The Hottest New R&B Voice: Banks - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Hottest New R&B Voice: Banks

The Hottest New R&B Voice: Banks

By Melissa Pandika

L.A.-based R&B singer Jillian Banks.
SourceWilliams + Hirakawa


Because Banks is the next generation’s answer to The Weeknd. 

By Melissa Pandika

Love vibin’ to murky, moody R&B, à la Drake or The Weeknd, but want to freshen up your playlist? Try investing in Banks.

The 26-year-old, L.A.-based soulstress’s music oozes with the same melisma-laced sultriness atop shadowy, synth-laden beats — but with darker, more confessional lyrics. Her career, though, has been anything but downcast. Since releasing her first single last year, Banks has already toured with The Weeknd, taken the stage at Coachella, and released two critically acclaimed EPs. Now, she’s revving up for her hotly anticipated debut album, Goddess, scheduled to drop Sept. 9. 

A lot of people are ashamed of feeling weak … so it’s liberating to be able to sing about those things.

— Banks

But for the soft-spoken chanteuse — who cites Lauryn Hill and Fiona Apple as influences — songwriting remains a search for catharsis, not stardom. She started making music at age 15, when a friend gave her a keyboard to distract herself while her parents were getting divorced. “These melodies came out,” she said. “It was like five pounds of gravity was lifted off me. … Once I discovered it, that whole year I was just in my room with the door shut.”


Banks continued to keep her music a secret as she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at USC. It wasn’t until she was 24 that she felt ready to release her songs — her “diary entries” — into the world, starting with a handful of tracks online. By early 2013, she was talking to a few record labels. And then BBC Radio played “Before I Ever Met You” — originally uploaded to her private SoundCloud page. “It felt like a gift from the universe,” she said.  

Last March, Banks released her first EP, Fall Over, followed six months later by London. Billboard touted her as “a magnetic writer with songs to obsess over.” Both EPs introduce listeners to her addictive sound: a delicate, reedy voice that crescendos over groaning synths for an overall empowering effect — despite the vulnerable lyrics.

“A lot of people are ashamed of feeling weak … so it’s liberating to be able to sing about those things,” she said. “It’s amazing when other people don’t feel alone because they hear it.” 

Take London’s “This Is What It Feels Like,” about a partner who fears commitment. “You said that you couldn’t sleep cause/Of me, told me/I caught you off guard/And then when you saw I felt the same/You pulled away,” she croons. Under the video for the song, one YouTube user commented, “Exactly what’s going on in my life right now!!”

It’s that genuine connection Banks hopes to make in her music. Which is why she shuns social media — except for posting her cell number on Facebook. “I don’t do Twitter or Instagram or anything,” she told Billboard. “But I still really want to be able to connect with people … so I figured, ‘What a better way than to give out my number?’ ”

Listeners can expect that same authenticity on Goddess, or, in Banks’ words, “My brains, my heart, my blood, my organs.” The album includes London’s “This Is What It Feels Like” and the throbbing “Waiting Game,” plus newer singles, like “Beggin’ for Thread,” released in July. The incantatory track showcases Banks’ vocal range as she asks a former flame to stitch together her broken heart.

Excited yet? We sure are. In the meantime, dim the lights and envelop yourself in Banks’ hazy, hypnotic sound:


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