Lana Del Rey, authenticity, machinations, hissy fits and all that jazz
It’s like 1993 called and asked for its clothes back. Over the last couple of months, nearly every music blog you could mention has been raving about Lana Del Rey and especially her “Video Games” tune and video. Now, this …
It’s like 1993 called and asked for its clothes back. Over the last couple of months, nearly every music blog you could mention has been raving about Lana Del Rey and especially her “Video Games” tune and video. Now, this is what we call a tune: a spellbinding voice, a spinechilling melody and a great sense of purpose and place. Another tune “Blue Jeans” confirmed the fact that we were dealing here with an artist who is rather special.
But in the last few weeks, the Lana Del Rey story took a few unexpected twists and turns (or, if you like, twists and turns which, if you had any experience with new acts, you kind of suspected were part of the narrative somewhere because artists rarely debut as fully-formed as this). Turns out that Lana Del Rey (real name was Lizzy Grant) had previous form. Turns out that Grant has a record deal and a PR company on her side. Turns out that Grant’s Lana Del Rey persona is the result of a five year gestation period involving lawyers and managers. And, as inevitably as night follows day, it turns out that many of the music bloggers who all fell heavily for her when it was just the video and the tune and the thrill of discovering someone new for the first time decided to get ugly. Indeed, it didn’t much uglier or childish than a post like this. Anyone who believes that music bloggers are above silly backlashes and the like may wish to reconsider their opinion with these Grade A hissy fits.
One of the advantages of getting older is that you can see that history does indeed tend to repeat itself again and again. There’s nothing new about the clever, smart marketing and promotion of Del Rey, the marketing and promotion which snared all those hipsters and taste-makers in the first place. There’s nothing remotely new about a major label signing an act and using an independent label to introduce that act in the first place (or indeed, a major label funding some of those indies), with Stranger Records putting out Del Rey’s debut single in this instance. There’s absolutely nothing new about an act going through one or two different iterations before they find their mojo. Like I said in the opening line above, it really is like 1993 (or 1997 or 1999 or 2003 or 2006) all over again.
But there’s also nothing new about a brilliant tune like “Video Games” getting under your skin and making you want to hear more. That’s always been how this game has been played. If Grant had written and YouTubed that tune at the start of her career, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now because we’d probably have had it five years ago. Talent attracts managers, lawyers, PRs and labels and that’s what happened in this case. If Grant didn’t have the wherewithal to write “Video Games” in the first place, we wouldn’t be dealing with this silly matter right now. But she could and she did and so we are back to authenticity, machinations and all that jazz.
Authenticity has always been a slippery concept at the best of times. In the case of Del Rey and “Video Games”, many music bloggers are smarting because they thought they were dealing with some DIY artist who suddenly appeared on the radar with a brilliant tune. Instead of this being the case, it turns out that it has taken Del Rey some years and several attempts to get things right. That’s how it should be, it takes time and effort for raw talent to come good. But many who raved about Del Rey had an agenda and she fitted right into it. That Del Rey naturally had another agenda didn’t seem to occur to anyone.
It’s probably high time too for this notion of majors and indies to be put out to pasture for good too. The divide between the two has always been slightly nebulous at best – I’ve never bought into this idea that indie labels are better for a band, especially as some of the most artist-unfriendly contracts I’ve seen have come from indies – and the playing pitch has never been more level because there’s less store given to what label an act is on (many acts we write about now don’t even have labels in the accepted sense). Sure, the majors might have more cash, but their talent scouting returns have always been shaky because of kinks in the artist development machine. Once in a while, they’ll hit a purple patch with a Del Rey but, more often than not, they’ll put their money on the wrong horse(s). While the majors may also be able to call in favours with their pet journos and DJs in the hack-pack, most music fans are already ignoring those tainted, bought filters.
What it all comes down to are the tunes – and not the labels – and Del Rey, so far, has lots of ‘em. She’ll be one of the names in the frame when those Sound of 2012 lists are compiled (more on this later in the week) and the reaction to her debut album will be interesting to note. But if it’s full of songs like “Video Games”, tunes you know sound brilliant on the radio and are capable of attracting many people to her side, she’s on her way. No amount of fuming from peeved bloggers who were taken in by her looks and projected a story which probably wasn’t there onto her will stop that.