The Trouble with Azealia — Artistic Licence column, September 1st 2012

Ah, Azealia, you are breaking our hearts. When the news emerged on Twitter late last Thursday night that rising 212 star Azealia Banks had pulled out of her headline slot at Electric Picnic this weekend due to “exhaustion”, fans were annoyed, but also weary.

We’ve been here before, you see. These days, Banks, 21, seems to cancel as many shows as she plays — and when she came to Dublin last February to play a sardines-packed gig in Whelan’s, she refused to give interviews and performed for less than an hour. Her feverishly anticipated new album has been put back until next year, and, while Azealia is still giving good face on Twitter and Facebook (that’s speaking quite literally, her pages are adorned with flashy images from her designer shoots for fashion mags), she’s not bringing the swagger her fans would expect.

But Banks is far from alone on the gig cancellation front. Nicki Minaj also cancelled her Dublin date at the Olympia recently, citing problems with her vocal cords. And Adele – currently the biggest name in music — has been stricken with vocal cord-related gremlins over the past while – the effect, vocal coaches say, of performing too much without having the correct vocal training. Florence Welch, meanwhile, of Florence + The Machine has averred that she is taking the whole of the next year off, to give herself time to recuperate.

So, what’s wrong with our female superstars then? Why are they all so wrecked? Why can’t they, as one Tweeter put it, just do a Rihanna, get themselves a vitamin drip and suck it up? How hard can it be to get paid gazillions to jump on stage and sing a few numbers for us?

The answer seems to be: harder than you’d think. Thanks to social networking devices like Twitter, stars blow up in an instant (I’d wager a few of you are reading this article thinking: who is Azealia Banks?). They go from playing Whelan’s to headlining Electric Picnic in a matter of months, and doing it ages before they’re ready. Long gone are the days when stars (think the Beatles) would rattle around in a mini-van playing in toilets for years before reaching the top. And that is a genuine problem. Without the hard graft, they lack the confidence or preparedness that repetition and gradual progress bring. When they hit it big, they don’t know where to turn.

Look at poor old Lana Del Rey, who went from being kooky-eyed and mysterious to out-of-tune and terrified on Saturday Night Live. The excuse for Del Rey was obvious: she just hadn’t spent very much time performing in front of people. So how was she supposed to do it for millions?

Like Fiona Apple, Del Rey is simply more comfortable in studio than on stage. And in a world where even a gig in someone’s front room can be filmed and put up on YouTube, so everyone can examine the pores of your skin, there is no time any more to get ready.

Speaking of videos, scratchy phone-camera footage of Azealia Banks at Whelan’s is available on YouTube. Performing the gloriously filthy 212. Banks is dancing around, barely even singing, because the pogo-ing audience are doing most of the work for her. She looks excited beyond belief, but beyond that excitement is a dawning incredulity that she has come from Harlem but in Dublin people know her music.

She is just 21 years old, and the future — to borrow an ominous line from that wise man Tom Petty — is wide open.

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