Bland taste-makers leave unfavorable taste in my mouth

[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Legitimate suffering artists at hands of imposters prompts reassessment of values[/pullquote1]

BY MATTHEW GIROLAMI ’13
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Midway through the third song on Lana Del Rey’s latest EP, Paradise, I had a quarter-life crisis; the vapidity of this “indie”-pop Muzak made me reevaluate my priorities, and guess what: wasting precious fleeting minutes of my day listening to Lana Del Rey’s monotone mumble was not at the top of my list.

Now, before her disciples pounce, let me say this: there is nothing to defend. Lana Del Rey is a major label marketing effort attempting to regain a dwindling youth demographic.

The patron saint of Tumblr culture, Lana Del Rey lends an apathetic voice to an amalgamation of appropriated imagery, whose staples include Helvetica, muted colors, ’50s and ’60s aesthetics, and thrift-store chic. Before she ever hit the stage she solely existed on the Internet, and if you do not think this says something about her artistic merit and capabilities, consider her historic bombing on Saturday Night Live last year. This “counter”-culture demigod is a daughter of both major label interests and indie appeal.

Then again, I do not know if the whole thing is a meta-commentary on consumerism and youth culture. Boy, I sure hope it is. With lines like “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola” in the third track, “Cola,” it is hard to determine whether she is lamenting commercialism’s depersonalizing effects, or if she was paid for the endorsement.

But you are saying none of this matters, she is just catchy and fun to listen to, that I should just chill out, man, and enjoy it for what it is — and that is the problem.

My problem is this passive attitude that excuses the bastardization of a legacy of music that has come before it. The fact of the matter is Lana Del Rey is transparently exploiting indie tropes through big money, thus rendering those tropes meaningless (see: “indie” equals “independent”).

If this was some broke, teen brat sardonically mocking her subculture’s apathy and material addiction, I would be all for it — but that is not the case. It embraces insubstantial material addiction — pure image. There is something resigned in Lana Del Rey’s voice, and even if there is a hint of social commentary it is hardly recognizable beneath the big label money and her make up.

This is nothing new. Ever since the ’60s, major labels have attempted (and often succeeded) to commercialize counterculture — The Beatles are a prime example: when the tide started receding from poppy stuff, the execs encouraged The Fantastic Four to drug-out in order to appeal to the growing psychedelic fringe — and it worked.

Lana Del Rey is no different, except for the fact that Tumblr-drones’ attraction to her image has physically depleted far more steadfast and honest artists, like Cat Power, who, after a twenty-year career, had to cancel her most recent tour due to bankruptcy.

Cat Power, one of the foremost influential figures in independent music, lost the financial battle to a lazy marketing project.

But all of this is usually excusable if catchy. Hell, I will sing along to Ke$ha any day of the week — and the best part about Ke$ha is she is not pretending to be anything other than what she is: mindless pop. The difference with Lana Del Rey is I cannot even disregard her phoniness because of a hook. At least give me that, no matter how cheap.

Critics often call Lana Del Rey’s sound “cinematic,” and I guess they’re not too far off; Paradise is the soundtrack to a Bret Easton Ellis novel-turned-movie; it is codeine-laced pop, the background music to the sound of teenagers giving up.

Questions? Email Matthew at mgirolami@fandm.edu.

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