She’s not authentic. No contest on that, nor debate. The hipsters going to arms over this are, as Gawker remarked, fighting a losing battle. The facts: She’s Lizzy Grant, daughter of a domain investor, had a supposedly failed 3-song EP entitled Kill Kill in 2009 despite growing up with performances and choirs around Lake Placid, New York. Her voice then was enough to still a room. You can’t manufacture better vocal chords, despite vocal lessons and booking agents, otherwise we’d all have recording contracts. David Kahne helped give her a boost in producing Kill Kill. He did work on the likes of Kelly Clarkson and live albums from Paul McCartney, but also Regina Spektor and Soul Coughing‘s great, great Irresistible Bliss. But after this, she went underground via a marketing team that stripped the internet of Lizzy Grant. Proof? Try YouTubing her EP. Now, if you had failed in something in life, wouldn’t you try your best to reinvent yourself to avoid failing a second time? Probably. Let’s move on and take a peek at Lana Del Rey‘s Video Games EP.
“Video Games” starts with a Joanna Newsom-esque harp and church bells. The keys work very well, then the string section come in all too early. Less is more, even in pop music that works towards retro feel. Yet the approach of the music here is a blend of 1940s theatrical orchestra pits mixed with bookstore cafe stage confessionals. Musically, the production is a tad too much. We don’t need those higher violin plucks as the harp alone can hold that register of the scale. Less is more. That’s why the snare, a subtle, slow march works very well against this background. Lana’s lyrics portray a passivity in the face of emotional detachment. The dream pop she veils her voice within is without effort, nevertheless it doesn’t need much to convey emotion. And she has the range, evident in, “Is that true?” “Video Games” is a good track, but lyrically drifts a little aimlessly like a lost bird in an expansive wire cage between verses and chorus. But hey, that does that in emotionally disconnected relationships.
“Blue Jeans” churns up the tempo, hinting at the hip-hop she’s been talking about incorporating. A far, far better song than “Video Games,” it not only embraces what she may have been learning from her production team but allows her to sing without being dominated by or overwhelming the music. The song dances wistfully along the fence between hip-hop and earlier singer/songwriter. Here the strings don’t seem out of place, but serve as the most stable aspect. Once again, Lana’s singing, including the higher layers, is undeniable as pop. That she is using all kinds of registers pulls her voice above the crowd. Obviously, Video Games EP is going to attract a flood of others attempting at this, but she’s already marketed herself into place. Pop primacy effect.
Two “Video Games” remixes round out the EP, one by Mr Fingers and the other by Omid 16B. Mr Fingers helped spearhead Chicago house music in the 1980s. First times it spun, I had no clue it was nine minutes. Nor did it feel as such with its muted Brazilian tropical meets pseudo-piano bar air. Omid 16B is British-Iranian, probably brought on by the post-Kiss Kiss deals. This remix is distinct, different and earns its welcome. The drum machine beat is harder, but still deadened as synth hisses surround you as if pipes are releasing steam in a rain-soaked, neon-flickering New York street at 3 o’clock in the morning.
The resurgence of controversy will arise once more next year when her debut album hits the streets. Video Games EP won’t be fading anytime in the near future, neither will Lana Del Rey. She has the voice and has the production behind her (and Pitchfork adores her, ditto Flavorpill if you’re looking for Halloween ideas). While it’s doubtful we’ll see it resurge 60 years from now, as her elements attest to, she’s ushering a new rise in pop music today. Honestly, at least it’s broadening away from picking aspects from dance, R&B, pop, and hip-hop and moving forward by dipping back in nostalgia.