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

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Now look what you've done.
Last night Glasslands played host to a "secret" show by Lana Del Rey, an up-and-coming singer who was described by the one press release I received about her (in July) as a "gangster Nancy Sinatra" and whose overall aesthetic is like what would happen if you asked Charlotte Gainsbourg to try and remake a Zero 7 album—tastefully blippy and languid, ready for airplay in a low-lit bar that has a menu just for its "martini" selection. (This press release, it should be noted, also quoted a commenter on a popular music blog offering the following trenchant bit of music criticism: "Beautiful, dangerous, I'm in love.") And today lots of people are talking/arguing about her, probably because the rain is keeping everyone cooped up and unable to go out to lunch.

A note, first, about the function of the "secret" show in the current music economy. Obviously one thing that recorded music is not lacking is scarcity—fire up Spotify, head to Google and append "+ mediafire" to your query, and you'll find what you're looking for and a lot of things that you probably weren't. But the illusion of scarcity remains crucial to those sorts of people who think about "coolness" in a high-school way.

What to do in the era where buying Japanese import CDs or seven-inches on microlabels from the UK doesn't have the same crate-digging cachet that it once did? Enter the "secret show," a type of pseudo-event set up by PR agencies and sponsored by brands looking to flavor their public profile with some subcultural edge. There are at least three or four of these sorts of events every night in New York City, which serves as the home to so many (too many?) self-styled tastemakers who are more than willing to hold each night of their life up as content, or at least fill a blog-posting quota with news of new artists on the horizon. Invite these people to an event (preferably where the free alcohol flows) and voila, you've manufactured a scarce resource—namely, being there. Those people who weren't invited are therefore being forced to think that the person performing is interesting for some reason, because why would there be so much coverage? Isn't this "the news"?

Well, sure, although my use of the term "pseudo-event" up top was pretty deliberate: It's a term used to describe an event designed not to be enjoyed but to be disseminated, whether through news stories or publicity photos or, now, breathless blog posts and tweets. (It was coined by the brilliant Daniel Boorstin, whose book The Image is pretty required reading for the current cultural moment.) The explosion of media outlets has, of course, resulted in a corresponding explosion in these sorts of events, which is why you see certain blogs breathless about things like vodka launches and iTunes deluxe edition track listings (The "event" doesn't have involve people gathering, either; these days it can pretty much be anything that can have a press release cobbled together about it, from the release of a single cover to a "statement" about current events.) SOTC has covered a bunch of these events because they are part of the New York City musical fabric; so much of the industry is based here that it would be kind of against our charge of covering the local music scene to not do so.

So yeah, Lana Del Rey played Glasslands last night. Many bloggers and members of the music media* were in attendance; some took photos. (Note that Pitchfork and Stereogum's coverage barely touches on how she sounded, and only focuses on the fact that she appeared. The Pitchfork photos in particular look like they're ready to be repurposed as album covers at a moment's notice.) Hipster Runoff celebrated the occasion by publishing a sorta-exposé of her past, which occasioned a lot of comments about her cosmecutical decisions, because she is a woman who has made herself into something more conventionally "attractive" than a singer-songwriter who might be shunted off to the adult album alternative section of people's mental music-storage racks. Relatedly, her rise has sparked arguments over how "indie" the ideals of femininity in "indie" might be, and whether or not the timing of all this chatter about her was some sort of weird reaction to this week's new records by the admittedly more ferocious Wild Flag and St. Vincent. There are some concerned discussions over the fact that she chewed gum during her set. There is even one guy trying to claim "firsties" on all comers, which, oh my God, can we just shut off the Internet now, please.

But all of this, of course, is a sign that the "secret show" tactic worked once again. The fact that people are arguing about her—even over extramusical aspects of her career like her looks—is a sign that she's achieved some sort of "success" in the current moment, when artists like Kreayshawn and Odd Future reach the top of the "musical fame" heap while having their music serve as a secondary concern at best, with arguments from the peanut gallery that they rebuke when they see fit pumping up their presence. The old maxim was that all press was good press; the 21st-century corollary dictates that all online mentions have the salutary effect of inflating one's Google Page Rank, whether they're people giving lukewarm "this happened" non-criticism or going on vicious tirades.

My question is: Are we really trying to bring back early-'00s singles bar music as a retro "thing"? Like, can't some courageous music blogger stand up and say "Hey, PR person, I like you and I like the people who work where you do, and I know we're all on this sinking ship together, but really I can't take every piece of culture with a visual aesthetic that I'm attracted to that you're offering?" Because I just can't with the overproduction here:


Lana Del Rey, "Video Games"


Lana Del Rey, "Blue Jeans"

*I was otherwise occupied. Also, I'm pretty sure got the better Sinatra shout-out when Anthrax exited the stage to "New York, New York."

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51 comments
Anthony Fabbricatore
Anthony Fabbricatore

I'm bummed I didn't see this article sooner. This is easily one of the most (or one of the only) insightful takedowns of the blog blanket-acceptance of smoke and mirrors indie PR campaigns, and Maura Johnston is one of the only music bloggers with any concept of "real talk" left.

stina
stina

Lana del Rey is getting popular in Germany as well. When I first listened to one of here songs I was blown away. She performed last year on the Mando diao's MTV Unplugged Gig her version of the band's song Chet Baker. Here the link:www.youtube.com/watch?v=U... Enjoy!

Kell
Kell

I think you made a good point- it's a question of aesthetics. Lana Del Rey has created a persona in a genre that is "allergic to pretense." If Tori Amos marketed herself the same way she would probably excite the same people who are in a frenzy about Lana. Lana's music is good, but her real achievement is ingenuously combining an aesthetic with a genre that wouldn't normally be associated with each other.

Jamie P
Jamie P

Just read this for the first time. I also read some other press on her. It seems like LDR is a fairly sincere person who has been working at the music thing for a long time now. When a label finally offered her support, she took it, and she's going along with whatever kind of promo they want her to do, because she assumes they know what they're doing on the business side. I don't think she's trying to incite controversy on purpose, and I don't really know where you're getting that from...that's a damning accusation, and I think you need more to back it up. If anything, the music is inoffensive to the point of being sort of lulling. Like, I'd listen to it in the background when I'm reading or going to sleep. It might not move me much, but it's pretty much impossible to get mad at it. This all seems like much ado about nothing. And I could give a fuck about whether she's had plastic surgery, but if she were really trying to appeal to the snobby indie crowd, I don't think she would've done something so passé as that.

JT
JT

Lost in the cynical discussion of the state of "secret" shows in New York is an exceptionally talented young lady named Lana Del Rey.

brilliantarrogance
brilliantarrogance

ya'll mother fuckers should be ashamed of comparing LG in the same sentence...brilliant arrogance dot com

Barry Donegan
Barry Donegan

I don't think it should be the job of other people to decide what artists' roles should be, but that's just me. :)

Jess
Jess

Maura, while I enjoyed this article, I can't help but feel that you (and some commenting) are taking the whole situation really, rather too seriously…

Sure, we all know this "secret" show of LDR's was totally phoney. But come on, this is not the first time (and certainly not the last time) a record company has embarked on such framed marketing tactics. Lana Del Rey should not be individually targeted and scorned for this stunt.

I was similarly disgruntled at Pitchfork's lack of commentary on how she actually sounded. That publication’s credentials are slipping every day... Anyway, I stumbled on this article in the hope you would enlighten me on the live show instead.  While there was no comment on this (did you actually attend?) at least you contributed something readable to the Lana Del Rey phenomenon beyond the get-a-room ass-licking of P4K.

Anyway, I did find YouTube clips of the gig. I was disappointed (and actually, quite shocked) at what I heard. The vocals were terrible (although, I admit, the videos I watched were short and shoddy). I’m beginning to think this girl is a somewhat record label rush job now...

But who cares! Her recorded tracks! Wow! I absolutely adore them and I think she has thus far proved to be a brilliant pop writer. Collagen lips, pseudo-events and feminist issues all become meaningless upon hearing Video Games, Blues Jeans, etc. 

maura
maura

I didn't attend, no. I was at the Big 4 that night (I state that in the piece); I saw the YouTube clip posted above and a few others and was thoroughly unimpressed. But there was a ton of chatter dominating that afternoon, which is what this piece is more in response to (I'm working on a longer piece about the phenomenon of negative attention and "controversy" feeding into the short starbursts of fame that have been typical of recent blog-borne music stars and politicians as well).

I also think her recorded tracks are pretty boring! There are so many other artists out there who are doing "atmospheric" pop better, and when you strip her songs down they're just Feisty (but not feisty). Give me Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine any day.

Seriously?
Seriously?

oh god - YAWN to the idea that you prefer Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine!  And the woman who held your job 5 years ago said she preferred Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes, and the man before her preferred Kate Bush, and the man before her preferred Joni Mitchell, and so on and so on and so on until we're back to the glory days of Gregorian chants and the invention of the printing press.  you age yourself by going there - we all prefer The Beatles to everything else, but talking about current music means not being so slavish to albums 5, 10, 20 and 40 years ago.  otherwise, get a different profession.

Jess
Jess

Of course, people will label my comment annoyingly impartial, but seriously, why are blogs turning music into some major sociological issue. We all need to quit being so neurotic and just listen to music again. Then all Odd Futures/Kreayshawns/other artists known for their attitude/aesthetics rather than their sound will have nothing to feed off of. Complaining makes it all worse. 

maura
maura

Because it's interesting?

Jared
Jared

And here i am just enjoying her music while this entire hype-blacklash storm is going on.

Sexy Sasquatch
Sexy Sasquatch

If you're looking for more of her music, I've found that you can download her old self-titled album (that she's tried to withdraw from the public) from her old label.  http://is.gd/OOQHT8

hates music blogs
hates music blogs

I literally yelled "what?" after I read the fucking headline. The Kreayshawn of blah blah blah blah? Are people actually hooked by these comparisons? 

Anyway this girl is 100% a record label creation and the splicing together old retro film with clips of her singing is meaningless bullshit but I guess most Pitchfork readers will buy it, along with these ridiculous headlines comparing things that have only been relevant for a few months!

maura
maura

"these ridiculous headlines comparing things that have only been relevant for a few months!"

That's the point though! The hype cycle's been completely compressed and sped up in a ridiculous way.

hates music blogs
hates music blogs

Also, heres a challenge for next time:writing an indie music article without mentioning Odd Future.

michael
michael

lol the gvb is just stupid. nice try.

Barbra Barr
Barbra Barr

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Garrett
Garrett

OK, so wait, I just wanna know one thing. Can she sing live or not? To be more specific, was her voice at this event as clear and powerful and resonant as it seems to be on the recorded version of "Video Games?"

chris cantalini
chris cantalini

not sure if you're deleting comments or what, but not sure how my post could've been construed as "claiming firsties" when other people have been talking about this girl for over a year. I was simply pointing out that no one cares what your boy Weingarten thinks about whether this girl has had plastic surgery or not at this point. I wasn't even defending LDR as much as I was defending one song ("video games"), which not surprisingly, you don't get either.

maura
maura

I'm not deleting comments unless they're spam! (Our system automatically eats anything with a link.) Also, I think it's funny when people get bent outta shape in a "ugh, SO OVER, we were talking about that FOREVER AGO" sort of way. Which you tend to do a lot and which kind of misses the point that it's a big Internet out there and not everyone is as bleeding-edge as you. (Also: "which not surprisingly, you don't get either" -- really? Isn't your early 30s a bit old to be all teen-angsty about whether or not people "get" a song?)

chris cantalini
chris cantalini

also i'm a fan of Wild Flag's record, but if they want to be the biggest band in the world, they could start by writing a song as good as "Video Games"

chris cantalini
chris cantalini

way to miss the point completely. not sure how my comment could be construed as "claiming firsties," considering that other people have been talking about this girl for well over a year. my point was simply that no one cares what your boy Weingarten thinks at this point. he doesn't matter any more, and you're on your last legs. I'm not even defending LDR as much as I'm defending the quality of one song ("video games"), which, not surprisingly, you don't get either.

Disstapes
Disstapes

PEOPLE, don't worry about lips, don't worry about gender, just "follow the money", pull your shoes off, and get ready to throw them as hard as you fucking can

mjp
mjp

Hipster Runoff's shtick can get really tiresome, but he's at his best when he is mocking bloggers/rock writers. When you get past all the LOLs and irony, his commentary on the media and its role in the hype machine is often spot on.

maura
maura

Don't forget the sexism! (Which doesn't have as ironic an effect as might be intended.)

OP
OP

Good insights, Maura.

"Note that Pitchfork and Stereogum's coverage barely touches on how she sounded, and only focuses on the fact that she appeared."

Would like to note that your own write-up, however, you do the same.  The only word that you use to describe LDR's music is "overproduction", which is in itself a cop-out.

Otherwise, good writing, would recommend.

maura
maura

Did you miss the first paragraph?

(Sorry, that came out a bit bitchier than I intended! But I think I described the music there?)

Joe Tacopino
Joe Tacopino

(The "event" doesn't have involve people gathering...)

have TO involve

not trying to be an ahole, just trying to help. And I'm ordering The Image on Amazon.

maura
maura

i appreciate it!!!

jay smooth
jay smooth

*Nancy Sinatra* was the gangster Nancy Sinatra!

Bill P
Bill P

I went because I live three blocks from Glasslands. The song doesn't really do much for me. But I was curious.

There is nothing indie or whatever about her live performance which seemed straight out of The Living Room. Total pro backing band and "Videogames" sounded like Alana Myles on a A/C jazz tip. She's fine for what she does but what she does is really average and boring. And yes she chewed gum, what seemed like a whole pack at once, through the whole show. That's what I remember more than anything else. This show did her no favors. 

Guest
Guest

This is the first I heard of her but I like her music. I guess her show did work. This whole thing is so stylized it reminds me of the videos they play before Morrissey takes the stage. I have a hard time seeing this as a scam because I don't think anyone is making any money on it, and with the state of the industry and all, this looks like a lot of work for probably not much return. Is the issue that she isn't supposed to be an authentic artist? I can't see that. She seems pretty well realized.

Odd Future are another story. While I do like some of the beats and Tyler's delivery the whole thing reeks of "controversy"and I just have to look at the calendar and feel old because I remember Tipper Gore and the PMRC.

When people try to be shocking now they generally are boring or just irritating because the bar has been raised. The tv show "Married With Children" has been off the air for how long? And when it premiered it was "controversial. I just don't think that it's possible to truly shock within the context of pop music because there are things in the news that are way worse and that have little entertainment value. Who really wants to listen to a song that makes you feel like you do when you consider the Casey Anthony case or when you realize that our current administration is torturing people just like the last one did? It makes eating a roach seem like trivial shit meant for little kids and morons.

Breath Johnson
Breath Johnson

So she's basically a collagen-infused, less Italian looking Nicole Atkins? Why does the world need that?

joolz
joolz

Her lips look like they hurt. Also, she's not the first gal to come down the major label makeover pike and I'm sure she's not the last...#pagingJewel

btw, Wild Flag is just getting started  ! They still could be the biggest band in the world.

youractualmom
youractualmom

It was not a "secret show" per se, it was a performance under pseudonym that had been booked for a while. It was not known to any press until soon before the date, so saying HR was celebrating the occasion is incorrect. There are some decent insights here but the facts are spotty.

maura
maura

But c'mon, if you're going to do something really pseudonymic, why stick it smack in the middle of Williamsburg, where people are going to know who she is and where the word will be super-likely to get out? That's a move that's completely designed for after-the-fact dissemination from people in the "know."

Lucy Robinson
Lucy Robinson

I was totally grossed out by seeing male music critics (some of whom are Odd Future apologists) call out other male music critics as unfeminist for supporting Lana Del Rey and not Wild Flag. 

Women are socialized from birth to know and expect that their looks and their sexual attractiveness are the #1 thing in life. I can't fault Lana Del Rey for doing what she does with her face, and nobody should use "Playboy bunny" as an insult - it's ludicrous. Her songs are pretty incredible.

I think that Wild Flag should be the biggest band in the world (I wore my GIANT ASS Wild Flag button that I received with my vinyl pre-order), but it doesn't appear that they're going to be. It doesn't mean you can't LOVE AND SUPPORT ALL WOMEN musicians. 

Michael
Michael

Preach it, Lucy! Why can't Lana's brand of pop and Wild Flag's brand of righteous rawk co-exist peacefully in my music collection?Basically, this is a bunch of fuss over (potential) collagen injections...

maura
maura

I agree with you on the whole Odd Future duality point, but I kind of think that there may be a germ of a point in the calling-out, as far as cultural perceptions of the roles of women and what's "acceptable" for them to do. We are not exactly living in a very enlightened time as far as gender politics in indie go.

Todd Matthew
Todd Matthew

Maura:You allude to an obvious question: why have the standards for what is required of "indie" women artists continuously drifted towards the similar expectations that mainstream audiences have for women artists? Aren't we supposed to be the "enlightened" ones, unconvinced by all that affected image-making in the expensively-illuminated videos and overtly-airbrushed album cover photos (which curiously don't apply to dudes)?

I don't ever remember someone's attractiveness aiding in the songwriting process. Nothing against the talented who happen to be attractive, but it appears that a woman seeking indie relevance requires the hook of beauty to get attention in the internet-driven side of music (which is supposed to be an alternative, if I remember that great utopian vision that may/may not ever exist). What will change that paradigm?

mark0201
mark0201

I acknowledge that sex state policies in independent stone are completely shagged (ex. my life on a everyday basis), but it's annoying to see experts cut their feminism 101 tooth (and IMO completely forget the mark) on such great new music.

http://denverplasticsurgeons.net

Lucy Robinson
Lucy Robinson

I agree that gender politics in indie rock are totally fucked (ex. my life on a daily basis), but it's frustrating to see critics cut their feminism 101 teeth (and IMO totally miss the mark) on such great new music. 

Luis Gonzalez
Luis Gonzalez

I think this girl has more talent that a lot of artists earning #1 hits today. Her voice is beautiful and the videos are unique. A slight version of Gaga, mixed in with Duffy and Adele. Amazing!http://albumconfessions.blogsp...

Lucas Jensen
Lucas Jensen

Gross. I don't want anybody to be the Kreayshawn of anything.

Alferdonito4
Alferdonito4

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