Wine and Cheese: Banks and K.Flay

Banks and K.Flay express their reactions to the world around them in unique but complementary styles, converging around discussions of sexuality. 

Written by Minnah Zaheer

It’s your dream collab. The artists you add back-to-back to the queue. The pairing you can’t get enough of. You know they sound good together, but why? Welcome to Wine and Cheese, a series investigating the why and telling you all about it.

 
K.Flay photo courtesy of K.Flay on Instagram,

K.Flay photo courtesy of K.Flay on Instagram,

Banks photo courtesy of Steph Wilson for Harper’s Bazaar

Banks photo courtesy of Steph Wilson for Harper’s Bazaar

 

Banks and K.Flay are two women whose emotional vulnerability has glistened in their music from day one. Their new records III and Solutions are departures from their usual darkness into the world of self-acceptance and confidence. But on an even more personal level, their orbit around queer theory brings them to a new level of similarity.

Banks, whose full name is Jillian Rose Banks, released her first album Goddess in 2014, followed by The Altar in 2016. Both albums consist of songs of pleading and defeat, frustration and fatigue. But soon after her tour in support of The Altar in 2017, Banks disappeared from the music scene. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she discusses how she spent most of her downtime alone, writing her new record III and taking time to heal after pushing herself to the brink of exhaustion.

K.Flay’s previous musical ventures convey a similar sense of pessimism to Banks’s earlier albums. Born Kristine Meredith Flaherty, she doesn’t beat around the bush with her descriptions of her intense feelings, as she displays in “Blood in the Cut” : 

Take my head and kick it in

Break some bread for all my sins

Say a word, do it soon

It's too quiet in this room

“Blood in the Cut” is one of Flaherty’s most well-known songs — it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song, and the album Every Where Is Some Where, released in 2016, also earned a Best Engineered Non-Classical Album nomination. The song’s intense bassline and growling vocals convey a sense of urgency and frustration with the world, and with Flaherty herself. 

On the lead single from III, the brash and unapologetic “Gimme,” Banks expresses her newfound confidence and sense of self with a deep in-your-face melody, the lyrics “Gimme gimme what I want, what I deserve / Gimme, gimme you,” and the repeated phrase “You can call me that bitch.” While the album definitely has its lower moments, III is a marked departure from the sadder and more desperate tones of her earlier work. Her mixture of alternative R&B and pop musical themes hasn’t changed, but the way her songs are produced is more sure-of-itself and expresses a wider range of ability and self-assurance.

Similarly to Banks, however, K.Flay’s most recent album Solutions has a more positive outlook on life. The first track on the album,  “I Like Myself (Most Of The Time),” is a surprisingly upbeat introduction to K.Flay’s new sound and her adoption of self-acceptance. In a recent interview, Flaherty describes how she felt overwhelmed with the current state of the world and wanted to hear songs that would lift her up instead of making her feel more defeated. 

But there’s one thing that connects these two artists on a more abstract level: queer theory. 

In a joint interview with her girlfriend musician Miya Folick for GQ, Flaherty reveals that one of the driving forces behind the optimism of her new record was the first time she felt motivated by hope and happiness rather than sadness. Flaherty had never dated a woman before Folick. She spent lots of her adult life exposed to queer culture, but didn’t come to terms with her own sexuality until she began experiencing attraction to Folick. She describes her budding relationship with Folick (and wanting to impress her) as the driving force behind a newfound level of creativity. Both Folick and Flaherty admit to being in dark places when first meeting each other, but together they became healthier and happier overall.

 
Photo courtesy of Chuck Grant for GQ

Photo courtesy of Chuck Grant for GQ

 

While Flaherty has been open with her sexuality since announcing her relationship with Folick, she kept her dating life private up until June of this year. Banks has taken a similar approach to navigating the messy publicity of being a musician — she lets her music speak for itself and generally avoids sharing details of her personal life with the world through any other avenues. She’s careful to center the conversation around her music, both in formal interviews and on social media. 

Banks’s music videos have mostly been abstract, choreographed performances of her songs. The music video for “Fuck With Myself,” however, is about exactly what the title says — Banks dances around in a haunting manner and very graphically interacts with a bust modeled after her own face. In live performances of the song, she gets dangerously close to kissing her female backup dancers, who are shrouded in black fabric. Although none of this is a public admittance of anything other than a complex relationship with herself, the way Banks approaches topics of sexuality and sensuality is often completely devoid of any specifics of gender, and focuses more on connections between people. 

But in a recent interview with Variety, lesbian journalist Jill Gutowitz asks Banks about how her music resonates with sapphic women. Gutowitz brings up that the depth of emotional processing in her music reflects the relationship lesbians have with their own traumas. Without answering the implicit question about her own sexuality, Banks excitedly asks Gutowitz to elaborate, and then agrees with the sentiment.

Other than the Variety interview and her suggestive performances of “Fuck With Myself,” virtually nothing exists about Banks’s relationship with queer theory. But until Flaherty went public with her sapphic relationship, her footprint looked about the same. Both artists have complex and personal connections to sexuality, but both exude vulnerability in their music and have ties to sapphic listeners, whether explicitly or implicitly. Their more positive, new records show personal growth, relating to a symbiotic relationship with herself and her girlfriend in Flaherty’s case and a newfound sense of confidence and self-acceptance in Banks’s case. Regardless of their own sexualities, Banks and K.Flay make music for women who struggle with themselves and their loved ones and encourage them to explore themselves.