LANA DEL REY is a newish singer who has recently signed to LADY GAGA’s label Interscope Records.
The London based New Yorker was the internet sensation of the summer with a video for a song entitled ‘Video Games’. But she has attracted controversy due to so called real music observers questioning her authenticity as an independent female artist. To them, she was a blonde BRITNEY SPEARS-type pop wanabee who has been remanufactured with pouty lips, darker hair and vintage fashion aesthetics to entice the indie community with songs that have been written by committee and are far too polished to be truly credible.
But what’s the problem here? TORI AMOS was a rock chick before she took to the piano. So is TORI AMOS authentic? For myself as chief editor of The Electricity Club, while my role is to write about new and classic electronic pop music, I have varied tastes which include the classic pop overtures of DUSTY SPRINGFIELD, SCOTT WALKER, ABBA and NANCY SINATRA from the tunes I heard played at home as a child. Although I heard ‘Autobahn’, ‘I Feel Love’ and the soundtrack to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when I was 10 year old, the first music I liked as a teenager was Two Tone and BLONDIE before I discovered GARY NUMAN. Now some may question because of those credentials whether I should be at the helm of a website that covers synthpop. Electronic music is my first love but I like other music too. So am I authentic?
One day while listening to Radio 2 in the car on the way home, I was struck by a bare string laden track called ‘Video Games’. While I didn’t clock who the artist was, I was struck by its haunting melancholy and emotiveness. While it wasn’t the sort of tune I would write about on The Electricity Club, I could tell it was a great song. A few days later, I had dinner with the producer NIKONN whose dreamy, neo-ambient electronic albums ‘Polardroid’, ‘Utopia’ and ‘Instamatic’ have been favourites of mine and are particularly good soundtracks to work to. He gave me a CD-R of two remixes he had been commissioned to do for a new artist named LANA DEL REY who he said was big news and had sold out her London concerts in less than an hour.
The first one I heard was ‘Blue Jeans’ and after a few plays, I really loved it. It featured classic pop melodies and while NIKONN’s remix had enhanced it with synths and dance beats, they were not obtrusive; the arrangement complimented the song. It has since become a favourite at TEC HQ. Then I listened to NIKONN’s remix of ‘Video Games’…it all suddenly clicked. This was the sparse song that I had enjoyed on Radio 2 but now given that technological facelift, it suited my electronic flavoured tastes. I liked it, so I felt as a writer I needed to tell other synthpop enthusiasts about it in case they missed out. But some would argue that the song wasn’t written for the dancefloor. It had the flavours of a variety of influences but to me, it linked in with electronic pop. So are NIKONN’s remixes authentic?
Popular music has always had its artificial element, be it BOB DYLAN, CLIFF RICHARD, DAVID BOWIE, GARY NUMAN or LADY GAGA…none perhaps would have gone as far as they have done had they stuck with their real names of Robert Zimmerman, Harry Webb, David Jones, Gary Webb and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta respectively. Each presented a story as a platform for their music.
From the protest singer, Christian Batchelor Boy, Ziggy Stardust, The Machman and The Haus Of Gaga, this is all character acting. And whatever the message, ultimately it was all entertainment. So why would it be any different for the former Lizzie Grant as she metamorphosises into LANA DEL REY? But even Dylan, a nice middle class Jewish lad, had his scruples questioned and was met with cries of “Judas” when he dared to use an electric guitar in 1965. So are BOB DYLAN, CLIFF RICHARD, DAVID BOWIE, GARY NUMAN or LADY GAGA authentic?
Turning to the synthpop world, MIRRORS attracted detractors for having had their roots in indie band MUMM-RA. Critics claimed they had just taken to synths because it was fashionable.
Well, if it was a question of making money, common band members James New and James Arguile would have stuck with indie if the sales of COLDPLAY, SNOW PATROL or ELBOW were anything to go by.
But they discovered a new artistic form they felt inspired by and could develop it outside of the limited confines of a conventional band.
Take MIRRORS’ singer James New for instance. Born in 1990 and an archetypal child of Britpop, there was no way he could have really heard synth music in the era when ‘Cool Britannia’ killed ‘Synth Britannia’. Aside from dance music like THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, UNDERWORLD and the like, electronic music was not played on the radio and there was certainly an anti-electro feeling in the serious music press who were out to “keep it real”! But while on tour in Europe with MUMM-RA, James discovered KRAFTWERK for the first time and found his new vocation. He could now use his talent which had always been apparent with the immensely catchy ‘She’s Got You High’ in a new field of operation. After all, a good song is a good song whatever. So are MIRRORS authentic?
One anonymous correspondent wrote a very interesting article in The Guardian about the whole LANA DEL REY affair and made two interesting points, one being that every artist has a past. Like MIRRORS, the smartly attired HURTS had a previous incarnation and were once a trashier looking pop combo named DAGGERS. They trudged around the UK club scene for several years before the core duo of Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson left and arrived at their sophisticated, cinematic pop which crossed TAKE THAT with ULTRAVOX. Indeed, they first came to everyone’s attention with a stylish but self-made video for the sonically brilliant ‘Wonderful Life’. OMD’s Andy McCluskey was so disbelieving of their capabilities that he accused HURTS of being manufactured which was interesting considering he was responsible for ATOMIC KITTEN. So are HURTS authentic?
But the most important point made with this piece in The Guardian was the advice to would be musicians who think they’re onto something: “get it perfect before you stick it online”. This is something that rings true to the heart of The Electricity Club and none more so than with our TEC001 Live Event starring VILE ELECTRODES and CURXES. VILE ELECTRODES first came to TEC’s attention because they sent a well made slow-mo abstract video coupled to a magnificently arranged song entitled ‘Deep Red’. Neither had been made on a big budget but each had been made as high quality as possible with the resources available by using creative minds.
CURXES meanwhile had a trio of songs on sale that were as good as fully formed. There was a reason for that; they had been ‘produced’ properly in a studio and then mastered. Their accompanying photographs presented a discerning monochromatic image while care had been taken right down to the pack shots that would appear as tiny squares in iTunes or Amazon and the hand crafted vintage look sleeves of their promotional CDs. Their recent video to ‘Spires’ showed how seriously they considered their art from the bottom upwards. If only more bands were like this. So are VILE ELECTRODES or CURXES authentic?
Too often in these days of affordable technology, artists have lazily sent bloggers and record companies songs that have been recorded flatly on laptops with no sense of dynamics and no thought given to the visual presentation or even the manner of the accompanying email.
In the same way a job application needs to be the best you can do at that precise moment, so should a pitch be composed in the most personable way possible, not matter how time consuming the effort. Some bands feel that raw demos are all that are needed to draw attention to their talent but if the enthusiasm to achieve a near complete article is not present in the formative stages, how can it be carried through to the future?
So dismayed are the indie snobs that LANA DEL REY has seemingly jumped the queue, they have to believe that all the preparation and hard work that has gone on behind the scenes is somehow the work of a corporation and not authentic. With the type of resources that are available now, isn’t the task of raising some money to buy a synth or software and putting in the hours to hone your craft more of a sign of authenticity and commitment? But with the usual battering ram that sceptics use to rubbish female artists in particular, the cynics have also highlighted the possibility of LANA DEL REY not having written the songs she sings. But until 2003, DEPECHE MODE’s Dave Gahan never sang any of his own songs! So are DEPECHE MODE authentic?
Forthright American blog Hipster Runoff said “Lana Del Rey will be the most divisive indie artist in years” and that she was “a massive step back for the anti-cyberbullying feminist movement within indie rock”. Such remarks do not help the case for the prosecution. It’s popular music… to start using words like “indie” to somehow keep an artist from having a wider audience and ensure they starve for their art is a flawed concept.
One acquaintance of The Electricity Club once remarked that there was this group he was into who were totally amazing and that one of his reasons for liking them was because “they’re not going to record a single note and aren’t corporate”! That is somewhat self-defeating whatever your artistic motives.
And as for questioning the marketing of LANA DEL REY as an indie babe with “an appeal to the sex drive of every male music critic on the planet”, MAZZY STAR’s Hope Sandoval (whose voice LANA DEL REY has been most compared to) who was a favourite among the alternative music crowd, was not exactly unpleasing to the eye! So are MAZZY STAR authentic?
But some feminist writers have not been exactly leading the plaudits when it comes to one of their own making it big. One blogger who counted herself as a fan showed her ignorance by being vocal in her disgust that FLORENCE & THE MACHINE had been nominated for a 2010 Best British Female Solo Artist award whilst ‘The Machine’ were not getting any credit or recognition, so doubtful she was that Florence Welch could have achieved this all herself!!! So are FLORENCE & THE MACHINE authentic?
It seems though that if you are a male indie band (as opposed to a male synth act), you can be considered authentic, regardless of the quality or motives of your output. Very few music writers criticise COLDPLAY, yet their dull anthems are acclaimed as heartfelt and rousing. This despite the songs being sung by an ex-public school boy with a Hollywood film star wife who clearly has no reason to be moaning how poor his life is. And no-one dares smear the overrated ‘band of the people’ ELBOW with their whiny pomposity.
So embroiled are ELBOW in their own self-importance now that when asked to write the BBC’s London Olympics Theme (and the clue should have been in the word ‘Theme’), they have treated everyone to a recording that is six minutes long. The overlong song (as exemplified by their own’ One Day Like This’… it feels longer than The War On Terror believe me!) is the ultimate symbol of ostentation and arrogance. But it appears this type of depressing landfill indie is loved by millions who need to feel better after not being able to buy their new BMW in Azure Blue. So are COLDPLAY or ELBOW authentic?
Whatever the story, LANA DEL REY has been brought to the attention of the world by a successfully engineered viral campaign. Only the quality of her music will decide whether she survives as an artist and is the actually real deal. Indie credibility will have nothing to do with it. So is LANA DEL REY authentic?
The Los Angeles Times said this about the self-proclaimed gangster NANCY SINATRA: “For all the criticism lobbed at her, the songs are good. It’s hard not to like ‘Video Games’”. With ‘Video Games’ and ‘Blue Jeans’, all I hear is good music, with or without NIKONN’s electro friendly remixes. With some established acts NEVER able to write even one decent song in their entire career, the final word has to go to this entry on Popjustice’s forum about LANA DEL REY: “Even if she’s never able to top ‘Video Games’, and everything else she does after is sub-bar, at least it f*cking existed, ya know?”
Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th November 2011, updated 12th October 2013