Sound cannot exist in a vacuum, as image cannot manifest in darkness. These are dependent phenomena, predicated upon and made material by preexisting conditions over which they exercise limited control. In the case of popular music, songs are borne out of those that have preceded it; this is what differentiates songs from noise. However formalist popular music has become over the maturation of the genre, much of the enjoyment quelled from the experience occurs because the listener approaches the song with the preconceived notion that much of the experience will rely on established conventions: structure, melody, dynamics, things he or she has heard before. Songs are good or bad not by happenstance, but because of their consonance with what works in recorded music, and, in rare, truly artful cases, their slight divergences from what has come to be expected. Lana Del Rey’s songs do this, sometimes, when her image permits it.
Fact time: The world shapes its image of us, as we shape our image of ourselves. Rarely are these two constructs in agreement. The wicked are hailed as righteous. To the coward’s chest the medal is pinned. A passable female singer becomes the most divisive entity in the history of digital music.
Inasmuch as Lana Del Rey has been qualitatively divisive, it should too be said that she has been unifying as a point of interest. Say whatever about the quality of her songs, but the amount of discourse she has inspired signifies that she represents something about how we have come to talk about popular music, the state of music criticism. Or, maybe, it represents something more, that the fervency with which people analyze Lana Del Rey is indicative of a fundamental shift in the essence of what it is to be human today.
But, now, what is that something?
The something is this: Reality did not suffice. It was flawed, befuddling, harsh, and man sought to create a new reality, where his fantasies would not be sullied by actuality. Image would be self. The self could be created, recreated, erased at will. It would be a simpler, better world, a world based entirely in images, in projections, in what we choose to see, not what we are forced to. This was the fantasy.
Lana Del Rey is the fantasy destroyed. She is the triumph of harsh reality.
When the appropriately titled “Video Games” broke, the internet music collective rejoiced in the fantasy, this unheralded testament to the artistic heights made possible by their age, by the medium within which they worked. It was indubitably a pop song, but wasn’t it also something different, an internalization of everything that had worked in pop, but a piece of music intangibly different in execution, proliferation, approach, a piece of art informed by a view of the world as it manifests itself now? Didn’t its platitudes seem aware of their own existence as platitudes, didn’t the music delve so far into being hackneyed that it became novel? It seemed to. It was a wonderful song produced independent of the music industry by a created persona upon which the hopes for the future of pop music could justly be pinned. Lana Del Rey became an expectations balloon of infinite elasticity, a construct completely divorced from its origin, an unimaginably beautiful sound in a vacuum, a perfect image in the darkest of rooms, the ultimate fantasy.
Then she became a person, and the fantasy was undone, and who else could be blamed?
In the end, Lana Del Rey could not escape reality. She was relegated, as her critics are, as every person is, by her existence’s dependency on her being a physical entity, occupying real space. Sound can only persist for so long until its origin is found out, and when the sound is that mellifluous, and the origin so frustrating, so disconcerting, the listener cannot help but be bereft.
I’m not really put off by all that, though. Mostly, I’m concerned with distracting my frivolous mind while I’m waiting for the 2 train. Born to Die is capable of doing that more so than some albums, less so than others. Did Lana Del Rey deserve the invective she’s inspired? No. Is the album as perfect as it could have been? Definitely not. But nothing is, and while I admire those who believe otherwise, I also pity them and their unwarranted expectations, their dependency on how things could have been rather than how they are.
So I celebrate Lana Del Rey for who she is, not who she was perceived to be. Can one really complain when a pop musician actually gets the masses to think? I cannot.
Too much noise drowns out good songs as well as bad ones. Stare at something long enough and you’ll lose focus. Quiet rooms and closed eyes exist for a reason. Music is one of them, and will continue to be, despite anything anyone says.
“Born to Die”
“Off The Races”
Don’t Listen To:
“Diet Mountain Dew”
“This is What Makes Us Girls”
In closing, don’t listen to Carmen.