Iggy Azalea took a check from Samsung at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday night. Lording over the makeshift Samsung Milk Music Lounge—it was previously a post office—a crowd of roughly 200 radio hip-hop enthusiasts with on-brand phones enjoyed Tito’s vodka, Miller Lite, East Side King food truck munchies, and the last 45 minutes of Azalea’s career as a headlining commodity.
For the uninitiated, SXSW is the music business’s annual rundown of new makes and models. Young bands are there to be seen, and trending bands are there to score networking partners. For Azalea, a controversial Australian rapper the Web has mercilessly attacked for the past 10 months, it was a chance to leave behind something that won’t decompose. Recorded with Red digital cameras, Azalea’s set will be repackaged and eventually beamed as exclusive content to users of Samsung’s Milk streaming music service. It’s a strong scheme jettisoned into action by a futuristic performance space and ample social lubricant poured to ensure a game audience.
Azalea was dressed in black shorts, a gold jacket, and more backup dancers than an NBA team. An arena-grade fog machine doused onlookers as confetti made its way into pockets. When she quickly burned off her obligatory closer—last year’s song of the summer, “Fancy”—even her most dedicated apologists couldn’t be bothered to stop looking at their phones.
A glaringly imminent one-hit wonder will play his or her hit song twice in one show. (The most recent example I witnessed was in 2013 watching Colorado paperboys the Lumineers busk their fading “Ho Hey” twice at Washington, D.C.’s DAR Constitution Hall.) Azalea has littered Clear Channel radio with strong pop hits (“Black Widow,” “Beg For It,” “Work”) and is fundamentally not a one-hit wonder, which makes her set all the more confusing. After all, last year’s The New Classic was the second-most streamed album on Spotify.
But Austin was the last stop on this breakneck-pace cycle because the Web—from Boho thinkpieces to Black Twitter—has had its Azalea conversation. And from the Salon crowd to dart-tossing randos like ESPN’s Robert Flores to Snoop Dogg and hacker cliques, the prevailing sentiment is that Azalea is a contrived lab experiment who teaches southern slang to suburban children in middle school by way of being a white person from foreign soil.
The nonstop bile is apparently starting to take its toll. Following rumored mental breakdowns and rumblings of low ticket sales echoed to me Wednesday by a reliable-but-second-hand source, Azalea cancelled a headlining spring North American tour this month. Last week, Azalea told Los Angeles’ 97.1 KAMP FM that the reason for the production shuffle was “because I am a psychopath.” She clarified: “It’s my first arena tour and it’s a big undertaking, and I’m doing a lot of the creative direction, which I do for everything. It’s tough when it’s your first time working on an arena situation.”
Azalea took a break from Twitter in February and management issued a statement saying it’d take the lead on her Instagram presence. I don’t blame Azalea—since parachuting onto the pop charts she hasn’t been processed as a human being but as a lightning-rod symbol for sexism, racism, and privilege.
To be clear, however taxing for Azalea, these have been important conversations and key market irregularities to pick at. Writing for the Daily Dot, Derrick Clifton lambasted Azalea for her appropriated accent:
Iggy Azalea’s natural speaking voice, for example, is the rural Australian accent with which she was raised speaking. However, when she steps out of an interview and into a studio (or a stage, for that matter), her voice transforms from the Mullumbimby, Australia tonality to a grungy, Southern female ‘blaccent’ when she’s rapping. While she personally shares her admiration for legendary rap artists such as Tupac, even citing him as the reason why she felt so inspired to enter the industry in the first place, the “blaccent” and Iggy’s claim that Miley stoke twerking from her (and not from black cultures)—along with the industry chatter that she allegedly doesn’t write the rhymes she spits—is a strike against her authenticity and tips her over the line from appreciation into appropriation.
By the fall, Azalea was a traveling spectacle on a precisely knit festival circuit. I caught her at Austin City Limits in October. It’s one littered with NPR dads and college students. Azalea’s set was booked during the sunlight and before her stock took off.
This combination made for a madhouse performance, but it was one overwhelmingly attended by post-adolescent teens who all seemed to pop out of thin air. They’re a volatile faction with evolving tastes, where what’s cool changes between seventh and eighth grade. I can’t help but to think that most parents are happy to pop for an Azalea concert, but a block of follow-up, $100 tickets in the same school year has to be too much. That’s purely speculative and—save for reports of lackluster ticket sales—just about impossible to quantify. Social media bile, however, is all too easy to chart.
On Grammy night, when Azalea was up for Best Rap Album, Best New Artist, and Record of the Year in a perpetually behind-the-times ceremony wherein winners are voted on by predominantly white and grey vets, the black voices of Twitter were not interested in taking this setup lying down. Artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and even Will Smith have made the Grammys a public rallying point for hip-hop fans and the black community. Smith boycotted them altogether because the ceremony didn’t bother to televise the hip-hop category in 1989.
Black Twitter is expert at collectively shaping the conversation and Azalea’s prominent arrival, only a year removed from white rapper Macklemore’s troubling win in the Rap category, was barely tolerated. When she lost across the board, the celebration was on.
WHEW! Iggy Azalea does NOT win Best Rap Album! Thank goodness a white artist who appropriated black music wasn't rewarded AGAIN! #Eminem
— Robert A George (@RobGeorge) February 9, 2015
The Web fueled Azalea’s ascent and to date, “Fancy’s” music video boasts a staggering 499,141,584 views. But it’s moved into the business of tearing her down. More than the boilerplate harassment that women see routinely every time they refresh a timeline (which is an unacceptable cancer and absolutely a factor in the hate directed at her), Azalea is failing because she isn’t a good rapper.
Her live show is tightly choreographed and staged, yes, but it’s also grown stale. This means that when she goes off-script, the haters will be there to catch her. A bungled acapella rap this week beefed up into a series of merciless vines with the same central point: Azalea is the worst.
Then there’s her boyfriend Nick “Swaggy P” Young, a perfect match for Azalea because like his sweetie, Young is brash, on a high-profile team, and prone to becoming a meme target with every public gaffe.
This would be trivial except that YouTube and Vine are prevailing mediums of teenage social life. If most of the Azalea-related media on both channels is any indication, she is on the wrong end of cool. I checked with my sister-in-law and brother, who are respectively in middle and high school, on this front and their positions are clear. When asked if Azalea is considered cool by their classmates, the following iMessages pinged me back:
“Never really was definitely not now,” said my 16-year-old brother-in-law Jackson.
“Kinda but not really anymore,” said my 13-year-old sister-in-law Grace.
Back to Wednesday night. Opening for Azalea was Oakland, Calif., white rapper G-Eazy. G-Eazy has this leather-jacket-biker, cool-guy persona and molds his craft after Bay Area heroes like E-40. He’s a pop rapper to be sure, but he’s not experimenting with EDM drops and consistently being the least interesting element on his tracks like Azalea. He has a voice and it is rooted in a human identity.
After Azalea, I walked down the street and popped into a separate showcase wherein Houston-schooled genius performance artist Riff Raff held court. For his part, Riff Raff takes the Houston slang of his youth and works within it, tying in an avalanche of neon iconography, deft sports references, and a behemoth ability to camp out in his lane and toss zingers.
At one surreal point last summer, Azalea, G-Eazy, and Riff Raff occupied three of the top five iTunes album charts. During SXSW, all three had to prove it: Riff Raff had a crusade of converted, multi-racial fans there to watch their hero shine, whereas Azalea’s optimally engineered, perpetually rehearsed 45 minutes of stage time are over.
Screengrab via Island/YouTube