This is what happens when people discover music through YouTube

This is the first live performance I’ve seen from Lana Del Rey, the New York artist who has become an internet sensation and racked up millions of YouTube views even before a single track is officially released. Scalpers have recently been hawking tickets to her December show in New York (face value: $13) for $200 a pop on Craigslist. Hyped much?

Del Rey has of course gained much of her exposure thanks to her notoriety for re-inventing herself. Her earlier reincarnation as Lizzy Grant (commercial pop, largely forgettable) was unsuccessful. Less than two years later and she has now transformed into Lana Del Rey (sultry, allegedly alternative “gangster Nancy Sinatra”… er, whatever that means). Her earlier music releases have been wiped from iTunes and her original lips from her face. The hipsters are, predictably, up in arms. Words like “phoney” and “inauthentic” are being blogged from MacBook Pros everywhere. And while many music fans recognise her talent, some actually confess to feeling a sense of guilt for enjoying it.

Guilt. Really? Sounds like a first world problem to me. (Wagner’s music was anti-semetic for God’s sake and no one feels guilty for listening to Flight of the Valkyries.) So should we be so concerned about this authenticity issue? If the music is good, who cares? Some music fans claim that Del Rey-type fakery reveals a lack of substance and this necessarily detracts from the quality of the music. Another way of looking at it (and this is my own personal preference) is that judging music by its sound, regardless of the personality behind it, is the ultimate test of substance over form. Of course, this is a debate that can never be resolved because it is so subjective. But in any event, Lana Del Rey is hardly the first re-invented artist in music history. You only have to scratch the surface to find examples of musicians who have tinkered around with their profile in some way. This non-exclusive club even includes – gasp! – Bob Dylan. The point being, this really is an old debate. Move on, hipsters!

What I find more interesting about the whole Lana Del Rey phenomenon is the role that visual media has played in her rapid rise to fame. It’s not the botoxed lips and other changes to her appearance. It’s that the internet appears to have fallen hook, line and sinker for the faux nostalgia and fairly clichéd use of stock vintage footage in her music videos.

There’s no doubt that Del Rey has a good, if not unique, voice and her songs have a haunting quality that I do find appealing. This live performance isn’t bad and she’s an artist I’ll be watching in future. But there’s a disconnect between the music (whatever you think of it) and the visual component of her videos, the latter of which just happens to be very on-trend. It’s not necessarily a disconnect in the sense that they don’t go well together, but in the sense that there is nothing that connects them in the first place. It’s a cynical use of aesthetics, if you ask me.

That is nothing new. The problem in this case is that the internets might have gotten a little bit swept up in how this music package looks and allowed this to influence their judgement of how it sounds. Is this a one off, or a sign of things to come in the internet age? If YouTube and the like ultimately end up changing the way we approach new music, we can only hope that time will continue to be the best arbiter in sorting out the truly good music from the hype. (Of course in some cases, it can take a long time. Yes I’m looking at you, Lada Gaga.) [via The Guardian]

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