Photo: screenshot www.youtube.com
Like the champion boxer who only fights twice a year, major labels seem to rarely make their presence felt in music these days.But the case of Lana Del Rey serves as a reminder that, even this deep into music’s YouTube era, the corporate hand can still tweak an ear when it decides to.
The story: there used to be a jazzy singer-songwriter named Lizzie Grant.
At some point this year, through some mixture of her own design and the hivemind at Interscope Records, Grant was reborn as Lana Del Rey, who is basically the musical equivalent of a smoke-filled room.
(The main difference between her two incarnations, as far as we can tell? Del Rey lets her mouth hang open and her eyes droop half-shut slightly more often than Grant did.)
A cocktail of submissive sex-object and mid-20th-century American vamp, Del Rey’s manifesto might be the first of her two commercially released songs, “Video Games.“
Viewed 2,644,000 times since being posted on August 11, the song — along with B-side “Blue Jeans” — has sparked an arms race on the Internet over questions of authenticity and appropriation in Del Rey’s music.
The Village Voice’s Maura Johnston says she’s overproduced schtick. Influential music blog Stereogum called her one of the best new artists of the year. New York Magazine’s Amanda Dobbins wonders how much of the hate has to do with the fact that she’s pretty and designed to be successful.
Del Rey herself summed it up nicely in conversation with GQ’s Sean Fennessey:
“I don’t even do anything in real life. I just sit in my studio and write, I call my friends, I watch television. I don’t do anything. Write crazy stuff if you want to. I’ve been telling [my publicists], it has nothing to do with me. I mean, everything has nothing to do with me. I don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t know what they’re talking about. Not like you care that much. You’re just writing the article.”
Her confusion is understandable: she changed her look and style — which she describes as, “Lolita got lost in the hood” — and all of a sudden she’s famous. That’s both gratifying and frustrating, for her and for those watching the industry. And it’s made her into a straw woman.
Since the dawn of time, intentionality has played a huge role in music. It’s all myth. Remember Robert Johnson? He didn’t actually sell his soul to the devil.
Del Rey is just the latest in a long line of meticulously designed personas. Compared with Lady Gaga or Fergie, she sins by playing to a crowd that sees music as art. Art means sincerity.
If you take a step back, you realise that this plays right into Interscope’s hands. “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” are fine, unspectacular songs that crib from the husky-voiced blues singers that came before, women like Fiona Apple and Amy Winehouse.
But by coming off as a sort of hipster robot that makes no secret about being designed to appeal to listeners, Del Rey pissed people off in the buzziest way possible. And when success is measured in YouTube views, all publicity is good publicity.
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