Billionaire Tesla founder and rocket ship entrepreneur Elon Musk has crafted such an unusual public profile, one emboldened by a fervent cult of fans on social media, that it came as no real surprise that his personal and professional lives eventually intersected with musician Azealia Banks, whose uncanny ability to materialise in surreal celebrity dramas has turned her into pop culture’s very own Forrest Gump.
A “problematic fave” who now plays a key, if inherently comedic, role in a possible SEC investigation into Tesla’s business practices, Banks was at one point a chart-friendly fashion darling, until a run of volatile scrapes permanently soured her public image.
Along with a lengthy legal spat with her former record label, Banks has also defended skin bleaching, hurled racial slurs at Zayn Malik, killed chickens in her closet for use in witchcraft and (somewhat briefly) pledged allegiance to Donald Trump, while expressing often truthful if occasionally inflammatory stances on everyone from Nicki Minaj to Kanye West to Sarah Palin, who threatened to sue her over a potty-mouthed tweet in 2016.
Today she remains a fiercely talented if perpetually self-sabotaging pop star, whose natural comic timing and largely earnest and important statements about the music industry and culture at large are often eclipsed by her penchant for causing offence.
But while Banks’s recent dramas have been mostly confined to niche pop blogs, her involvement with Musk and his on-again/off-again girlfriend Grimes, herself an eccentric and problematic pop star, has seen her return to the mainstream spotlight as one third of a very 2018 scandal.
Musk first caught the eye of the US Securities and Exchange Commission in early August after tweeting that he was considering taking his technology and automobile company Tesla private. “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420,” the mogul tweeted. “Funding secured.”
It soon emerged that Musk hadn’t secured funding, while regulators began to explore whether Musk’s statement breached security law for public companies. By not ensuring that all relevant information is released to all shareholders at the same time, Musk’s tweet could be construed by courts as a manipulation of the markets, or fraud altogether.
Then Banks entered the picture. Currently in the middle of recording an album, Banks was flown in from New York to Musk’s Los Angeles compound by Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, under the impression that she would work on a collaboration with Grimes while there. Instead, Banks reportedly ended up stuck in the Musk mansion for an entire weekend waiting for Grimes to show up.
Taking to Instagram, Banks wrote a series of messages describing the inherent oddness of being stranded in Musk’s home, comparing the experience to the 2017 thriller Get Out – in which a black man is trapped in the plush home of his white girlfriend and her disturbing family.
“Staying at Elon Musk’s house has been like a real life episode of Get Out,” Banks wrote, adding: “Literally been sitting at Elon Musk’s house alone for days waiting for Grimes to show up and start these sessions. I have no idea when she is coming back. I’m going to wait one more day then I’m going to go home.”
She also alleged that she may have been brought to Musk’s home not to work on a song with Grimes, but instead to take part in group sex with the couple. “It was probably some weird threesome sex s--- to begin with,” she wrote. “LOL, Elon Musk is better off hiring an escort. At least an escort would have kept her mouth shut about his business.”
Along with insulting Musk’s physical appearance and alleging that his family fortune is “rooted in emerald and ore mines in Southern Africa during apartheid” (referencing Musk’s father Errol’s purchase of a Zambian emerald mine in the Eighties), Banks also wrote two statements that immediately raised eyebrows: “I waited around all weekend while Grimes coddled her boyfriend for being too stupid to know not to go on Twitter while on acid,” and later, “He's tweeting on acid f------ up his own stocks and whatnot.”
If Musk was indeed under the influence of drugs when he tweeted his message about Tesla going private, it would only exacerbate Tesla’s uncertain status with the SEC. In an interview with Business Insider, Banks also claimed that she “saw [Musk] in the kitchen tucking his tail in between his legs scrounging for investors to cover his ass after that tweet. He was stressed and red in the face.” She also added, with trademark Banksian nonchalance: “He’s not cute at all in person.”
Musk was quick to deny Banks’s claims, telling Gizmodo in a statement that he “has never even met [Banks] or communicated with her in any way.” His story had somewhat changed four days later, however, when, during a tearful sit-down with the New York Times, Musk revealed that he in fact had seen Banks that fateful weekend.
“I saw her on Friday morning, for two seconds at about a 30-foot distance as she was leaving the house,” he said. “I’d just finished working out. She was not within hearing range. I didn’t even realise who it was. That’s literally the only time I’ve ever laid eyes on her.”
In a separate interview with the New York Times, Musk also denied that his $420 target price to take Tesla private was a reference to the marijuana code term “420”, claiming that he simply rounded up the number from the 20 percent premium of the price of Tesla stock at the time. He also denied that he was using drugs when he tweeted (“I was not on weed, to be clear,” he said, “Weed is not helpful for productivity”) but did admit to using Ambien, that notorious Hollywood menace, to induce sleep.
The erratic interview with the Times resulted in a billion dollars being knocked off Musk’s net worth, while the unfolding storm over his tweet led at least one Tesla shareholder to sue Musk and his company for possible fraud.
Things grew weirder when Banks this week posted to her Instagram, in images that have since been deleted, that “Musk has been tapping my phone all week.” She then began posting screenshots of alleged text conversations with Grimes in which they discussed Musk’s genitals. Within days, Grimes and Musk had unfollowed each other on Instagram, a development that was followed up by Banks posting more Instagram Stories in which she claimed that Musk had taken her phone from her and alleged that he had hired lawyers.
“Elon got an attorney involved, so I called one too,” Banks alleged in a since-deleted message. “They came up with all these threats of blackmail and said I had to turn in my phone if I didn’t wanna go to jail.”
She followed this up a day later with further screenshots of alleged text conversations with Grimes. The screenshots, which Banks had covered with the words “pathological liar”, appear to show Grimes writing: “He just got into weed cuz [sic] of me and he’s super entertained by 420 so when we decided to take the stock private he calculated it was worth 419$ so he rounded it up to 420 for a laugh and now the SEC is investigating him for fraud,” adding, “well that bodes well.”
The validity of the screenshots remains unclear, and neither Grimes nor Musk have yet to comment on Banks’s allegations. It additionally remains unclear if Banks’s claims will further impact the SEC’s decision to probe Tesla. The New York Times claimed on August 15 that the SEC have served Tesla with a subpoena, however, indicating that their initial inquiry has advanced to a more serious stage.
As for Banks, she yesterday expressed her eagerness to extract herself from the Musk drama. In a video posted to her Instagram Story, which has since been deleted, she insisted that “these are not black girl problems.” She also claimed that she had no real interest in working with Grimes in the first place and only did so to placate individuals in her fanbase who wanted the pair to work together.
“Y’all know I do not like people,” Banks joked. “I did not come to LA to have some f------ mutant alien orgy.” She also revealed that she had hoped to exploit the encounter with Grimes to get business advice from Musk in relation to her line of soaps. Banks also has a line of soaps.
“You know a b---- came out there with a whole box of soap,” Banks boasted. “He was supposed to help me write this business plan... that’s really why I came out there... you tell me this [expletive] is building rocket ships and s---? Well, soap isn’t really rocket science and maybe he can help me with this thing? I didn’t come out there because I gave a f--- about Elon Musk and whatever f------ raggedy alien sex that [expletive] was trying to set me up for.”
With a huff, Banks expressed excitement over returning to New York to see her pets and her hairdresser, adding: “I need to wash all this weird, alien-ass f------ weird-white-girl, wicca, Urban Outfitters magic off of me. I need to pray to the ancestors and feed the ancestors, bitch, and get right back on track.”