Lana Del Rey Takes Her Place On The Internet's Sacrificial Altar With "Born To Die"

Categories: Lana Del Rey

lanadelrey_borntodie.jpg
In another era, Lana Del Rey would just be another pretty pop singer with a second-rate voice and big, unrealized ambitions, a major-label footnote maybe worth a page or two in a book about the foibles of the early-'10s music industry. But this is The Age Of Trollgaze, and so her "mysterious" origins and melted-cover-girl looks get fetishized and obsessed over by members of the peanut gallery who fancy themselves as "indie," but who are just as into the notion of hatefucking unavailable women as their brethren who read The Superficial and its ilk—even the most anodyne mentions of her music on any site with a comment section will devolve into incoherent referenda on her physical self, an inevitability almost as concrete as debates on political blogs turning into arguments over whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama ruined the country more irrevocably. The songs are often overtaken by these tussles enough that they are merely termed "fine," or "shitty," or somewhere in between those two on the one-word-judgment spectrum.

Del Rey's debut album Born To Die comes out, finally, early next year, and the ready-for-radio version of its title track appeared on her YouTube channel last night after being performed in Europe a few times over the past month. How does it fit into this debased, hashtag-riddled age that we are currently living in? Our mathematical analysis, below.

THE ARTIST (5 points): "Lana Del Rey is a hot female indie singer." (5/5)

THE SONG (5 points): We open with an overwrought string part worthy of a Susan Boyle album, which suddenly drops out in favor of Del Rey, buried in the mix, gasping a couple of times as a call-and-response with a sample that sounds borrowed from a hip-hop song. All good—until she starts to sing. Del Rey's voice, which tries to go for "sex kitten" but which more often sounds like that of a particularly put-upon alley cat, meanders around a sing-song melody that repeats over and over and over—for four minutes and 44 seconds. Yes, her vocal imperfections are not unlike those of stylists like Stevie Nicks, but unlike Nicks, Del Rey's inability to stay on pitch sounds like the failed attempts of someone trying really hard to do so. And when she uses her upper register, you kind of want to hand her an oxygen mask.

Furthermore, what has happened this year that every "buzzworthy" artist is averse to songs that contain something resembling a bridge? No, repeating the chorus over dropped-out instrumentals, as Del Rey does here, doesn't count, especially for a track that brushes the five-minute mark. (4/5)

THE VIDEO (5 points): A looped clip of Lana and a tattooed bro hugging, topless, in front of an American flag. What it lacks in budget it more than makes up for in "meaningful" blinks by our false-eyelashed heroine and, no doubt, repeated views by those desperate alt bros in constant search of "nip." And there's apparently a video with a tiger coming soon. Hooray? (4/5)

DIVISIVENESS (5 points): 694 likes and 14 dislikes on YouTube, but lots of people are still waking up. (INCOMPLETE)

VIRALITY POTENTIAL (10 points): OMG NAKED YOU GUYS PUT UP THE BATSIGNAL (8/10)

"FUCK THE HATERS" QUOTIENT (10 points): The secret of Lana Del Rey's persona is this: For all the nasty Internet comments written about her, nobody hates her (or "her") as much as she ("she") does. There, I've solved the Internet for you. Time for a muffin. (1/10)

BACKLASH POTENTIAL (5 points): At this point we've hit the backlash to the backlash to the fifth or sixth power. (5/5)

THAT EXTRA JE NE SAIS QUOI (5 points): When Del Rey performed this last month, the climactic line of the chorus was "Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain." In this version, "fuck" has been changed to "kiss." Pre-emptive move to placate radio programmers, or our heroine realizing that her meticulously crafted persona doesn't have nearly enough sexual agency to initiate outdoor fucking in a downpour? (4/5)

TOTAL: 31/50: Not trollgaze. But, you know, that doesn't make the song any good at all.

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27 comments
blakejake01
blakejake01

Then again,, her song "Blue Jeans" is much, much better..  -As is the video for it. . 

There seems to be two different videos for it and the songs are slightly different too. I am not certain if the 2nd one is an official video or if it was fan produced.  However it appears that it is not a fan-made video because there are too many scenes of her in one that are not in the other video for this song. While the first one has far more youtube hits and likes, I tend to like the 2nd one better.  It's more rugged and natural instead of being a stereo-typical music video who's style is so common and boring that it looks like it was produced from a template.

1st http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRWox-i6aAk

2nd http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t-I-Lqy06g

blakejake01
blakejake01

At least she does not use auto-tune like 90% of "singers" in many other genre's of music are doing.  And... At least her ability to sing is far better than your ability to write a web-article.

Mike
Mike

Once someone actually hits the magical 35-point mark, can they please receive the (intangible, of course) "Heart2Heart Memorial Trollgaze Award"?

Emily
Emily

I'm not familiar enough with her press to be able to state with any accuracy whether del Rey has alluded publicly to any subtextual specifics. (Hopefully not, as per Nietzche's maxim: “The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak.”) She did carefully describe in a recent I think Dutch interview her reason for including TMZ clips of plastered Paz de la Huerta in "Video Games" as "[Paz] is someone who enjoys her fame." For me those clips are what render explicit what is latent in the lyric, that the video games being played range far beyond, erm, Grand Theft Auto. (Sorry, I'm not the gamer sort of nerd, I'm the sort of nerd who would happily launch into a close reading of a pop song at 3AM given the slightest impetus.) 

Bryan
Bryan

There's an interesting analysis by Amy Klein on her tumblr that I think does a good job dissecting some of the ideas involved in the work.  Amy also doesn't like the music, but she has a good grasp of what's being attempted.http://amyrebeccaklein.tumblr....

I'm OK with a fair amount of snark (like when you talk about Train), because you're at least engaging Train as if they're responsible for their output. The same thing with Kelly Clarkson. But there's a disconnect in your treatment of Lana that I think goes beyond being mean and into being outright dismissive of her as a person. Still not asking you to like the music, but the way I read what you've written about her in particular makes me think you're objectifying her just as much as the reviewer who went ahead and declared his immediate love in her press release blurb. She's an object of derision, not an artist whose work you dislike. I could be misinterpreting that.  However, nothing you've said so far makes me think that I am.

Benton Sucker
Benton Sucker

is the village voice modeling its prose on CARLES now?

Dave Carlson
Dave Carlson

Shouldn't it be 31/45, since one category wasn't included?

Bryan
Bryan

There's something that's always bothered me about the way you write about her and I think I've finally realized what it is. It's a question of agency. You're welcome to not like the songs and not like her voice; 'overproduced' is an accurate criticism, and I completely agree with your observation about the bridge in buzzworthy music. But that opening line ("pretty pop singer with a second rate voice") and the line about "not having enough sexual agency to initiate outdoor fucking" seem to say you're pretty convinced this is all fabricated.  The fact of the matter is she sings and writes those songs (yet doesn't get the singer/songwriter description that would be automatically attached to men), and she was putting out similar videos for a few years before anybody started to notice. There's no question at all there's persona involved here, but regardless of the origin of the name, the crafting of that persona (as well as the songs) is hers.

You've said in other comments sections that you'd rather listen to Fiona Apple; how much different is, say, the video for "Criminal" than what's going on here? There's a similar text and subtext in both; ignoring that is to ignore Lana's part in the creation of her own work..  You've ascribed more agency (and by extension artistry) to Nickleback; they may be coloring "inside the lines presented to them by the Radio-Ready Rock Coloring Book", but at least you gave them credit for holding the crayon.

DDB9000
DDB9000

Sometimes I'm glad that I don't surf or pay as much attention to the internet as some do. I can genuinely say "who?" and be glad I've never heard of this woman (until now)... Everyone can go back to their homes now...

Mario_Van_Peebles
Mario_Van_Peebles

She whine-sings like Fran Drescher.  It gives me a headache.  Also, this song is HARDLY ready-for-radio - what station are YOU listening to?

Jamie
Jamie

I still don't get the vitriol directed at her! I think she has a decently nice voice, kind of Stevie-ish. The song is pretty boring, but it does a good job of fading into the background and not hurting my ears, which is more than I can say for most things on the radio right now. If anything, she's aggressively inoffensive, which is the opposite of trollgaze. I really don't think she was savvily trying to stir up controversy with her music and image. If anything, all the ire is a result of her lack of savvy. I also give her (or whomever) points for casting a hot dude.

saelantwerdy
saelantwerdy

I think this rating system has set the bar for trollgaze way too low. Clearly, gazers are being trolled here.

maura
maura

I'll make a trophy gif and everything.

maura
maura

(That's OK, we welcome all sorts of nerds here!)

I guess what I'm wondering though is if the metacritique works, or if it falls flat like so much irony in the hypercycled world of celebrity/music gossip. You've no doubt seen multiple examples of people making jokes on Twitter that turned into fodder for tin-eared outlets looking for yet another scoop. (Or, heck, sites that are satirical having their "scoops" picked up as real things --search "kanye west" "king of pop" for an example.) Could this persona be landing in a similar way? Are we all going to have to wait for the dissertation to find out?

I still think my points about the way the male-dominated "indie" world welcomes attractive women stand, and if your comments on the meta nature of this project bear out, I guess I agree with Lana then. Which is nice, although watching the sexism manifest itself (here and in other facets of music culture), especially from people who I want to think as allies of a sort, is still pretty soul-rending to watch.

maura
maura

Her whole lyrical persona is about wanting boys (not men) to like her, and waiting around for them to do so; her physicality is similarly tied up in being a lustworthy object, one who constantly looks exceedingly uncomfortable and unhappy. Any lack of agency I'm ascribing to her is brought on by those two huge looming facts, and not by quibbles over who has input into the writing of her (meandering, frustrating) music.

maura
maura

Well no it's not going to be played on, like, Z100, but the switchup of "fuck" to "kiss" certainly makes it more radio-ready for, say, college stations.

Emily
Emily

Went through frame by frame to establish the basis of the argument, but length was out of control so I blogged the whole thing here: http://dunnraw.tumblr.com/post...

Time’s tight so the full dissertation might have to wait until after the holidays, but here in the opening frames over the first verse we have the set-up for the entire piece. Del Rey has introduced five types of video clips, each imbedded deeply in contemporary American culture:

1) Video games, infamous for fixating mostly male adolescents (of all ages) for the last three decades, those same video games the narrator’s boyfriend is staring at instead of at her. 

2) Video phone, a form of communication that makes it impossible not to pose no matter whom you’re talking to. (Recently Skyped for the first time with my parents. Each time my eye brushed my image in the corner I caught myself sitting up straighter.) But if you’re chatting with someone in a romantic setting, forget about it. To one degree or another, you’re posing.

3) Home movies, from Super 8 to flip cam, videos of happy times that replace our memories, aiding & exacerbating nostalgia’s warp of history. Everyone films opening Christmas presents; few film Billy’s bullying or Grandpa’s racist rants.  The clips here of pools, swings, skateboards & picnicking couples evoke an end of summer atmosphere reinforced by the late afternoon haze of the sound itself. As collected & presented they are steeped in a consciousness of coming loss, of imminent endings: the end of summer, the end of adolescence, the end of innocence, the end of a love affair, the end of a dream, the end of an empire.    

4) TMZ footage, the sleazy pinnacle of our nation’s favorite pastime, celebrity worship/destruction. Hollywood is our major cultural export. Hollywood stars have the ultimate aspirational lifestyles. We worship them monumentally sized on glowing screens then barrage them with disdainful scrutiny until they go mad or die or move to Montana. We put them up just to pull them down. We love them, we hate them, we’re obsessed. We’ve infected the world with celebrity culture & TMZ is the lousiest disseminator of the virus.

5) Stock footage, that great archive of visual archetypes that infiltrates filmic narrative from classic cinema to Fox news & is only successful if unseen. There’s a lot we take for granted regarding the language of film. We’re so immersed that if the editing is tight we read it without even noticing our fluency. Pay attention to establishing shots. They’re almost always stock footage. The waving flag, the Hollywood sign, the LA streets, these are all establishing shots. They tell you where you are. 

So we’ve got five types of video & five types of games. There are also, of course, the video games played by Ms. Del Rey herself in creating the very video we’re watching, the video games she played surfing YouTube, culling clips, editing them into a flow that fit her song. & uploading the video to the ether, dreaming of an audience, waiting for a response.

Then there’s the original video game, the gaze. “Video” in Latin means “to be seen; to seem, appear, be thought.” It’s in the passive voice. Are you familiar with the notion of the male gaze? (If not, John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” is a nice primer.) “Gaze” is a psychoanalytic term that describes the anxiety of realizing that one can be seen. Theories of the male gaze posit an unequal relationship male & female modes of looking. The male looks while the female is looked at. The term was coined by a feminist film critic who contended that all film was a concrete manifestation of the male gaze. In accordance with the Uncertainty Principle, that the observer affects the observed, women subject to the male gaze lose any autonomous sense of self. Internalizing the male gaze means constantly comparing how one wishes she looked to how one imagines she looks to others, eradicating any possible satisfaction with how one is.

The consequences of objectification in personal relationships are dire. I hope you’ve never been there, but many women have - the slow death realization that you’re dating a misogynist, that for all his professions of love & all its promises that he sees you, really sees YOU, in fact all he cares about is how you look on his arm. Which is exactly what the lyric describes. The narrator has worn what he wants her to wear over what he refers to explicitly as an object separate from her (“that body”). She does what he wants her to do, says what he wants her to say (“you the bestest” followed by a big kiss has a ritual air) how he wants her to say it (babytalk), even smells how he wants her to smell. & he ignores her.

The opening stanza sets up the scenario of an idealized American romance, though there’s already an aura of imbalance. He has a fast car. He goes places while she waits; her swing moves but goes nowhere. In the second stanza, things get quickly darker. The clipped lines encourage multiple readings. The swallowed pronouns give an air of imperative even where one isn’t explicit (“you say get over here”). He gives her orders, neglecting to engage her except to watch her get undressed. This is the true video game that he plays.

Between the verse & lyric there is a tone shift, emphasized by the music’s swell. On one level the chorus evokes her fantasy of what her romance should be according to everything pop culture’s told her about love, versus the reality described the verse. On another it subverts the very pop tropes of perfect love it verbalizes. “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you, everything I do” in her tone of anguish becomes an accusation. “They say that the world was built for two/ Only worth living if somebody is loving you/ Baby, now you do” as delivered is an outright condemnation of romantic love. More than anything it is an expression of disappointment. She did everything she was supposed to do & it didn’t work. She performed femininity perfectly & it betrayed her. Its promises were lies.

There’s more here, about the construct of “bad girl” (someone who’s bad at conforming to established dictates of femininity), a tie between thwarted romantic relationship & thwarted ambition, comparing elusive love to elusive fame. But the most repeated theme is video, the state of being conscious of being seen, a state of seeming. This is the state you’re in as you hike your skirt down (or up) when you catch someone looking at your legs on the subway. Or as you glance at your reflection in a passing window out of the corner of your eye, checking involuntarily whether how you look is how you want to be seen. Or as you Skype a significant other from a studied three quarter angle, lips carefully pooched. We all find ourselves playing these kinds of video games, consciously or not. We’re all complicit. & this is what Lana Del Rey gives voice to, that moment of stilted dread when you catch yourself posing.

She voices what happens after what a recent Jezebel article (http://jezebel.com/5550321/why... describes as “that thing we talk about that happens to our young women. That thing that we, as grown-ups, write about and research incessantly and condemn broadly, but don’t remember so vividly.” Lana Del Rey is the world-weary voice of a has-been beauty queen, an over-the-hill starlet, an ex-model. She’s the voice of Britney Spears, doomed pop queen of cognitive dissonance (who unlike Del Rey was in fact a corporate construction, introduced to the world without her own knowledge or understanding as the ultimate embodiment of the virgin/whore), as she stares at herself in the mirror before stripping her head bare of its potent symbol of sexuality, murmuring she’s tired of people touching her. Lana Del Rey gives voice to the ghosts of Anna Nicole Smith, JonBenet Ramsey & Marilyn Monroe. She’s the voice of Lolita, not the soft-core pedo version that’s all that’s leaked into pop culture, but the actual character in Nabakov’s actual novel, hardened by a lifetime of objectification & abuse, who when she finally calls out Humbert at the end of the story devastates him with the stark consequences of his desire-warped delusions. 

"Ode to a Grecian Urn" has always bugged me. Keats waxes on about all the wonderful things the urn would say & sing if it could speak but then decides because it's pretty he'd rather just look at it in any case. Anything it did say would ruin his fantasy of what it could have said & his imaginings are undoubtedly infinitely more interesting than any possible observations of this hypothetical witness of actual history.

Lana Del Rey is the voice of the Grecian Urn. 

Carl Wilson
Carl Wilson

In some ways your Fuck the Haters category is the key - it all depends where you put the quotation marks. You could draw a double-axis diagram with agency on one and authenticity on the other: (a) No one hates her as much as she does; (b) No one hates "her" as much as she does; or (c) No one hates "her" as much as "she" does.

Bryan
Bryan

Those two huge looming facts are exactly the point that you've missed.  "Video Games", for example, is just as much about objectification and the male gaze as it as about what a cursory reading of the lyrics describes. And, in case you missed that point in the song by itself, the video makes it explicit: yes, she's presented as a lustworthy object, but she's not happy about it. She's not supposed to be happy about it. You don't like the music, and you're looking for some concrete reasons to make that explicit. You don't like the way she sings; ok. You think the songs themselves aren't interesting, and the way you read the lyrics makes you think "oh, she's only interested in getting boys to like her". That's fine, too. For the clip included in the article, there's a loop that, as you suggested, she's again presented as an object of lust, but since it is a loop, the prurient factor eventually fades out. And she's looking directly at the camera; it's a challenge to you, the viewer, to just listen to the song. It's a commentary on what a lot of people have said about her; it's "sure, this is what you think of me, hot girl with tattooed hipster boy, but can you actually listen to this for a second"? You did, and you didn't like it, so it reinforces your negative opinion of her. But you're assuming that she's not an active participant in anything you've seen or heard by her, so you're completely dismissive of the idea that there could be anything else there. That's where the lack of agency comes in, and that's why your writing bothers me here in a way that it doesn't when you're simply being mean to Train.

maura
maura

And I mean, metacritique or not, the songs she's put out are still shapeless and poorly sung.

maura
maura

I am assu

I'd love to read about the meta critique going on, though -- has she actually alluded to this anywhere? Of course the problem crops up in the reception (witness the evolution of "SLUT" being painted on Kathleen Hanna's punk belly to mass-merchandised baby tees saying "princess"), but honestly, that aspect of things does not come across at all.

And I found the looping nature of the clip more of a nod to animated gif culture than anything else. (Pitchfork had one up within an hour of its premiere.)

(Also sorry about the aborted sentence up top--Disqus doesn't play nicely with my phone.)

Also not for nothing but are you okay with me saying "mean things about Train" because you dislike them? I mean, people tend to take music criticism pretty personally! I do it too.

Emily
Emily

That's one of the things that bugged me most about the "Video Games" backlash - the dismissal of her lyrics as mundane & trite from "critics" with zero awareness of the song's explicit subtext, the narrator's dissatisfaction with objectification. Lana/Lizzy has been linking the iconography of doomed American glamour queens to doomed American dreams for years, long before her vid went viral & Interscope signed her two months ago. 

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