Read: Vox – Here’s Why Lana Del Rey is so controversial
When I first listened to Lana Del Rey, it was my junior year of college. I was sitting in my Advanced Electronic and Computer Music class and my professor put on the music video for “Blue Jeans”.
We’d have an assignment later on that week to analyze the production of “Video Games” and read an detailed article about it, written up by Sound on Sound. If I remember correctly, throughout the whole class time we watched an assortment of music videos talking about sounds, panning, style, song structure maybe? Just basically bouncing ideas and thoughts around in a communal analysis of what we were hearing (and seeing). Lana wasn’t on my radar. That day was the first time I had ever heard her name.
I’ve always prided myself in thinking I listen to a lot of diverse music. I make a point to do so; All genres, from all different time periods, from current Top40 Pop (which I loathe) to Delta Blues. It all has educational value to me. You can even see in my ‘Boombox‘ tab above – I meticulously keep track of what I listen through via last.fm, list artists I plan on checking out (“Playlist on Deck”), am logging my favorite and what I consider to be the best albums of 2014, and am eager to hear your thoughts and opinions as to what else I should be listening to. I have a very open mind when it comes to this stuff. I don’t want to miss out a song or artist or album that could change my life.
“Blue Jeans” was slow. A lot slower than the music that was out at the time. And I was completely put off by Lana’s singing. What the hell was this soft falsetto bullshit? Where was her emotion? What a fake, a phony.
But the collaged music video was enticing and the lyrics, very mysterious. There was a storyline there – definitely heartbreak of some kind. Who was this girl, really?
As I delved into my assignment that weekend to analyze the production of “Video Games” and listened over and over and over with my studio headphones, I became very aware of the goosebumps and chills that spread throughout my body with each listen. I suddenly couldn’t deny it anymore: I’d warmed up to Lana – and considerably so. I began to really fall in love with it all; The whole package – vocals, lyrics, production, instrumentation. I realized its perfection. It was beautiful. My heart was telling me so, dragging me into her hypnotic vortex of mystery.
Through my own undeniable emotional responses, I began to notice how much feeling was actually being expressed through Lana’s sad, low, gentle, cool-as-a-cucumber vocal delivery. I related to it; That kind of apathetic, roll-with-it attitude you get when you’re stoned, drowning head-over-heels in unrequited love, somehow loving every moment of your misery.
I had a dawning realization that you didn’t have to be a Whitney Houston or Christina Aguilera to show the audience you were conveying emotion through a performance. (Not exactly the same vein, but think of Elliott Smith) It’s in what Lana wasn’t blatantly expressing that was being expressed. That’s the best way I can describe it. When you get it, you get it. You feel it. It’s an affirmation. It’s seeing something that was never there before that was in front of your eyes the whole time…Or in this case, in front of your ears.
I ended up buying Born To Die on vinyl, becoming smitten with every song on the album, practically kicked myself for not getting tickets in time to see her perform at Irving Plaza that year, and have been a fan ever since that day I listened to “Video Games” 100 times in a row, trying to convert friends into believers ever since I recognized the absolute beauty in the heartbroken, melancholy, troubled, Hollywood starlet persona that is Lana Del Rey.
Lana Del Rey is controversial because she is a unnatural beauty, she is not a rags to riches story, but is a daughter of a wealthy father portraying a character; She brings a sense of old Hollywood values and a black and white sentimentality to her music. I suppose it’s ironic that I view her as authentic; I’m not sure where Elizabeth Grant ends and Lana Del Rey begins. Where does fact meet fiction? Perhaps we’ll never know. Perhaps we’re not supposed to. Either way, I cannot simply dismiss Lana because she is different from the rest of the Pop swill we’ve been fed for so long. She is a cool breeze of fresh air and a welcome change to contemporary Pop music (which if I may say so, has been becoming increasingly stale).
Lana is changing everything we think we know about the Pop landscape; She’s playing with our expectations. Lana is the embodiment of a post-modern popstar – Reappropriating past styles and sounds and integrating them into her persona. She expresses her sexuality without seeming trashy, her sadness without compromising beauty, her stories all the while keeping her honesty in tact. Though on the surface she may seem submissive and emotionless, she is actually one of the strongest acts out there today. Lana is not easily swayed; Her coolness is confidence. She exudes the atmosphere of days gone by, but is bringing something back into the present – something important.
It’s something worth listening to.