In Lana Del Rey’s Defense…

“It’s late,” I tell the husband unit. “Tee’s drunk. You’re getting there. Let’s go.” We’re at the Gotha Lounge, and just as we shuffle out of our chairs, a lady approaches us. She recognizes the husband unit from over 6 years ago when she met him at a hostel on a whole other continent. They’d dated briefly, so he’s quick to introduce me as his wife. To make her at ease, I tell her how funny this whole situation is. She asks if we’d like to have a drink with her and her group, and given the unlikelihood of this run-in, we don’t feel we can say no. Tee grabs a cab and we join her posse.

While she and the husband unit catch up, I chat with some of her friends. We’re the only ones left in the place. The bartender changes the music to something that says “closing time.” It’s sluggish, with instrumentation that’s at times jazz-club-bare, at times faintly intricate. The singer’s voice seems lazy, but she shifts from a low alto to a high mezzo without any real effort. Then I hear a familiar intro with chiming bells and a harp. It’s Lana Del Rey.

Outside the context of her notorious SNL performance and the Twitter fury that followed, it turns out that her music—like a lot of music—has a time and a place. For us, it was in an empty lounge on the coldest night in January, surrounded by strangers and old flames. Lana’s sound paints that night. And even if it weren’t for that night, there’s nothing really wrong with her sound.

What we don’t like about Lana isn’t entirely Lana’s fault. There’s no rags-to-riches story with her. She went to boarding school in Connecticut. Her wealthy father financed her early work. And I’m not sure what she was doing in Miami, L.A. or NYC, where she claims to have drawn so much inspiration, but I doubt she was waiting tables. Her background conflicts with the working-class mystique that’s supposed to constitute modern celebrities. If your origins don’t include living in a car with your mother while you attend auditions, people won’t root for you. It’s the anti-aristocratic way of the New World.

Despite being drop-dead photogenic, Lana couldn’t parlay that beauty into tangible sex appeal. Instead, her live performances are hopelessly awkward. She sings well, but she’s fidgety. As my friend Kartina Richardson puts it, “she stopped playing the game and forced us to bear witness to her crippling fear.”

While this is hardly a sin, in the age of Gaga theatrics, it just won’t do.

Incidentally, there isn’t much to Lady Gaga’s songs. They’re dance club fodder, but musically, there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering about them. It’s pop. And pop doesn’t need to “pop” to be Pop. It just has to be pleasantly predictable.

On closer inspection, Lana’s lyrics are deeper than Gaga’s, not that it takes much. The rhythm and rhyme demonstrate a keen awareness that the words, at some point, have to be sung. Lana’s language is easy, unpretentious and sprightly. When her talent matures, what she’s after will be easier to grasp.

It’s a shame Lana hasn’t been able to shake the SNL fiasco. She rose to fame as an Internet star and couldn’t deliver past radio viability. Though that’s something, isn’t it? Her voice is fine. Her music has a quality of its own. Where most of today’s chart-toppers won’t sing without a robot handy, can’t we get behind the autotune-free vocalist?

Lana’s message is best conveyed in audio. She belongs on your iTunes or in your phone, so long as she’s in the background. We’ll just have to resist her pretty face until she graduates from the Lee Strasberg.


  1. Not having heard her ever before, I actually saw some promise in the SNL performance. She wasn’t good, not by any meaningful definition of the word. But I could see how it she had the potential to be good.

    Then I promptly forgot about it, until this post. Thanks for the opportunity to listen to her in a way that works. This is good stuff.

    Livvy Jams: You’re most welcome, David!

  2. Almost entirely correct with one exception: “Her voice is fine”. I think the SNL performance pretty well exposed that she’s one of thousands of artists who rely on auto-tune to correct her pitch. That said, I too do not blame her. Her father, a fellow who built his wealth on the odious practice of domain squatting/hoarding, picked her stage name and badgered label executives to get her a deal. He was quite obsessed, like a pageant parent, that she should do something noteworthy of her status.

    She’s a manufactured product… and that’s the problem. The entertainment industry, still dominated largely by men, manufactures female stars for their sex appeal. It does so with men, but what’s the typical pathway for male artists? Manufacture? No. They tend to rise up through the minor league farm teams of independent labels where they have a better probability of building a fan base on the quality of their repertoire.

    The industry is terribly sexist, and that’s the larger issue… but when you are born to a person who didn’t actually contribute anything of tangible value to commerce, who thinks of his very own daughter as a commodity, and throws her to the sharks instead of giving her the wisdom to go further with her philosophy degree (was all that schooling just for show/accolades/pedigree? what exactly was the plan for her future?)… then you’ve got nothing but enemies and enablers, even where you sleep, who, so concerned with sucking you dry like a Lynne Spears or Dina Lohan that they’ll never tell you what you need to hear and steer you toward your true talents/passions.

    Livvy Jams: Not to split hairs, but it sounds like you disagree with everything I wrote. 😉

    I’ve listened to her SNL performance over and over again, and she was able to switch ranges rather quickly, as she does in her recordings, without too much effort. You could hear how nervous she was, but honestly, she didn’t have the serious pitch problems that people like Ke$ha might have. In fact, she hardly had any pitch problems. Her real problem was looking comfortable, and in a live performance, that interferes with how people take in the sound. As to her pedigree, a lot of people have made a lot of it, but I really believe her father simply used his means to help her get something she wanted. We may not like that part of her myth, but there’s really nothing wrong with that particular detail. He sells domain names, which some people have an issue with; but is there any profession that would make him rich and respectable in anybody’s eyes? How he got rich is a moot point. He’s hardly hurting anyone with what he does. If I had the means and I had a child, I’d help them get to their goals if I could. Lana’s stage name? Who cares! We don’t pick on Lady Gaga for doing the same. Lana’s music has a niche sound. It’s completely unlike manufactured pop. If people honestly don’t like her album based on its inherent qualities, that’s fine. You can’t argue taste. But I think for most people, it isn’t a question of taste. It’s her rich dad and her nervous SNL performance and her not-so-poppy sound that make her difficult to reconcile. And to me, that’s all the wrong reasons.

    1. I didn’t know any of this about her. I just read that a few bloggers I follow like her music and then watched some of her music. I couldn’t get into it.

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