September 16, 2011
Is Lana Del Rey The Kreayshawn Of Moody, Electro-Tinged "Indie"?

Things that reading this piece by Maura Johnston/clicking through on some of the links from it made me realize: yes, that upper lip is DEFINITELY the product of collagen. However, the way she looked without the collagen injection wasn’t so much “better” or “worse” as just “more conventional”—post-collagen, she ends up with the same sort of mysterious possibly-Latina chanteuse image that her chosen pseudonym, “Lana Del Rey,” also hints at. The collagen might be freaky and depressing to us, but it’s crucial to her image, to the kind of “look” she wants to have.

Which leads me to wonder—does that really make Lana Del Rey a mainstream artist who is only being marketed towards the indie world in an effort to generate cred that can later be translated into sales? Or, alternately, is this the state of the indie music world today—that even people from within our ranks go for these sorts of image manipulations as a way to get popular, because the idea of “indie” denoting some increased level of sincerity and/or depth (see one of the Weingarten tweets linked above) is just that outmoded where new kids coming into the scene are concerned? So I guess what this second paragraph represents in terms of a thing I learned by reading Maura’s article is that we have to ask that kind of question at this point. Perhaps its the dark side of poptimism—a decade of wearing away the mental distinction between the indie world and the pop world can now apparently result in artists from the indie world behaving in ways we’d previously have consigned to the pop world of manufactured stardom without seeing a disconnect.

Or maybe I didn’t learn that at all, because what I learned from the Hipster Runoff piece linked above is that Lizzy Grant, now known as Lana Del Rey, started out as an obviously mainstream pop-star-in-waiting, that the previous attempt to manufacture her for mass consumption didn’t work, and that the main components of the current “Lana Del Rey” reboot seem to be collagen and a moody string section. But how different is “Video Games,” really, from the Lizzy Grant single, “Kill Kill,” that Hipster Runoff posted along with their article? Not much at all, really. In fact, I probably like “Kill Kill” better than “Blue Jeans,” though it hasn’t managed to obtain the indelible hold on my imagination that “Video Games” did with my very first listen. Yeah, I’ll confess—I like that song a lot. Some of it has to do with the video, certainly; Del Rey’s usage of footage of Paz De La Huerta drunk at the Golden Globes is impressive in the way that its juxtaposition with her dark song brings out pathos in a video that I’m sure initially evoked schadenfreude more than anything. And to me, that evocative juxtaposition tells a deeper truth that we don’t tend to think about with bottom-feeding celebrity-misadventure videos—even if we snark, laugh, or roll our eyes at such videos (which are a regular feature of the pop-culture internet world in 2011), it’s because we have the luxury of not knowing the people in these situations as real people, rather than television characters. But somebody does, and all of us probably know and care about somebody who turns into an intoxicated trainwreck on a regular basis, even if the people we know don’t get trailed around by gossip website stringers with cameras when it happens. When it’s one of your friends, that shit ain’t funny, and the fact that the video for “Video Games” turns that moment into something more universally sympathetic and understandable makes it an artistic achievement of some significance, even before we really get into talking about the song.

But let’s do that now, before I get any further off track. “Video Games” has gotten quite a few plays from me since I discovered it a month or so ago, and while all of them have been the result of me cueing up the youtube video and playing it, most of the time I haven’t actually stuck around to watch the parade of images. The thing that most interests me about that song is the song itself; in my humble opinion, it’s pretty great. Maura’s article makes clear that it’s not really her jam, and that’s fine, but I certainly hope that not everyone who has jumped into this whole argument about Lana Del Rey and authenticity has just written her music off as insignificant and of little value. I happen to think that she’s got some real talent, and if anything, the fact that I like “Kill Kill,” her pre-Lana Del Rey single as Lizzy Grant, proves that what she’s got that I find worth listening to doesn’t have much of anything to do with her visual aesthetic. Maybe to some people this is overproduced coffee-shop balladry of the Norah Jones type, but I personally can get into it—and that turns out to be true regardless of what name she’s doing it under.

So now we’re at the biggest question that this whole discussion brings to my mind: is there really any substantive, rather than purely superficial, distinction between Lizzy Grant and Lana Del Rey? I’m not seeing one. And if not, then was the superficial (and not even that extensive other than collagen and a slight change in backing instrumentation) makeover she received during the transition from one name to another really necessary? Well, maybe it actually was—there was no buzz around Lizzy Grant, after all, and the Lana Del Rey buzz predates the secret show that Maura’s article is about. Or maybe the problem is just that Lizzy Grant, with the name, lips, and production she started out with, was being marketed to the wrong crowd. And that statement implies that these days, indie is nothing more than a marketing demographic. Maura’s point appears to be not only that that is exactly true, but that the way we try to keep ourselves immune from more obvious forms of marketing only opens us up to subtler, more deceptive, but ultimately just as effective forms of marketing.

But don’t ask me what I think about all that.

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