Brooklyn singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey seemingly appeared out of nowhere with lead single “Video Games.” The mournful love song, and the self-compiled clip for it, concisely capture a singular experience. With her 60s-style blowout and impossibly thick lips, she pouts and vamps like a YouTube cam girl (the clips of a drunken Paz de la Huerta are appropriate). Intercut is footage of the dichotomous aesthetic she’s so carefully aiming for: Los Angeles, past and present. 8mm clips of Golden Age Hollywood nostalgia, mashed with skateboarders and live-and-die-in-LA escapades, under the song’s swaying piano, twinkling harp, and funeral march drum rolls. All of that, and the most compelling aspect is Del Rey’s raspy Stevie Nicks meets Cat Power voice.
The B-side to “Video Games,” “Blue Jeans,” is the next logical step in her look and sound. Sonically, “Blue Jeans” is built on the tremolo guitar of Chris Isaak circa “Wicked Game,” while Del Rey’s lyrics dabble in urban vernacular: “you so fresh to death and sick as cancer / You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop… I told you that no matter what you did / I’d be by your side / Cause imma ride or die…” Yet in this video, Del Rey is impeccably styled, whether wearing bling and an off the shoulder sweater or throwback shades and a floral skirt.
On the strength of these two songs, Lana Del Rey seemed poised to reach Next Big Thing status in a hurry. Describing herself as a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” and her music as “Hollywood pop” and “sad core,” she was doing half the work for bloggers and journalists everywhere. Is Lana Del Rey, indie Youtube sensation, too good to be true?
According to the indie blogosphere, yes. It turns out that Lana Del Rey (or Lizzy Grant, her real name) has major record label backing and has undergone major changes since her self-released (and no longer available) debut album dropped last year. Hipster Runoff satirically documented the evidence and predictable blogosphere backlash. In short, Lana Del Rey was branded and marketed with a receptive audience in mind, and the audience didn’t appreciate the charade. The record industry, not transparent? An artist undergoing physical enhancement to be more marketable? Color me shocked!
[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/09-Pawn-Shop-Blues.mp3″ text=”Lana Del Rey – Pawn Shop Blues” dl=0]
[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/02-Queen-of-the-Gas-Station.mp3″ text=”Lana Del Rey – Queen of the Gas Station” dl=0]
And while Lana and her label might want her early album to disappear, it’s not for the nefarious reasons the blogosphere assumes. This is a simple case of supply-and-demand; building buzz by trickling out singles and videos is Music Business 101. The album actually shares many of the touchstones of Del Rey’s new material. “Pawn Shop Blues” and “Yayo” are crafted in the same moody pop style, if not with the same finesse, and apart from a few synth-pop missteps, even the more generic songs don’t stray too much from her sound: “Queen of the Gas Station” and “Gramma” would work for most Hotel Cafe singers. For what it’s worth, the video for “Kill Kill” is the same type of Youtube collage she still employs. It appears that all her “secret industry support” has done is tighten her image and sound for a mainstream audience – exactly what the music industry has done for each and every pop act for the last sixty years.
While Lana Del Rey might not have been “born bad” as the swagged-out surf pop of “Kinda Outta Luck” posits, some of the less-murderous lyrics ring true: “You never cared what I did at all / Motel singer at a silver ball / I did what I had to do.” Lana Del Rey is a singer-songwriter in 2011, and we should forgive a little system-gaming if it results in songs like “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans.” Blogosphere haters, upset with being complicit in record label machinations, should take heed of the chorus of the song: “Is it wrong that I think it’s kinda fun / When I hit you in the back of the head with a gun?”