Banks, The Mercurial Relationship with the Self & Learning to”Take Up Space”

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In Banks’ video for the song “F**k with Myself“, she menaces her own doppelganger mannequin with the uncomfortable intimacy of one of those in-your-face, teasing film villains: one minute caressing and nurturing, the next hostile, mocking, eventually setting it on fire. This volatile behavior that we see so often teased out in two strictly separate entities on film appears here in maybe the most authentic, true-to-real-life version: the mercurial, raging terrain of the relationship with the self.

The double, sometimes contradictory meanings are intentional on Banks’ behalf: “I have so much darkness inside me – I’ve struggled with depression and then I have a lot of positivity and light inside me.”(*) “It could be like, ‘I mess with myself more than anybody else.’ It could be, ‘I f*ck with myself,’ kind of like, ‘I’m feeling myself.’“(*)

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The fascinating duality is portrayed with darkness in the video but lyrically, the song points towards ultimately being about self-mastery and self-assertion. The burning mannequin represents a shed skin or stage of life that includes people she no longer considers necessary. Furthermore, “this song is about being your own best friend, your own mother and your own lover.”(*)  In fact, she creates certain songs as reminders to herself, portents of affirmation to revisit, personas to fall into: “Sometimes the best gift to myself is to write songs that I wish somebody would tell me. It’s almost like if you could make up the most maternal, nurturing being, your own goddess. I needed to say those things in order to believe them even more.” (*)

“I used to care what you think about me….”

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Throughout the album The Altar, she continues to push these themes: “Before I was hiding a little bit and I didn’t want to take up too much space, but this album I want to take up space.”(*) She speaks regularly on the struggles of women asserting what they want in the music industry. “There’s this stigma and this fear. I’ve experienced it in business as a woman; people call you emotional when you’re just saying what you want. It’s actually not emotional, it’s just factual. And I think people kind of put this projection onto women like they’re being hysterical, bitchy or like a diva when they’re just working and being strong. I think it’s not only important to be connected to your emotions, but also to not feel like you’re being emotional when you’re not. [Learning] that has actually really helped me to feel empowered.”(*)

“I felt so scared of people thinking I was a bitch just for saying what I wanted on my video, my picture, my song. When you’re on a video shoot with 50 people there, you have to somehow, in a non-emotional way, say what you want and not feel guilty for it.”

“This society is set up to breed self hate for women and it’s disgusting. It’s designed to rip power away from women and how they feel about themselves and I don’t even mean in terms of just looks, I mean in terms of knowing you can do anything you want to do just as well as a man and it doesn’t matter what gender you are.” (*)

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“This society is set up to breed self hate for women and it’s disgusting.”

Despite the major success of her first album, it’s been a process learning to let go of people’s potential judgments as she works toward what she wants for her music, image, and videos. She highlights the contradiction of pursuing the emotive art of music while being expected to create it in rigidly emotionless methods and environments that don’t foster creativity: “I felt so scared of people thinking I was like a bitch just for saying what I wanted on my video or in my picture or on my song. Making music is an emotional thing. And when you’re on a video shoot with 50 people there, you have to somehow, in a non-emotional way, say what you want and not feel guilty for it. And that takes growing up and that takes … not caring how people perceive you as much.” (*)

People have gone as far as to suggest she is too invested in the care she expends on her work. “I am told I am wrong a lot; I’m told I care too much. But it’s like, ‘What is caring too much?’ This is my art, this is my face, this is my heart, this is my skin, this is my blood, this is everything. Who are you to tell me that I care too much about anything that has to do with my art?” (*)

“I am told I am wrong a lot; I’m told I care too much. But it’s like, ‘What is caring too much?’ This is my art, this is my face.”

Right before the video climaxes with the burning mannequin, Banks waves her tongue by the lit match. Given the fact that she posted this iconic image of Fiona Apple doing the same thing on her instagram, one might think she was paying homage to one of her favorites: “When I first started writing, she was really an inspiration to me because she was fearless with everything that she did. She was unapologetic, and she got everything out in her songs. That was just so encouraging to me, and it made me feel like I could do it too.” (*)

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“Your words would burn me in the third degree
Now baby look what it’s come to
Cause my love is the one
My love is the one”

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One thought on “Banks, The Mercurial Relationship with the Self & Learning to”Take Up Space”

  1. Cassie says:

    Nel, as always, your analysis is such a joy to read! I feel like I, and many others, have also been going through our own journeys of leaving the confides of “being acceptable” to whatever group, thing, or idea, (or sometimes even an assumed version of ourselves, the “correct” one or who we should be; an idealized self) in favor of being messy, flexible, and fluid; or to be the so-called “too much.” A Seat at the Table has got me thinking about this a lot: ideas of belonging and space. I think I’m moving away from “space” because to say “to take up more space” still assumes that you don’t own the space you’re taking up. [/incomplete thoughts]

    Liked by 1 person

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