Indie music, marketing, and Lana Del Rey.

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Yesterday, Ryan of Stripmall Architecture asked:

I replied with a link to this tongue-in-cheek tweet I liked from a few weeks ago:

Because Ryan is a measured and reasonable individual (who actually wanted opinions from his followers and wasn’t being tongue-in-cheek himself, something I mistook) he responded to that:

So I replied (in tweets, consolidated here into a paragraph):

Fair enough. My opinion as a person who loves a wide variety of music is that I don’t enjoy her music or even get her “brand”. Moreover, I am turned off by what seems to me to be an incessant discussion of whether or not her brand is her real persona. I mean, of *course* it’s not her “real” persona (in the way I understand reality) because she’s marketing herself. Musicians do this all the time, yet there is an obsessive, obstinate fascination with the legitimacy of her brand *specifically*. This I do not understand, despite trying to, because @FunkyPlaid likes her music, and I want to understand why. So far, the meta-discussion of her is the meat of her existence, to me. I find her music bland and her lyrics disposable. There is the totality of my opinion on LDR. As always, I am open to learning more and changing my opinion as a result.

Then FunkyPlaid responded to both Ryan and me (also consolidated):

I could give two shits about her “brand”. It’s no less relevant nor important than David Bowie, Manson, Morrissey, etc. For me, she’s nailed the feel of what she’s trying to convey, be it genuine or manufactured. It’s art, and it’s a show. I see the real problem is that she’s gotten too buzzy too quickly, before her new album has even been released.

In response to this portion of the conversation, I replied:

Ed. note: I love OK Go videos yet cannot stand their music.

Then FunkyPlaid walked into my study and the “indie” aspect of all of this was brought up, which I neglected to address in my initial tweets. So here is my response to that portion (again consolidated) …

Sorry, I just realize I did not address the “indie music” aspect of your tweet. And @FunkyPlaid and I just talked about it RL … I just said to him, “I don’t see her as indie music.” And it’s true. Her marketing has exceeded an arbitrary level in my mind. I don’t know why that happened because I hadn’t thought about it before, but I see her as pop music even though I know she isn’t. So I think it is interesting to examine why that is, and the short-form is frustrating me enough that I’ll write a blog post.

And here we are.

To start, I am a casual yet enthusiastic listener of music. This means that I follow and support musicians I already know and enjoy, and I find new music from random Last.fm stations, friends’ recommendations, or The A.V. Club’s tweets. I do not actively read any music periodicals or blogs. I do not identify with a particular genre of music. I would classify my tastes as “eclectic” and I will listen to anything once.

I first heard about Lana Del Rey through FunkyPlaid. He enjoyed her music and so I looked up a few of her songs (I think via Hype Machine) and listened to them. I found the music dull and repetitive, and the lyrics disposable, as I said earlier. In short, the music did nothing for me, and so I stopped thinking about her.

Yet just a few days later, the media blitz was unavoidable. It seemed like every day someone I followed on Twitter was posting a link to an article about her brand, her persona, her rumoured plastic surgery, her impact on indie culture, etc. My friend Maura wrote one of these articles called “Lana Del Rey Takes Her Place on the Internet’s Sacrificial Altar with ‘Born to Die'”, and I generally like and respect what Maura writes, so I clicked through and read it. The video was embedded in the article, so I watched it. It bored and annoyed me, and at no time struck me as the work of an “indie” artist.

About the “indie” issue, I have the distinct pleasure of knowing a few indie musicians. These people are hard-working, talented people who spend much of their time creating and performing. In my mind, an indie musician, an indie act, an indie band, whatever, has a clear association with hard work, talent, integrity, and lack of bullshit.

This is, of course, a description that is entirely subjective. And this is the crux of my problem with writing about music: there are as many ways to use words that classify music as there are listeners. I know that when Ryan reads this, who has decades of experience not only as a musician but as a critical consumer of music, will come to it with completely different definitions of “indie” and “pop”.

On the marketing topic, I remain confused by Lana Del Rey’s brand. If it is a commentary on the America we have lost, it is a muddled and obsequious commentary — which, perhaps, is the meta-commentary that this dumbed-down commentary is the only one we are able to digest. If it is a critique of the objectification of women, it is cloaked in helpless melancholy over its own objectification, a pre-NOW pathos that caters to the male gaze instead of defying it. Emily Dunn wrote an incredibly intricate review of the “Video Games” video in response to Maura’s article above that addresses some of this. I appreciate the level of work that went into Emily’s review, yet wonder how much of this was intended by Lana Del Rey and how much is an intriguing interpretation of whitespace.

I don’t know. If I can’t determine the exact purpose of Lana Del Rey’s brand, how do I ascertain its impact on the rest of the musical landscape? If her music spoke more to (or for) me, I would spend more time attempting to answer that question. Her album has topped the charts here, so something she is doing is working for her. It isn’t working for me.