Authenticity and the Curious Case of Lana Del Rey

My boy, if you can touch ‘em….they’re real.”
-  Washington, DC Wise-Man-About-Town

Is it sad that I probably haven’t been this excited about a girl since high school?  Lana Del Rey, (née, Elizabeth Grant), hasn’t even released a proper album yet… and yet … her music, her videos, her look and her background are receiving loads of both positive and negative attention.  I’m on the former side of the ledger, and considered putting her EP in my list of best albums of 2011 even though it only contains two songs.  That’s just how fantastic “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” are, and how instantly they have tape-wormed themselves into my musical core.  Her self-made videos are perfect pastiches of vintage romanticism and wistfully timeless longing.

Her alternately wispy, breathy and ravaged vocalizations show above-average range and are reminiscent of a cross between early Tori Amos and Fiona Apple,. Even if her vocals and her affected imagery are familiar, her oeuvre remains fairly unique amongst current singer-songwriter types.  She weaves quick-hitting, evocative samples into aptly laconic compositions that remind one of a Rauschenberg painting.  Occasionally the mixed-media appear to serve a larger purpose, but sometimes they appear to exist solely to exist. Perfectly post-modern.

As is the bizarre criticism directed at Ms. Grant…perfectly post-modern. There are scads of pseudo-anonymous bloggers and members of the blogosphere commentariat offering up critiques about her “authenticity” related to her background, her lips and all sorts of largely irrelevant items that have nothing to do with her music.  While I would certainly feel a bit put off if it were revealed that she is the Simone of the music world, is it really that big of a deal? Are we really so debased that we’re looking to singer-songwriters to serve as the definition of 21st century authenticity? Are our lives enhanced by InterHating on a talented, pretty girl who happens to posses an incredibly fetching voice, simply because it is wrapped in some light “packaging”? Is it her fault that the marketplace is full of superficial jackasses who never developed the powers of critical thought, would have been better raised by a pack of wolves, and who are by their definition, the masses?  Didn’t we already cover the modern advertising-age relationship between the masses and the artist with one Warhol, Andy?  And, do we really need another hero?  So post-modern.

I see no reason why anti-mass market sentiment – to which I have sympathies – should force me to unwittingly hate music or imagery that appeal to my tastes because multiple people were involved in the creative process, rather than one solitary artist. Now, I know that there are those in the blogosphere who generate conflict in order to draw eyeballs to their drivel. Some of you may pick up on the allusions in the previous paragraph to one with which I take particular issue.  And, that’s pretty much the ethos of the Mainstream Media as well, let alone those fringe types who must radicalize their views and spew InterHate in order to gain attention.

I also know that there is clearly some calculation in an image that seeks to evoke those romanticized days, (before artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and Lady Gaga), where the “bad girl” truly stood out. But guess what? I can think for myself.  I can understand that artists — much like athletes — often grow over time, become increasingly packaged, and cannot be expected to exist without anyone or anything influencing their path (for better AND for worse).

I suppose we could create a definition of authenticity in which an artist develops without any outside influences.  And, in that case, we would necessarily resolve to ignore all musical antecedents, need to defy laws of nature and live in an impossibly utopian society where everyone has everything they want.  We would need to completely start over, tediously and without any real benefit, in the primordial ooze.  Maybe some incredibly “authentic” chord would eventually develop that had never been heard before.  But most likely, it would be a colossal waste of time.

You could perhaps argue that Lana Del Rey is working a motif that is played out, as a variety of vintage-inspired and California-Dreamin‘ bands are knocking about out there (see: Best Coast and friends).  And in that case, you would also say that Van Gogh was a poseur for being inspired by Japanese artists and his fellow Impressionists.  How dare he be part of a movement that he may not have fully created himself!!! How dare he accept financial assistance from his brother/dealer in order to continue perfecting his art! That inauthentic prick…the resonant self-loathing must have caused his suicide.  Or might that be a post-modern conclusion?

In the real world, art-as-an-occupation exists largely because people choose to pay for it.  I understand that the major label system often turns out lowest common denominator crap that cannot be characterized as art.  But, whether Ms. Grant created her music and image all by her lonesome or in concert with professionals does not diminish the art itself any more than it did when a member of Titian‘s studio composed portions of what was eventually recognized as a masterpiece.

Time will tell if Ms. Grant’s art will leave a lasting impression or be washed out to sea…in the meantime people, lighten the heck up.  Later on we can worry about whether the avoidance of an oath of poverty was detrimental to her contribution to popular culture. In the meantime, enjoy the moment. Enjoy her looks while they last. Relax.

After all, worldly success often requires some form of compromise, and in American politics and, apparently, our music, this has become something of a Scarlet Letter.  (OMG — he changed his mind about some policy over the course of 30 years, probably because society’s views changed!  OMG — she changed / improved her style and look over the course of her artistic development, probably to sell more records). Sometimes, this is a legitimate criticism and there is clearly some hard-to-define point at which trust is breached.  But, we should not expect everyone to be fully formed from the instant they enter the public domain. We should allow for growth.  We should allow for maturity.

Perhaps this is why seemingly no one can get along in modern society: everyone has to have THEIR way ALL the time.  If anyone approaches something differently than is our preference, they must be castigated publicly, regardless of the reasoning, logic, or intelligence behind their approach.  People tear down the successes of others in order to preserve their relative position in society.  And, often, attacks are undertaken with tangential, ad hominem attacks and without more than casual references to the facts.  Talking points become a meme unto themselves….and soooo post-modern.  Maybe we should collectively get back to finding solutions rather than embracing negativity and relativity.

I’m the first to agree that lots of “new” artists with zero staying power are over-hyped and will turn to vinegar over time. That’s simply reality…not every artist is truly great. Some are one-hit wonders.  Some are two-hit wonders.  Some survive and achieve mass popularity even though their product is largely crapola that makes me suspect payola.  I’m sure a lot of people would have InterHated on Beck as a one-hit wonder with a nonsensical song if only the Internet Commentariat had existed in the early 1990s.

While Lana Del Rey’s debut album  – Born To Die — doesn’t theoretically exist until January 24th, 2012, our collective Internet Age-impatience requires tomorrow’s music today. That way, we can already InterHate on it before anyone has heard it.  Or, not.








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