Started at the Top Now She’s Here: The (Remarkably Quick) Implosion of Iggy Azalea’s Career
How did Iggy Azalea go from the most promising crossover rap star of 2014 to complete laughing stock in under a year?
One year ago, Azalea had the No. 1 single in the country. (This is a feat that the reigning Queen of Rap, Nicki Minaj, has still yet to achieve.) That single, “Fancy,” ultimately became last year’s Song of the Summer, and it was the first of several major successes for Azalea, who, at the time, seemed poised to live up to Forbe’s infamous profile, which controversially claimed that Azelea, a white woman from Australia, was running hip-hop. Cut to today, one year later, and things look very, very different for Azalea.
Our exploration of Azalea’s shockingly expedited fall from the top begins just about one year ago, at the promising peak of her fame. However, we would be remiss not to explain that some important contributing factors pre-date Azalea’s short-lived peak period. A series of racially-insensitive tweets, which she eventually deleted (but the internet never forgets!), continue, to this day, to haunt Azalea. (One particularly enthusiastic Tumblr is at least partially responsible for those tweets’ longevity.) Additionally, Azalea made remarks that many interpreted to be homophobic, and those would eventually resurface and cause her to cancel an important public appearance. And it goes on: an early Azalea song called “D.R.U.G.S.” features the lyric “When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave-master.” In September 2013, Azalea covered Complex and was asked about appropriating a black voice in her music. Her response included the cringeworthy “Or maybe if you’re black, start singing like a country singer and be a white person.” The following month, in an interview with Paper Magazine, Azalea basically claimed to have invented twerking while disparaging Miley Cyrus’ infamous VMAs performance. Unsurprisingly, those remarks did not go over well within the hip-hop community or in the media at large. It would be these kinds of culturally- and racially-insensitive statements (amplified by her own social media efforts) that would begin to taint Azalea’s burgeoning star, leading to several high-profile beefs (the nastiest one being with onetime-friend Azealia Banks) and much derision from the hip-hop community and pop culture commentators. Azalea’s defense of choice in these scenarios was to often cast herself as an “other” — a white woman in the predominately black, male world of hip-hop — which ultimately made her sound even more tone deaf and out of touch.
All of this is to say that, even before “Fancy,” before she became a bonafide star, the groundwork had, in many ways, already been laid for her eventual fall from favor. Essentially, the narrative of Azalea’s crash-and-burn star story is one of a minority voice of dissension and disapproval becoming the majority voice… still of dissension and disapproval. For her part, Azalea has only ever fanned the flames with acts of self-sabotaging spectacle and ill-considered outbursts, making it easier for the people who already didn’t like her to dislike her even more and for people who once considered themselves fans to reevaluate their loyalty.
With that in mind, let’s explore the fascinatingly bizarre past year of Azalea’s many ups and downs. The following timeline is not necessarily exhaustive, though we made a sincere attempt to accurately track Azalea’s transition from the star of summer 2014 to troubled tabloid fixture and industry joke with waning chart influence to full-on, perpetual train wreck, all in under 365 days.
April 21, 2014 - The New Classic, Azalea’s debut album, is released. It peaks at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and is considered a success despite mediocre reviews.
June 7, 2014 – “Fancy” hits No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It holds the top spot for seven weeks, eventually becoming Billboard’s official Song of the Summer.
June 7, 2014 - Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” which features Azalea, hits No. 2 on the Hot 100, a position which it holds for four weeks. With “Fancy” at No. 1 and “Problem” at No. 2, Azalea becomes the first artist since The Beatles to claim the top two spots of the Hot 100 simultaneously with her first two Hot 100 entries.
June 29, 2014 – During her BET Awards acceptance speech, Nicki Minaj calls out unnamed rappers for not writing their own lyrics. The general consensus is that Minaj is throwing shade at Azalea, a fellow nominee, who has long been rumored to use ghostwriters.
July 3, 2014 – Azalea responds to the coverage of Minaj’s BET Awards diss in an Instagram post — note the start of the social media trend here — and basically calls the whole ordeal an overreaction by the media. She tells people to “let it go.”
August, 2014 – A video of Azalea before she became famous goes viral. The video features an almost unrecognizable Azalea doing what can only be described as a low-budget Lady Gaga impression. Fans and critics are quick to remark that Azalea’s current status as hip-hop star now seems especially calculated and contrived after what was obviously a failed go at a pop career.
August 22, 2014 – Azalea takes an embarrassing tumble off the stage during a pre-VMAs set in Los Angeles. The footage is, of course, turned into a practically iconic GIF that is often used to accompany future stories of Azalea’s failures.
September 4, 2014 – Azalea hops on a remix of Jennifer Lopez’s “Booty.” Despite the much-hyped collaboration and highly-sexualized video, the song will peak at No. 18 on the Hot 100 (thanks mostly to video streams) before free-falling down the chart.
September – October, 2014 – News that a sex tape of Azalea “that can rival that of Kim Kardashian” begins making the rounds. Initially, Azalea outright denies its existence. As the story develops, it is learned that that the tape likely does exist and that it was filmed, allegedly, without Azalea’s knowledge, by an ex-boyfriend, Hefe Wine, who, it turns out, is actually Azalea’s husband by Texas common-law marriage laws. Azalea sues Wine for attempting to release the tape and Wine files for divorce.
October 13, 2014 – Azalea is filmed having a volatile encounter with a photographer outside a Los Angeles grocery store. “Next time,” Azalea says, “I will have people with me that will do something to remove you.” She can also be heard calling the photographer a “c**t.”
October 13, 2014 – A long-winded beef between Azalea and Snoop Dogg begins when Snoop posts an unflattering meme of Azalea to his official Instagram account. Over the next month, the pair will trade barbs, make up, and then resume beefing. Though Snoop instigated the feud, the hip-hop community and pop culture fans in general don’t appear to take Azalea’s side in the struggle, a testament to the lack of goodwill she’s garnered.
October 16, 2014 – Azalea launches a Twitter tirade aimed at her Australian record label after they allowed old photos of her to be used for a Maxim Australia spread. It is around this time that Azalea’s penchant for taking to Twitter to address seemingly every negative thought that pops into her head becomes highly noticeable (and more than a little funny).
October 18, 2014 – Azalea’s “Black Widow,” written by Katy Perry and featuring Rita Ora on the chorus, peaks at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, making it her third (and final) smash hit of 2014.
October 25, 2014 – Azalea is the musical guest on Saturday Night Live for the first time. Her performance is derided, and she is accused of lip-syncing by fans and the media. She denies lip-syncing, but admits to using backing tapes.
November 23, 2014 - Azalea wins two American Music Awards for Favorite Artist – “Rap/Hip-Hop” and “Favorite Album – “Rap/Hip Hop.”
November 24, 2014 – Azalea releases Reclassified, a re-issue of The New Classic featuring new songs. It peaks at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 album chart and spawns no major hit single.
December, 2014 – Azalea’s long, controversial history of cultural appropriation and racially-misguided remarks reaches its boiling point. In February of this year, Vulture put together a timeline of Azalea’s many controversies. It includes a breakdown of the many incidents that occur between December 2014 and February 2015. Read their timeline here for the full story, but here is the gist: As protests continue in U.S. cities like Ferguson and New York, many prominent figures in hip-hop begin speaking out about the state of race relations in America. Azalea, who ostensibly belongs to that hip-hop culture, is notably absent from all public discussion on the relevant topics. She is criticized, essentially, for participating in the culture only to the point that it suits her need for fame and attention. Over the new few months, several figures ranging from nemesis Azealia Banks to Macklemore to Q-Tip and many others call Azalea out for appropriating the culture without attempting to understand or add to it. Some artists, like Kendrick Lamar and Eve offer light defenses of Azalea in interviews — basically “let her do her thing!” — but it does little to repair her severely damaged brand.
December 19, 2014 – At this point, Azalea is embroiled in more celebrity feuds and Twitter beefs than can be kept track of. It has become somewhat of a running joke. The most infamous of these beefs is with Azealia Banks, whom we’ve mentioned previously. The women, who were friendly before Azalea rose to fame, have been trading jabs for many, many months, but things really heat up in December after Banks calls Azalea out for her silence on the current social and political climate. Azalea responds in (what else?) a series of tweets, saying, “you created your own unfortunate situation by being a bigot and don’t have the mental capacity to realize yet. Probably never will.” Banks responds in kind, and the ongoing beef makes headlines everywhere. None of it casts Azalea in a great light, as she comes across as arrogantly ignorant and unwilling to engage on important matters while jumping at the chance to wage petty social media wars.
December 29, 2014 – A video of Azalea freestyling on “Sway in the Morning” from 2013 goes viral and becomes a meme with the takeaway being that Azalea can’t actually, you know, freestyle.
January 7, 2015 – Azalea, who in 2013 basically claimed to have invented twerking during performances, declares that it’s time for twerking to be “over.” With people still questioning her silence on important cultural issues like the protests in Ferguson, this remark could not have come at a worse time. Elsewhere in the interview, Azalea once again tries to cast herself as the “other,” claiming that people only criticize her because she’s a woman. She specifically cites the lack of flack white rapper Macklemore has received, apparently not aware that he has encountered very similar criticism and that, more importantly, he had earlier given a thoughtful, impassioned interview on the very topics Azalea has spent the last several months dodging. Needless to say, it is not an effective defense.
January 30, 2015 – Shocker! Azalea launches (wait for it) a new Twitter rant! This time, she takes issue with a “disgusting” Steve Madden photo shoot.
January 30, 2015 – Azalea’s mentor and boss, T.I., who had spent much of the last year rushing to Azalea’s defense, apparently breaks and tells a paparazzo that he wishes Azalea would stop responding to negative criticism and that she should focus on her music.
February 8, 2015 – Azalea attends the 2015 Grammy Awards and walks away empty-handed, which the media almost gleefully reports. Later, she engages in perhaps the most bizarre social media brawl in recent history when she angrily tweets at Papa John’s about a delivery guy who gave out her phone number. Azalea would go on to discuss this incident at length in multiple interviews, giving what should have been a non-story a laughably long lifespan. Azalea’s whole point — her anger at having her privacy violated — does not translate or is lost in the never-ending brouhaha, with most people thinking Azalea is severely overreacting.
February 18, 2015 – After countless rants, beefs, and controversial remarks, Azalea announces that she is handing her Twitter account over to her management. The reason she gives is that, after returning from vacation to see that unflattering photos of her had been published, she needs a break from the “hatred and pettiness [she] see[s] online.”
March 2, 2015 – Likely only because she is no longer running her own Twitter, Azalea heads to Power 105 FM to address the rampant reports that she is a racist. As per usual, she does not do a great job of defending herself, saying, “It was because I’m white, therefore I’m appropriating culture.” Azalea, apparently loves playing the victim.
March 5, 2015 – Two weeks after quitting Twitter, Azalea quits Instagram. Both accounts are now run by her management.
March 10, 2015 – Rumors that Azalea’s The Great Escape Tour is “on the verge of cancellation” make headlines. With reports that tickets were horrifically underselling and that Azalea was warring with her management running rampant, most people had no trouble believing this. Azalea eventually releases a statement clarifying that she will postpone the tour until the fall “to accommodate for creative team availability and tour productions.”
March 11, 2015 – Nick Jonas and Tinashe, who had been set to join Azalea on the road, both release statements saying they will no longer be a part of Azalea’s The Great Escape Tour.
March 12, 2015 – Azalea explains that she postponed her tour because she is “a psychopath” who doesn’t want to make “sacrifices and cuts and changes” to her show. She insists the delay is only because she wants to get the tour just right, and that that she will hit the road in the fall, as previously announced.
March 18, 2015 - An incomprehensible Vine of Azalea performing “D.R.U.G.S” goes viral days after Azalea’s postponement of her tour. The general consensus? If this is how Azalea sounds live, no wonder tickets weren’t selling…
March 24, 2015 – Rapper Skeme comes forward and claims ghostwriting credit on Azalea’s “Fancy.” You will recall that Minaj inferred Azalea employed ghostwriters in her ultra-shady 2014 BET Awards acceptance speech.
April 2, 2015 – Another Vine of Azalea’s questionable live rapping skills goes viral. Azalea’s talent as a rapper had always been questionable, but these two viral Vines take people’s “appreciation” of her abilities to new (though funny) lows.
May, 2015 – Azalea teams up with Britney Spears for a new single called “Pretty Girls.” The song is released May 4, and the video follows May 13. The song barely cracks the top 30 before immediately beginning a swift tumble down the Hot 100.
May 18, 2015 – Azalea shows up to the Billboard Music Awards looking… very different, facially speaking. Previously, Azalea admitted to getting a breast enhancement. The apparent facial changes are not met with rapturous welcome. Azalea and Spears deliver a not-particulary-well-received performance of “Pretty Girls,” but the media focuses on Azalea’s strange new appearance.
May 27, 2015 – Music fans petition to have Azalea stripped of her Billboard Music Award, claiming that Azalea’s song was released well before the eligibility period began. More than 17,000 people sign the petition.
May 29, 2015 – In a move most people saw coming, Azalea officially cancels The Great Escape Tour. Azalea claims that the tour was selling well — contrary to reports — but that she needs a break and will return with a new album and tour in 2016.
June 1, 2015 – Azalea becomes engaged to her boyfriend, Nick Young.
June 3, 2015 – LGBT groups threaten to boycott Pittsburgh’s Pride Parade, which Azalea is scheduled to headline. The groups cite past homophobic remarks made by Azalea as the reason why she should not be included in the event.
June 9, 2015 – Azalea cancels her Pittsburgh Pride appearance following the threat of boycott. In her announcement of the cancelation, Azalea apologizes for the homophobic remarks.
September 16, 2015 – Azalea’s mentor and friend, T.I., appears on “Ebro in the Morning” and says he is no longer working with his (now former) protégé. The reason he gives? Basically everything that has been said above: Azalea can’t stop shooting herself in the foot. Here’s his quote:
“After the Q-Tip thing… After I kind of had smoothed it over, like okay, ‘What is really meant to be said here is…’ After it was cool, everything was cool, and then they kind of came back and undid what I had just [accomplished]. I’ma be all the way real: I’m a loyal partner. If I rock with you I’m gon’ rock with you…I really do feel that they just needed a little more time to adjust, which I feel they can do. They have the talent, they have the charisma.”
In looking at this timeline, it is remarkable to note how many of these controversies stem from Azalea’s social media presence. From her celebrity feuds to her beef with Papa John’s to her years-old “racist” tweets, an astonishing portion of her troubles can be traced back to her Twitter account. There is some irony here; in February, when Azalea finally did what many people thought she should do and got off social media, it actually backfired. People looked at her quitting as an admission of defeat and relished in a kind of victory, as opposed to saying, “She finally did the right thing!” In short, by the time she stopped, it was already too late; she’d already dug her own grave.
Of course, even after quitting Twitter, Azalea continued to make controversial and quite frankly ignorant remarks to various press outlets. Her apparent inability to handle criticism and her stubbornness also played a huge role in turning fans and the media against her. That her music stopped resonating — people realized she was incapable of carrying a song by herself — also hurt. Still, it is possible that we have witnessed the first major star undone by her own presence on social media, which is as sad as it is fascinating.
It would not be totally unheard of for Azalea to mount a comeback and reclaim some sliver of her former promise, but, honestly, that prospect seems somewhat unlikely. Too much has been said — both by and about Azalea — and no one seems to want to forget any of it. The writing’s on the wall; it’s time to say I-G-G-Bye to Azalea, at least as we know her now.