“I think every woman is a Goddess,” declared BANKS in her dulcet voice, informing the New York crowd at Terminal 5. Her speaking voice may be soft and lofty, but it is sure; she commands the room without having to ask for attention. From the second she strutted on stage with that clomping runway gait, dressed in sensual business attire and her cape-blazer (like a true heroine), the crowd was all hers. The way she undulated, rolled her wrists, whipped her hands, and grasped her empty fists had us all spellbound; her every motion full of emotion-laden, aggressive poise.
“Before I Ever Met You” – a song about lovers who make each other worse – transitioned into “Alibi”, where BANKS seeks avowal that she’s not the monster “he” makes her out to be. She brought us down into her psyche with “This Is What It Feels Like”. Backlit by the red stage lights, she took us to the dark places where her beautiful mind hides.
Through song, BANKS is able to turn experiences and people that have broken her down into understated anthems of power. The crowd was right beside her; you could hear in their voices as they sang along that they’d gone through something similar and found asylum in releasing the negative feelings. The first set peaked with the pairing of “Brain” and “Goddess”. An iconic image that will remind me forevermore of BANKS was during “Goddess” when she was strutting at the brink of the stage, holding her hand straight up in the air and flipping off the powers-that-be to embody her lyric, “Fuckin with a Goddess and you get a little colder”.
After slowing down and sweetening the set with “Fuck ‘Em Only We Know”, BANKS allowed her most vulnerable side to come through in an acoustic set. She confided in the crowd that the song she was about to play was the first song she’d ever written. She wasn’t able to listen to it for months afterwards because it hurt her heart (as she said) too much. She then donned her blazer-cape as a comfort so she could play the song: “Someone New”. Her songwriting has evolved from that first song, but you could hear the fear she’d had when she’d asked her lover to wait for her, “There is such a thing of loving someone so much that you need to give/ them time to let them breathe”. And he left anyways.
She surprised us next with a cover of “Nana”, demonstrating the power of reappropriating songs written from the male perspective. I’d been grappling with an idea throughout the show that became clear in her next set of songs: “Change”, “And I Drove You Crazy”, and “Drowning”. I’d been thinking of how ironically uplifiting these songs about maltreatment, mistrust, and misrepresentation were. How was she able to make us stronger through her vulnerability?
Batliwala, a theorist on feminist leadership, hypothesizes about the inner power called the power under. In brief, it helps us understand how “people who have experienced abuse, oppression and trauma” assert themselves as leaders (Batliwala 39). This “politics of powerlessness” that can come from experiencing power under can make these people either destructive leaders or transformative leaders – those who pave the way for social change and overcoming injustices. With her “heart made of armor”, BANKS is able to turn the powerlessness she felt under men, the likes of which she describes in “Change” (who promise to change but never do) and “Drowning” (who under-appreciate and use you), into an address to all of us who’ve been treated that way. We overcome these oppressions and discriminations together.
She finished the complete first set with “Waiting Game” and, of course, “Begging for Thread”, where she’s just fed up with trying to hide her dark side: “My words can come out as a pistol/ And I’m not good at aiming/ But I can aim it at you”. Essentially, don’t pretend you don’t see her power and don’t understand her strength.
Her encore was “Stick”, which really allows her sexuality to shine in a more lyrically forward way. “Tell me I got you baby/ I wanna know how you taste”. “Cause honestly I can make you feel better any day”. I hope to see her take on more of this confidence and prowess in future albums.
I left BANKS’ show walking a little taller. Because if the things that were supposed to make me feel powerless no longer touch me, then I have nothing to hold me down. Because I’m a goddess, too, and so is every other woman out there. And we don’t need men to tell us. We need them to see it. Because fuck it, we already know we’re goddesses.