Rising R&B star transcends hype through substance

Ephraim Lee/Staff

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The last time the Internet was buzzing about the next Fiona Apple, the world was “rewarded” with Lana Del Rey, a stage persona that should be considered the vocal equivalent of falling asleep during sex. The only thing more laughable than her album are her live performances, as any “SNL” viewer will remember (unfortunately). Hype outpaced substance, and Lana remains in the scope of pop culture, wailing unseductively, reminiscent of a poorly faked orgasm.

Now, fast forward to 2013. Another singer, by the name of BANKS, has been garnering that kind of attention. She’s mentioned in virtually every list of artists to watch in 2014, other artists are psyched about her (including The xx, the Neighbourhood and Katy Perry) and her voice was the centerpiece of a recent Victoria’s Secret campaign. She even recently stopped by Berkeley to open for the Weeknd. When she announced her first headlining tour with stops in her hometown, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, both shows sold out — the LA one in a matter of minutes.

Her San Francisco show was at the Rickshaw Stop, generally an intimate venue — smaller shows with smaller crowds. But at this particular show, the line wrapped around the corner, and the house was packed. Ticket scalpers walked around offering the tickets at four or five times the face value, and kids wearing an attire purchased entirely at Urban Outfitters were running, not walking, to buy them. It was time to see whether this was the real deal or another case of “fake it ‘til you make it.”

In an interview with Vogue, BANKS was quoted as saying, “I make things that come from the heaviest part of me. I want my music to affect people’s hearts and minds — and their bodies. R&B has that — it forces you to move and feel.”  The tracks she has released certainly follow that mindset, and after witnessing her show at the Rickshaw Stop, she can be considered the real thing.

Considering there isn’t a massive discography for her yet, BANKS unsurprisingly sang every track from her EP, “London,” as well as some of her other hits, such as “Before I Ever Met You,” with two surprising additions of covers of “Ex-Factor” by the inimitable Ms. Lauryn Hill and “What You Need” by recent touring buddy the Weeknd.

She opened with “This is What It Feels Like” and showed a stage presence Del Rey definitely does not have (in that she seems to realize that there is more than standing room on a stage).  Her dancing was mesmerizing. Her voice was sultry, and it served as an appropriate amuse-bouche for what would be a captivating performance.  Even after news of Beyonce’s new album was spreading while waiting in line, BANKS was able to put on a show that left no doubts that she is set to become a pop goddess.

In between songs, BANKS spoke to the audience and showed a kind of humility people would not expect had they only watched her performance, which suggested an other-worldly confidence. She took on a tall task in covering one of R&B’s legends, Lauryn Hill, but she did the song justice while putting her own brand of sound on it. Unfortunately, when she was called out for an encore, her cover of “What You Need” left a lot to be desired, but it was forgivable considering the rest of the night.

Considering the blend of sex appeal and vulnerability in her music and in her presence, the Fiona Apple comparisons seem to make a lot of sense. Fortunately for the music world, this time around, there seems to be just as much substance as there is hype.

Ephraim Lee is the assistant arts editor. Contact him at [email protected].