Friday, February 03, 2012

The real thing?

Lana Del Rey, Exene Cervenka of X 

Last weekend, legendary punk bands X, Dead Kennedys, and The Avengers, played at an art museum in LA (the MOCA).  This article in the LA Weekly notes that punk by definition was anti-nostalgia, so the idea of dragging out some punk rock relics to play in a museum may be seem counter to what punk was about. Mind you, don't relics belong in a museum? Kidding...

"... Such questions of authenticity and identity - eternal themes in both art and punk rock - were enough to drive one crazy, but they were rendered moot within the first few explosive chords of the Avengers' set. .." - LA Weekly.

Authenticity is a word that seems to have come up a lot recently with the explosive arrival of Lana Del Rey on the music scene. I'm not sure how conjuring up a pop persona makes her any less authentic than the gazillion popsters who have gone before her. Her Dad is backrolling her career  - so what? So did Beyonce's Dad, so did Taylor Swift's Dad.

It's been fascinating following the excitement and then the backlash to Lana Del Rey. Some folk like Simon Sweetman, feel deeply offended by a manufactured pop star.

Sure, she's not the first, but she might well be the last. Here's a response to Sweetman's piece, "Lana Del Rey vs. Hipster Snobbery" from the delightfully named Unapologetically Pop! blog. 

Is Lana Del Rey authentic? Does it even matter? As Russell Brown noted in his review of her album, "For the indie chin-strokers, it's as if they saw that amazing girl they met last Saturday at the hipster bar promenading on the arm of some douchebag hunk. Grief gave way to anger as they realised she wasn't the girl they thought she was.

"Well, no. Lana Del Rey's not her real name! It was suggested by her management! She has a deal with a major label! Her father is actually a millionaire! The sooner you say it out loud, the sooner you can get over it."

Brown praises the album, saying "there's some pop gold on this record." His main issue with it? "Like much modern pop music, it's compressed to buggery. That's audio compression - making everything loud - rather than file compression..."

The Loudness wars - that's worth arguing about.

And how is Ms Del Ray handling all this? Well, her album just hit number one in 14 countries. I'm guessing she's not too fussed right now.

Authenticity ('keeping it real') is something that comes up very frequently in hiphop circles, ever since the genre emerged on wax in the late 1970s. There's even university theses on it. It has been an issue in hiphop ever since it hit the mainstream, with the likes of Fresh Prince, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. How do you 'keep it street' if you're not from the street?

Take Run DMC, a crew originally from the middle class suburb of Queens NYC. By dressing in their street clothes, rather than flashy show-off uniforms like most rap groups of the time (see Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five), Run DMC made a definite impression. By being true to themselves, they were keeping it real.

Rapper 50 Cent got shot nine times and then got dropped by his record label, before eventually finding success. On the question of authenticity, he says  “When I offer aggression, I offer it from an author, a real place ... It’s just a lot of the other artists, I don’t believe them. I believe hip-hop is in a struggle of being artistic or [having] authenticity—which one matters?

"Because a lot of them that write music that has a street-life theme to it haven’t actually been exposed to very much of that. It’s starting to feel like it doesn’t matter. I’m watching it, and I’m like, Okay, it sounded great, but ya lyin’.” [source: XXL]

RELATED Jessica Hooper at Spin: Deconstructing Lana Del Rey
and Sasha Frere-Jones at the New Yorker: Screen Shot: Lana Del Rey's fixed image
Hat tip to Robyn Gallagher for the links.
Under the big black sun, California art 1974-1981, exhibition at the MOCA, LA. 


Kat said...

With Lana del Ray, it's not her authenticity which makes me snub my nose (although such a contrived persona does irk me), it's quite simply that she's tediously boring and has zero consistency while performing live.

Her live performance on Jools Holland of Video Games had her switching from sultry to sugar sweet and back again for the whole song, and once you're aware of it, it begins to grate considerably.

If she were 'real', I might forgive these quivvers. If she were good, I could absolutely get over the authenticity issue, but the truth is she's boring, annoying and really difficult to tolerate - regardless as to whether her persona is genuine.

Peter McLennan said...

I'm kinda intrigued by the negative reactions to some of her live performances. I watched her NY live debut late last year online, and went back and rewatched that this week, and her SNL/Jools Holland clips and found them pretty competent, for anyone with a passing familiarity with the works of Nico or Marianne Faithful.

So many people seem to be devoting a lot of time listening and watching an artist they actively dislike. Surely life is too short for that?