WORDS AND PICTURES BY NATASHA CUCULLO
TEXT/IMAGESS: NATASHA CUCULLO ('15) STAFF WRITER
This past July, I was lucky enough to attend Roskilde Festival in Denmark, one of the biggest music festivals in Northern Europe. While studying abroad and earning university credits (tx, wes), what drew my fellow classmates and me to the course was the opportunity to attend a music festival and participate in a distinctly Danish tradition. Though we were all eager to see the big names—Outkast, The Rolling Stones, Arctic Monkeys, the list goes on—what became some of our greatest memories and most remarkable concerts were the unknowns, one of which was BANKS, listed at the bottom of the flyer.
BANKS, a California native, began writing music to get her through her parent’s divorce, though was reluctant to release her original songs until fairly recently (Interview Magazine). Since then, she has opened for The Weeknd, attended countless music festivals, and is currently on tour for her album, Goddess. Though difficult to pinpoint the genre she fits into, Banks is a combination of Lana Del Ray and Fiona Apple, dubstep and electronic influences, sultry R&B, and dark pop (is that even be a thing? Whatevz, Banks does it) that creates a new brand of music, all her own.
Banks performed at the Apollo Stage at Roskilde, on the official start day of the festival. While we eagerly anticipated her arrival and the fog began to descend on the small “pumpkin” stage, the lights went out. From red, to blue, to purple, to white, and back to black, the stage arose in colors and BANKS walked slowly to the front. The staging and her ensemble—moody lighting and garbed in head-to-toe black—made her mysterious, but in a way that appealed to your incomprehensible 15-year-old angst (that’s been tucked away for a good five years), which is what also made her accessible.
In this setting, she seemed timid, as though this audience and this stage was something she had never experienced before. She looked anxious, nervous, and slightly upset, but after realizing how her music propelled people to sing and dance along, even if they hardly knew the words, she began smiling. Her voice was strong, unique, and had a tone that sounded so instrumental that, at times, I was unaware if she was singing or if the dissonant riffs were part of the background. The off-kilter melodies and mixture of highs and lows made her emotions raw and her performance personified each feeling. While she didn’t hit all of the notes and a few of the songs were pitchy, her performance and unrefined star image made this one of the best concerts I have ever attended. Halfway through the set, she was brought to tears; the loneliness she felt while being on tour was stamped out by the joy she felt for being recognized and appreciated by these strangers in front of her. I felt as if I was a part of her journey to success and that this moment was crucial in her development as a performer. She kindly thanked us for supporting her and, if we weren’t already on our feet, the last few songs would have shaken us from our seats.
Fast-forward a mere two months to September, when I drove to Boston’s Paradise Rock Club on a Monday night to see BANKS perform again; this time, on her Goddess tour. The same backdrop, but a more intimate setting, Banks was set to perform at 7pm. Standing a mere 15 feet from the stage, my friend and I refused to give up our spots, even though the opening came on at 8:45pm and just when we thought our legs were going to giving out (sursly, I couldn’t move my feet once we left the venue), Banks sauntered on stage at 9:45pm.
Even though we were slightly pissed for standing for so long, the wait was well worth it; the wallflower that once was had disappeared and in her place arose a literal goddess. Embodying everything that the word holds, Banks and her rising popularity helped the artist realize the outward confidence that was lacking at Roskilde; gliding onto stage, she seemed comfortable, proud, and in her element. Gone were the days of wavering notes and shifting eyes; hitting every note, every move, and every drop, her sultry persona symbolized her newfound coolness and self-assuredness. Yet, once again, she was taken aback by the audience’s knowledge and enthusiasm for her music and cried during one of the songs—she even sang a newly recorded track that had never before been performed in concert, and though she relayed this through a slightly affected speech (sounding Ariana Grande-esque), I felt, again, that I was part of something special.
However, looking back, these tiny, seemingly insignificant non-verbal and verbal cues also made her seem more unattainable in a way that contrasted to her performance at Roskilde. Her mystery no longer lay in the fact that I could relate to her, but that I wanted to be her. Where was her blazer from? How can she pull of that mesh shirt while still making it look cla$$y? How in the hell can she hit all of those notes and why the damn is her range so incredibly big? Also—da fuq—if I danced like she did I would look like I was trying to shimmy out of quicksand. I asked myself these questions during and long after the show (I’m still trying to find a blazer just like Banks’…I’ll let you know if/where I find one).
Taking a step back from the music, I am compelled to think about how her actions in Boston differed from those at Roskilde. What sticks with me the most is how the power of a name, and thus, the power of performativity can transform the demeanor of an artist into a living embodiment of said name (in this case, a goddess). Today, while I love Banks’ music even more as a result of going to this concert, I can see how the production and planning that goes on behind the scenes creates an image that expresses more aspirational qualities than relatable ones. Banks became a “goddess” after becoming fully aware of the power she had over her audience and has embodied that concept to continue to move up in the music industry. While this is what all artists do, and although this may sound exploitative, these are the facets of an entertainment industry that creates brands around people. Nevertheless, her music still appeals to my emotions, and each time I listen to her moody beats, I no longer envision myself as a wallflower breaking out of my shell, but instead, as a goddess (or something to that extent). And maybe, just maybe, that’s the point of creating aspirational icons.