Jillian Banks, stylised as BANKS, is known for her unique, bold, and captivating music. Her debut album Goddess did well in the UK and US album charts and curated her image as a dark, mysterious, fashionable artist.
Two of the singles from this album, “Drowning” and “Beggin for Thread” also became popular, but neither made much footing chart-wise. While Banks now has three studio albums and has found a larger following, she is still largely out of the mainstream pop cycle.
Goddess (2014), The Altar (2016), and iii (2019) all contain multitudes. There are tracks that show weakness and vulnerability, and tracks that demonstrate reclamation of strength and courage. Their sound is unique because of Banks’ ability to combine R&B with mellow, slow, and husky melodies.
I’ve arranged this list into a natural progression, ordered so that the tracks not only become more powerful but also follow on from one another. We begin with earlier songs focused on the pain of betrayal and losing yourself, transition through songs about turmoil and growth, and end with a track so powerful the first time I heard it I sat in a trance for about two hours playing it on repeat.
These are my top ten tracks from Banks, and they fit together perfectly to tell the story of her journey.
“Mind Games” (The Altar, 2016)
“Mind Games” is a song from The Altar, and depicts a story of manipulation, resignation, and pain. It resonates with the feelings you have after a break-up when you are trying to appear strong but you are feeling very weak.
It has a haunting melody, and the chorus begs of the listener, “do you see me now?” in a desperate, vulnerable vocal strain. Banks is asking why the person who let her down treated her so poorly, and the song is a great starting point for her upwards spiral of confidence and power as her career continued and her style developed.
Musically, the backing track is deep and flowing, with interesting little ornaments, and it is clear that a lot of thought went into the writing of it. The topic is slightly cliched, but the song is perfect. It’s an acknowledgment that she has been treated badly, but sets the stage perfectly for her work that followed and its focus on power, confidence, and self-worth.
“Beggin For Thread” (Goddess, 2014)
“Beggin For Thread” is from Goddess, Banks’ debut album. Although it technically comes before “Mind Games” chronologically, it follows on from it perfectly. It has a similar resentful nature towards someone who is no longer around, but it feels more like an “I’m better off without you”, than a “why did you do this to me?” type of track. It also has an incredibly catchy chorus and was the song that first introduced me to Banks for this reason. I remember hearing it once and becoming hooked, and very soon I was a mega-fan.
Again, there is a very unique and beautiful backing track. It has everything you could ask for—catchy beats, interesting rhythms, and you can hardly help but sing along. The bridge before the final chorus builds into a stunning crescendo that gets me every time; no matter how many times I listen to this song I am bursting to sing that last chorus.
“Waiting Game” (Goddess, 2014)
This may be one of Banks’ smoothest tracks. Right from the beginning it feels like liquid gold dripping into your ears—the vocals are so deep and stunning, and the gentle piano chords begin to build very quickly. The bass drops into a heavy, dark rhythm, and complements the vocals brilliantly.
A fun fact about this song is that the bassline was also used for Rihanna’s song, ‘Desperado’, which was released in 2016. Banks has a writing credit on that track.
The entire way through, this song manages to be sexy and sad all at once; it makes you feel like you’ll never find someone but also like you have already found yourself, and what more could you possibly want?
“Judas” (The Altar, 2016)
I adore this song; the lyrics have an elevated level of sass that shows us confidence starting to peek through. The line, “too numb to feel the knife in my back” is a perfect metaphor for how easy it can become to ignore the hurt from someone who has wronged you.
The only complaint I have about this track is that it never really peaks. I feel like there was room to go a little crazier in the second half. It has been exquisitely written as a slow ballad, but there is space for it to have been something more, like other work by Banks.
“Poltergeist” (The Altar, 2016)
“Poltergeist” was my favourite Banks track for a very long time. The story behind it embodied everything that I was feeling the first time I heard it, and even now the authenticity and vulnerability in it gives me goosebumps. I also love how Banks owns her own flaws, and sings that she has a “crooked nature”, and, “I started all of the wars”. I like this take on a love song that isn’t all about putting the blame on someone else.
That being said, there are plenty of critiques of whoever it is she is singing about. That makes it a perfect track to listen to if you have a situation in your own life that you’re feeling a little bitter about.
Musically, it has those trademark ornaments and moody, haunting vocal melody. The tone of Banks’ voice is very husky and creates a beautiful harmony with the background instruments.
“Trainwreck” (The Altar, 2016)
This track is by far the highest on the list for its ability to make you dance; it starts strong and never lets up. The song is catchy all the way through, and the chorus is perfect if you want something to jump up and down to. I love how she was able to create something like this without losing the dark, slow, gentle tone in her voice. I love the way she combines a disco-style backing track with meaningful, lyrical beauty.
“Trainwreck”, also from The Altar, was the first song I heard of Banks that made me think a new era was coming. And it was—the latest album, iii, sounds very similar to this track, in the sense that there is more oomph in the musical elements and they feel like you can really get into them and dance around. Much of her earlier work, and indeed the entire Goddess album, was incredible, but none of it was very dance-worthy. This was the first hint to me that there was more to come from Banks.
“Fuck with Myself” (The Altar, 2016)
It took me about seven listens to really understand what was going on here. The first time I heard this I was confused and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. The music video is bizarre and conceptually fascinating. There are three different ways I interpret the song, and the video plays into all three. Banks herself, in an interview with Zane Lowe of BBC Radio One, said that there are a multitude of different interpretations of this track.
I have linked it below so you can make up your own mind. However you choose to interpret this track, it will stick with you because of its unique and eccentric style.
“The Fall” (iii, 2019)
This is where we really transition into the power, the confidence, and the true talent. The last three tracks are all from iii, and all give me the energy and passion to get up and keep going when I am having a bad day. “The Fall” serves on this list as a final acknowledgment of a difficult period in life and accepts that it is time to move forward.
The track is about making it through something hard, and being proud that you were able to accomplish that. It is also very stylistically different to all of Banks’ other songs, in that there are verses here that are almost rapped. The quick-fire lyrics and heavy bass drops make this a masterpiece and help her to claim all the power and fearlessness she deserves.
Again, Banks manages to sing with real power and presence without losing the delicate tones in her voice. This is something I think is very unique to her style, and I love it because I have always been a fan of songs with powerful, swelling choruses, but I’ve never liked the harsh singing that usually comes with that. I think she gets away with this because of the strong undertone in her voice, and the way the backing instruments are arranged so perfectly to carry the melody at times without ever drowning out the vocal lines.
To this day, I turn to this song when I’m going through a hard time or I need a pick me up. Any of Banks’ songs manage to cheer me up, but this one is spectacular.
“Propaganda” (iii, 2019)
“Propaganda” is my current favourite Banks song. It holds a powerful message about how you do not owe anybody the version of yourself that they have chosen to believe exists. Everything you owe is to yourself, and you should always prioritise your own happiness above the happiness of others.
Despite this, it acknowledges the need to ask for help sometimes, and that even if you are perfect the way you are there are times you will feel weak, and that is okay. Displaying vulnerability in such a confident way is empowering as a listener, and I’m sure it feels empowering to sing.
“Gimme” (iii, 2019)
“Gimme” might be the only Banks song to not show any trace of vulnerability. All it shows is a powerful woman who knows exactly what she deserves. It is an excellent boost to listen to and is a hypnotic dance anthem.
The energy in this track is different from almost all of Banks’ other songs. Her music in general is dark, moody, melancholy, and abrasive. This track is none of those things—it is bold, confident, rhythmically upbeat, and vastly energetic.