SXSW 2015: Iggy Azalea's bid for a reset falls short in corporate gig

SXSW offered Iggy Azalea a chance to reclaim her damaged narrative

I don't know how much Samsung paid Iggy Azalea to headline the company's so-called Milk Music Lounge at the South by Southwest music festival Wednesday night. Whatever the amount, though, I'm pretty sure the Australian rapper didn't come to Austin just for the money. She was looking for a reset, too.

The beginning of 2015 has been rough for Azalea, who dominated pop last year with three monster singles -- "Fancy," "Problem" and "Black Widow" -- that at one point were all in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100. So impressive was her ascent that when she was nominated for four Grammy Awards, many observers predicted (some worriedly) that she'd win them all.

But then things started falling apart. Azalea was unexpectedly shut out at the Grammys. She quit social media in response to the "hatred and pettiness" she said she was subjected to online.

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And last week she postponed her upcoming arena tour, citing "production delays" widely assumed to be code for lack of interest.

Even in the days before her performance here, the Internet pounced on a video showing Azalea rapping incoherently -- a small crime for some but a damning one for a white MC many have criticized for appropriating a black style with little regard for its meaning. ("The Vine that proves Iggy Azalea can't rap," Vulture called the clip.)

So with its high visibility and its audience happily susceptible to spin, SXSW offered Azalea a chance to reclaim her damaged narrative, to brush off the haters and show us why she's still worth paying attention to.

Well, maybe next time.

Sparsely attended by the sardine-can standards of Samsung's previous SXSW concerts (with Prince in 2013 and Jay Z and Kanye West last year), Wednesday's gig felt like a missed opportunity.

The problem wasn't her rapping, which was confident -- and more or less comprehensible -- in songs like "Beg for It" and "My World." Wearing a gold-and-black jacket over shorts and thigh-high boots, Azalea stomped across the stage like she belonged there -- a victory of sorts, I suppose, given how often her very existence has been challenged.

But she was taking no discernible pleasure in her exercise of power, even in "Trouble," which she introduced as "a feel-good song," and "Bounce," during which she instructed the crowd to do the festive dance known as the Nae Nae. (The 10 or 12 people not taking pictures with their phones complied.)

And she embodied no palpable sense of struggle in moodier cuts like "Don't Need Y'all," about how fame feels "like a curse latched to my blessing." As she ran through the song with a blank look in her eyes, Azalea seemed drained by the task at hand -- not just putting in her 45 minutes for Samsung but figuring out the next step in her career.

But then, right before the end of the show, she tore into "Iggy SZN," a delightfully bratty kiss-off, with the kind of intensity she'd seemed incapable of summoning until that point.

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For the Record

March 19, 3:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled the song title "Iggy SZN" as "Iggy AZN."

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It's probably not a recipe for happiness, but perhaps fighting scorn with scorn will be her way forward. 

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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