Hip-hop remains one of the last bastions of bald-faced homophobia. Rappers follow any remotely gay-sounding comment with "no homo," and historically, one of the devastating battle disses is questioning your rival's heterosexuality.
But there have been hints of change. Earlier this year, an Iggy Azalea concert attracted more openly gay men than we'd ever seen at a hip-hop show. A couple weeks ago, Odd Future member Frank Ocean poked his toe out of the closet with the announcement that his first love was a man. And last night, Harlem rapper Azealia Banks' first headlining show in L.A. was a "Mermaid Ball," a glitter-smeared, drag-encouraged event that seemed modeled after New York's gay-friendly early '90s club scene.
Mylar balloons in the shape of seahorses and spelling out the name of Banks' just-released mixtape, Fantasea, bobbed throughout the Fonda. Girls in seashell bras and guys wrapped in fishnet posed for iPhone photos between grinding. The climax of the night wasn't Banks' performance as much as a Vogueing-slash-twerking dance-off to determine the winner of the $1,000 prize for best mermaid-inspired costume.
Warmly embracing hip-hop's largely ignored homosexual demographic wasn't the only savvy move on Banks' part. Billing a show as a party means no one gripes about short sets. Although Banks headlined, her stage time was no longer than Maluca or CharliXCX's; she walked onstage at 11:40 and wrapped by 12:16. Fine for a beginner showcase, but Banks now has plenty of material to fill a longer set. Her show last night lasted about the same time as the one we reviewed at Coachella three months ago -- she should be working on increasing her stamina to perform longer than a half hour.
Our other complaints from that show still stand. Given that she had the crowd in her clutches (when she walked out in a mesh bodysuit with metallic fuchsia cutouts and nothing but a zipper down the back and launched into "Fuck Up the Fun," the place lost its mind), we expected her to interact more. She's notoriously ballsy on Twitter, and if any audience would have been receptive to a little bitchiness, it was this one. Yet she stuck to generic shout outs -- "How you feelin', L.A.?!" -- and song introductions.