugs. His friend Anne clarifies further: “It kinda negates everything else.”
It’s true, Banks does have some serious bops. She also has an incredible singing range, a turbo speed flow and bags of star quality. And she is also quite gorgeous in the flesh. Her charismatic presence is, too, undeniable. But one could argue that perhaps they’d all be better known bops if she didn’t pick fights with fellow artists, industry figures and national airlines so often.
For the most part, the 27-year-old lets the music do the talking. The crowd are in the palm of her hand as she flows like a demon and sings like a diva. She’s a fantastic performer, and she knows it.
She’s almost a full hour into her super confident set before she mentions anything at all about the recent uproar. “I want to dedicate this to all the beautiful Irish women that are here,” she says. The crowd go wild. They’re in on the joke.
If you’d never heard of Banks before her Dublin gig, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no Hyde to her Jekyll. Concerned for her young fans, she stops the show when it seems like something’s amiss. “Is everyone okay in the front? Are you sure? Did someone pass out?” The all-clear is given. She carries on.
Later on, she’s flinging towels, stickers and bars of soaps – a random side project of hers – into the audience. It seems her generous spirit knows no bounds. Unless you’re an Aer Lingus flight attendant, that is.
“Unreal,” says the girl beside me breathlessly. “Isn’t she?”
There's no denying Banks puts in a stellar performance, and her fans don't go home disappointed. But the same unshakeable ego and unabashed obnoxiousness that made her hit 212 such a thrill ride is also undoubtedly her greatest undoing. "I'm a rude b**ch nigga, what are you made up of?" she asks, while rapping the lyrics to her best-known song.
Well, it’s not like she didn’t warn us.