Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lana Del Rey Conundrum

If you've never heard of Lana Del Rey before this very sentence, you've probably been under a bit of a rock - and no, I don't mean that in the sense that she's so famous you surely must've heard of her.  If anything, really, she might be infamous following her recent turnout on Saturday Night Live, and therein lies my meaning behind my certainty you've probably at least heard her name in passing since the January 14 episode hosted by Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.  You may never have heard her open her mouth whatsoever, but you might have heard about the trainwreck that was her two performances.

I feel it right to say, I'm a fan of hers.  She caught my attention as her song Video Games kept popping up on year-end lists covering the best-of 2011 music.  Interestingly, the day I typed Video Games into the Youtube search bar was the day that her first professional music video for her second officially released single, Born to Die, was released, and as I absorbed the slow melodic sounds of the former song I was stared down by the apathetic glare coupled with dark and pronounced lips that were Lana Del Rey's face on the banner for the new video.  A click away and I found myself watching the five minute long clip, and by the time it drew to a close I found myself compelled to play it again, and before I realized it completely I'd listened to the song (watching grew tiresome after a couple views even though the video is visually stunning) a good five or six times.  I was eager to hear more and I was greeted with a large amount of old demos on Youtube; I reserved myself to only listening to the songs which were to be included on her debut album, Born to Die, due out on the 30th of January but is somehow already playing on repeat on my iTunes.  (the only other songs being Blue Jeans, Diet Mtn Dew [which received a heavy hip-hop makeover for its final version and which consequently has become a favourite] and Off to the Races, my favourite by miles) I suppose it's largely due to my music library growing stale - yeah, Gaga has a great replay value, but Born This Way has really become mundane for me to listen to, save for the select standouts - but I was somewhat enthralled with Lana Del Rey.  Now, being a reader who's never heard of her, potentially, it's at least my duty to explain to you her sound, but as my backspace button can attest to this fact I've struggled to sum her up.  Pop music, sure, in the loosest of senses, borderline the elusive 'alternative' mantle that I label nearly half of my library as for lack of a better term; her voice is extremely unique, smooth and somewhat like Nancy Sinatra, a singer whom she's been professionally compared to.  Her songs are of the slower nature, melodic and hypnotizing, but now having heard the full album I'll say the split between slow love-like songs and, shockingly, pseudo-rap songs with boisterous beats is even.

Returning to her SNL performances: I was not a fan; anything but.  I was excited for her first televised performances, happy that such a talent was given such a platform for a large splash of an introduction.  The chimes of Video Games started off after Daniel Radcliffe's intro and the spotlights came upon her figure, clad in a gown preserving her pinup bombshell-like image.  (Christ, I don't know!  Just go with it)  Lord, though, she did not sing well live.  Her voice wavered and went flat, changing pitch throughout the song at cringeworthy moments.  Blue Jeans, her second performance, was no better, and safe to say I was glad she left Born to Die untouched by her live performance, or else I wouldn't be able to return to that song with the love I have for it now.  I understand her poor performances to be to nerves, and I feel for her: during the cast goodbyes you can see Seth Meyers hug a downtrodden Lana and read his lips which clearly say, "it wasn't that bad."  The backlash was somewhat painful to witness: for a debut performance, she was panned, and as an avid Twitter user (follow me!) I witnessed brutal trending topics burning her performances rise to the top of the most popular trends in the world.  Reviews since have been anything but glowing, and I feel bad that they've served as a large blow to the anticipation for her new album - if to prove anything, I had come across an article touting her as "2012's Adele," but I'm afraid (for now) she'll have to do a lot to overcome the public's negative outlook on her.  I admit I was a heavy critic after her performances, largely due to my sheer disappointment; I'll also admit that probably, because of the likes of Gaga or Adele, the precedence for live performance has risen once again from the likes of lip-synching Britney, and no longer does it cut it to be just a recording artist: you need to be a singer.  In that sense, it was upsetting to know the voice I grew to love wasn't a live one.

And yet, her debut album is flawless.  (yes, it leaked early this morning, and no, I do not have the willpower to resist listening to it for another week) I can say that there is no weak link to the tracklisting as every song is, in its way, a perfect standout.  Her voice seems flawless, but I beg the question: how much of it is genuine?  All the same, I'm enjoying her music immensely: from Dark Fantasy to Lolita or from the new hip-hop Diet Mtn Dew (..I'm thinking it's my favourite) to This Is What Makes Us Girls to the title track or her fame-maker Video Games, I can't pick the sole standout, which I suppose serves as a testament to the overall strength of Born to Die as a whole.

I entirely realize that her voice is so unique that she's very polarizing: that is, you'll completely love her music and sound, or you'll find yourself unable to get into it.  There's no grey area there, and I wouldn't expect there to be - there isn't one for Lady Gaga, either - because her sound is so defined that you'll either adhere to it like glue or repel it like a magnet.  She's certainly an acquired taste.  That being said, my disappointment in her Saturday Night Live appearance is that she's turned off everyone from her completely.  Here's what I mean: given that she's a very love/hate sort of act, I would never expect SNL's target audience to lap up her performances.  However, had they been solid, she would've garnered respect; I hate to keep bringing it back to Gaga, but I know of many, many people who dislike her music and/or image but straight up respect her because of her powerful voice when singing live.  In that respect, Lana Del Rey has missed that completely: not only did she appear to be that weird girl with an offbeat voice and strange song, but she missed the vocal mark completely, pitchy and shaky and painful to listen to.

It's a difficult concept for me to comprehend, but I'll have to understand her as a recording artist.  She's at the point in her career where the live performances are at a minimum, and my liking of her is low enough that I don't follow her like a hawk so my exposure to her (potential) live missteps will be at zero.  I can only hope with time her voice will become better when singing live, but even still with SNL I fully realize it was probably entirely due to nerves: after all, I can't even imagine having my first televised performance to millions to occur on Saturday Night Live which makes the concept of 'live' as live as possible.  And yet, reversing everything I've just spelled out, I heard a recent performance of Born to Die which sounded ten times better than her recorded version.

I'm in a constant state of confusion with this girl.  She's drop dead gorgeous, so there's definitely that.  For now, I'll reserve myself to enjoying her album as immensely as I have been - I've lost count on the repeats.  I highly suggest her, at least to try: there's a massive, massive chance you'll dislike her, perhaps even hate her, but I'll say if you like her, you'll have a lot to like.


  1. I agree that her SNL performance was not great, but I think that with some vocal training she could be a good live singer. You mentioned that you were glad she didn't do Born To Die on SNL. Have you seen the live version at Chateau Marmont? I would say that Born To Die and Video Games at Chateau are two of her best live performances. There aren't any moments in the Chateau videos that make me cringe (like many of the others floating around on the internet), which makes me think think she has the potential to be a solid singer. She's just not there yet.

  2. I agree completely it's a case of nerves. I don't blame the girl: I can't imagine this sort of astronomical exposure overnight. I have seen the version at Chateau Marmont, it's pretty good; the performance I briefly mentioned at the end was done live on a BBC radio show, the name escapes me, but the rendition of Born to Die was almost flawless. She'll come into her voice, I'm sure, and since her album is literally flawless it's beneficial to her (probable) longevity.