Increasingly, as my youth recedes like a shoreline seen from a departing ferry, I find it harder to keep my finger on the pulse. Where, once, I’d have been the point-man for the avant-garde, now, I don’t hear about anything new until it’s blaring a foghorn in my face.
My first experience of Lana Del Rey was in October 2011, when her newly released breakthrough single Video Games appeared in one of those annoying YouTube adverts you can skip after a few seconds. I can’t recall the video I intended to watch, but I didn’t skip the advert, and when it had finished I searched for the original video and watched and listened.
Admittedly, my first thoughts were: ‘God, look at her lips! She’s like a pair of lips with a woman attached. She makes Angelina Jolie look like the before picture in an advert for a collagen implant clinic.’ But, after the fourth or fifth listen in a row, I’d started to realise, pout aside, it was a hell of an addictive tune. Hauntingly beautiful, catchy, old fashioned and yet fresh.
The homemade video for the single went viral and, at the time of writing, has achieved over seven million views. Her sudden catapulting to indie darling and internet sensation met with derision from the music blogging community, who pointed to her earlier lack of success under her own pedestrian name, Lizzie Grant, and her change in fortunes under her new, more glamorous persona, as a cynical marketing ploy. But I think it’s those bloggers who are the cynics. Rebranding is nothing new, especially in the music business. Who would buy an album by David Jones, Reg Dwight or Gordon Sumner? Probably fewer than would own one by David Bowie, Elton John or Sting. The name fits the sultry mystique of her voice, and the fact that it isn’t the one her parents gave her detracts not one jot from the apparent qualities of that voice.
In 2009, Del Rey, under her real name, released her debut album on a tiny independent label – later withdrawn due to poor marketing, but available to anyone with a good understanding of the functioning of the internet. It does much to dispel her label as a manufactured artist. It isn’t without fault – if I’m being critical, it’s lacking a little focus and professional polish – but what else would you expect from a debut artist and an independent release? Some of the styles of music don’t sit comfortably together, but at her best comparisons to Nancy Sinatra are obvious, with more electro moments reminiscent of Alison Goldfrapp and the occasional vocal trill Dolly Parton would be proud of. With a little tweaking, remixing and track reordering, the album could easily be rereleased pretty much as is – which I’m sure will happen should her success continue.
She doesn’t fit the traditional mould of a manufactured artist, and I can only surmise that the dislike she engenders amongst certain sections of the internet is due to her being a genuine phenomena in the making, albeit not one in which the hipster community has had any say. You suspect that there is a degree of resentment that her popularity is out of their hands, but the internet is the world’s first truly global democracy, where the people vote with their mouse buttons. Is it such an anti-cool crime to like something that’s popular?
It may be that in six months we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about, but, if Video Games and its B-Side Blue Jeans are anything to go by, those too cool to listen to her first mainstream album will, I suspect, be missing out on a treat.