Cheeseburger Gothic

Swarming to judgment.

Posted July 20, 2012 into Music by John Birmingham

Props to Barry Divola for beating me to Lana Del Rey. I'd been meaning to do some thinkin' out loud on Del Rey's eerily compelling mash up of the last 60 years worth of musical sound salad but Barry got in first today.

Totes worth a read, here.

Before Barry however there was the Hipster Hivemind which, having been embarrassed by a few moments initial enthusiasm for Del Rey's high-spec re-engineering of the Rebecca Black fame engine decided to throw the switch from lip curling snark to attack dog savagery. Barry can fill you in on that. All of it I missed, cos I'm just not hip enough.

I found Del Rey's self titled album on the new release page at Rdio.com and hit it up because, well, she looked hot. (An unforgivable crime against the integrity of all pop culture, apparently). A couple of moments listening to opening track, however, and I was sold. Literally. I decided to buy the album rather than just streaming it.

Choice in music, like choice in humor, is subjective. A lot of <del>haters</del> critics hated LDR. I loved it, and many, many plays later, still love it. Lana Del Rey is a creation in the same way that Dr Dre, Gaga, the Sex Pistols, AC/DC, Elvis, all of them were created, or perhaps just curated by their labels, managers, audience and so on. Lizzy Grant, the singer who inhabits the form of Del Rey, has crafted a character from an early Easton Ellis novel; a trust fund ingenue who takes her nihilism with champagne and pearls rather than the warm coke and greasy chicken-n-chips that sustains the inhabitants of, say, a Hilltop Hoods track. She is the culturally incorrect voice of the one percent. Or perhaps the one percent's girlfriend.

Staging her act on the wrong side of that American class divide was... er, brave. I suspect it directly fed into the backlash that began before her official fifteen minutes.

Anyway, that's my reading of the Del Rey character. The music, I just dig on, which is why I was kinda taken aback when I realised how controversial that entirely subjective choice was. First inkling came when a music critic friend pushed back when I tweeted a line about the Del Rey album being cool. (The crit, Amanda writes great gig reviews, informed and genuine. She is so genuinely contemptuous of LDR that I wanted her to write a coupla hundred words here in counterpoint, but couldn't raise her in time.)

After dueling with Amanda I decided to check the Discovr Music app to see what sort of Del Rey links it thru back at me. For similar artists it gave up Lykke Li, Florence and the Machine, Foster the People and James Blake. So far so meh. The blog entries about her however where a revelation. Uniformly toxic. And angry. And very very determined that whole world should know they would be forever Marked as of the Beast if they didn't immediately grab a pitchfork and a burning branch to help destroy this monster once and for all.

This chick had upset some entitled fuckin' hipsters, lemme tell you.

The near uniformity was vaguely familiar, but it took a minute until I recognised the tone. The same, ominous hum of an approaching swarm I'd heard a hundred times before. At the Instrument. Except rather than coming in to astroturf the comment thread with, say climate change denial, this swarm was inbound on Lana Del Rey, her breathy voice and collagen lips. Barry Divola again:

...even before she had released her debut album, Grant had already been through the deified-then-crucified story arc. A big reason for this was the fact that her rise was a direct result of that YouTube video. She who is born by the internet dies by the internet. Even the media started referring to her as a meme rather than an artist. In The New York Times, Jon Caramanica opened his story with the line ''It's already difficult to remember Lana Del Rey, but let's try'', as if her career were already over and he was writing about her as a pop-cultural artefact.

The artefact has proved infuriatingly resilient. As Barry points out she was meant to come down to Oz in February and play at the Oxford Art Factory, a comparatively tiny venue in Sydney. Five hundred punters, tops.

That tour was postponed due to the explosion of interest in her. Five months later, she's not only doing two sold-out nights at the Enmore Theatre (total audience 4000) but she's also on the bill at Splendour.

I wont be at either. But I would've liked to see how Lizzy Grant pulls off the Lana Del Rey character in front of a live audience.

43 Responses to ‘Swarming to judgment.’

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted July 20, 2012
"warm coke and greasy chicken-n-chips that sustains the inhabitants of, say, a Hilltop Hoods track"

May have been a intemperate turn of phrase JB, but I'd be a little cautious about flinging mud the HtH's way. 2 of the boys are > / = Healthy life focussed than you.

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jennicki ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
I'm still new to LDR. But that "Blue Jeans" song haunts me and it's been a constant on my iPod lately.

She reminds me of Tori Amos. And I don't care what people say about Tori either, I like her stuff as well. There's something about a sexy singer who's not afraid to get ugly.

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Luke mutters...

Posted July 20, 2012
I thought you did wirte a paragraph about her on the Instrument once. I seem to recall the "WTF is all the hate about?". A bunch of wannabe special snowflakes freakin out cause they liked someone who it turns out wasn't ideologically someone who they should have liked. Becasue apparently that's got something to do with whether they think the music is good or not.

Nothing says wanker quite so well as people who change their support for a band just because they become main stream hits. I went to school with a bloke who couldn't shut up about how great the Smashing Pumkins were (you kow, cause it was somthing special about their undergroundness that made him, as a fan, feel differentiated him from every other punter out there. After all his taste in music was superior to anyone who liked top 40 music). Anyway the Pumkins made it big and he turned on them like an exwife in a bad divorce. Overnight he hated all their music with a pashion, even all those ablums he had from before they were big.

He thought people who liked top 40 were all just sheep who let external forces dictate what music they should like. Ironic eh?

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Jodi has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2012
I steered clear of the mass hatred on this one, but I do think she was prematurely pushed into the spotlight before her music was really ready for the level of scrutiny it's been receiving. This album would pass muster for a local lady's first effort but at such an explosive international scale, it really needed more work.

Similarly, I agree that the Letterman performance was terrible, but that doesn't mean she's terrible always and forever - it just means she had an off night; she's a young woman under a lot of sudden and unexpected pressure.

I'll be catching her at Splendour to see if she carries herself better a year into her crazy rollercoaster ride than she did then because hey, yeah, she's hot and she had some good songs and I'm curious, which should be enough to support a musician shouldn't it?

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John Birmingham mutters...

Posted July 20, 2012
I'm not hatin' on the Hoodies, NBob. They're on even higher rotation at my place than Del Rey. Read the line again. It's about the inhabitants of a Hilltop song. They write/sing about the same people/class/whatevs as chisel once did. The suburban exiles, the working poor, the trolley pushers and take away chicken eaters. In fact there's a line about KFC in one of their tracks I could dig up if I didnt have to get back to my deadline. Later, maybe

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John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted July 20, 2012
Yeah, Luke, you're right. I remember now.

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Therbs is gonna tell you...

Posted July 20, 2012
I'll get in early on this one. I only liked her early stuff, you know when we used to see her in those small indie venues and no-one knew her, but we did. Then she became mainstream and commercially successful and we hates her we does.

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BrianC has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2012
I hope she sounds betterer than the caterwauling in that youtube clip JB. That to be honest sounds like a bad pub band in the back room of the local croat club.

she is a looker though. Would totally hold her hand.

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jennicki mutters...

Posted July 20, 2012
I think you mean the infamous Saturday Night Live performance, not Letterman, Jodi.

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John puts forth...

Posted July 20, 2012
Who?

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AusMossy ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
I bought the album as soon as I heard Video Games. Some of the tracks are instantly forgettable, but there's tracks on there I still love. Only after the purchase did I start seeing the hate going her way and especially after the Sarurday Night Live appearance. Some time later I saw the episode of SNL where she did two songs... and I still didn't get the hate. They might not have been fantastic performances, but they were no worse than most of the live stuff on SNL. Better than some of the mimed performances... Ashlee Simpson I'm looking at you.

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NBlob mutters...

Posted July 20, 2012
Yeah, but no.

There is an "Art" factor that is too easily glossed over as wankery and it is profoundly difficult to pick through the stuck together tissues of High Octane Wankery and find the kernals of truth.

But there is a difference between an article produced for sale and a creation of the artistic process. I can hear the smart arses shouting "yeah the Art is unsale-able." Again yeah, but no.

I think it was Birmo's hero Mr King that said an "artist writes because they have to, whether anyone will ever read it or not." The same goes for musicians, who will fiddle & faddle in their back room, irespective of a record deal or the prospect of one.

Sure, all artists want their work to be admired, enjoyed and valued and in the world we live in the ultimate in valued is a RRP and lotsa sales. But for an Artist this is secondary.

A made for sale piece is different, will always be different, can't help but be different.

To suggest otherwise is to say that a Henry Moore is the same as a Lucky Strike ad. From the moment of inception it isn't so much a creative process as an excercise in making sales. No disrespect, a sale is a good thing in and of itself. Sales make the world go 'round, pay the bills & feeds the kids. But sales and Art are different things. They may overlap like some Venn Diagram, but they are different things.

To the topic @ hand.

If Lizzy Grant had / has been doing the LDR thing in tiny clubs for years, because that's what She felt was good and right, then it'd be an entirely different prospect to Smock, Apron & Watermelon creating LDR and looking to cast a performer in that role.

I suspect some people choose to dislike what they would otherwise enjoy because they don't appreciate that some producer can so expertly predict what it is that they will like. Yet in any other field, sandwich making, architecture or whatever this is the ultimate goal. Hence the Wankery.

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2012
"This chick had upset some entitled fuckin’ hipsters, lemme tell you" that's a ringing endorsement for me, off to itunes.

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Monster Yuppy ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
I don't mind listening to new hipster stuff from time to time, but I gotta say that on spotify, Led Zep & Talking Heads are still on my high rotation list.

It may be a tad misogynistic of me but I really don't like solo female singers.

I cannot think of a single one I have in my collection.

Lana fits that bill for me.

I will stick to Muddy Waters & Jimmy Page.

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John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted July 20, 2012
Aren't you supposed to sign off with something about damn kids getting off your lawn.

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Lobes reckons...

Posted July 20, 2012
She played at a festival I went to a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately her set clashed with Amon Tobin ISAM on another stage so I didn't get to see her although I really would have liked to. Some of my friends saw her and said she was ok, nothing special but not terrible.

Remember hipsters only hate things they used to like.

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Therbs puts forth...

Posted July 20, 2012
She's playing at Oxford Art Factory? That again will piss off a shit load of hipsters.

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Blarkon ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
This idea that artists only create in pursuit of expressing their soul and that someone who creates for a buck is somehow tainted is hipster and nerd solipsism. Sometimes artists create to pay the rent and to put food on the table. This does not detract from the value of that creation.

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BruceGaryNigelson would have you know...

Posted July 20, 2012
Subjective - dead right. Music is diverse and noone could possibly have the same tastes. I think that a true music lover (or appreciater if you want) will understand that regardless of genre/hype/coolness/hipness/perceived lameness etc, will understand the joy that the other music lover is deriving from that piece of music. Always amuses me to see the haters once a band, in a lot of instances, finally win some very hardearned success ($$ in the bank) and being able to give up their day jobs to pursue it further. I'm just bloody happy that they can fund what they do so that I can derive some further pleasure out of what they do, instead of imploding into abject poverty. On a side note, always wanted to kick those dickheads in the head who used to sit down on the floor (wtf?) at gigs at the Troubadour. Too cool for school.

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Therbs reckons...

Posted July 20, 2012
Blarkon - agreed. Like that Dickens bloke publishing in a rag in serial form. Totally sold out as an artist. Or artists doing commission work, or doing entries for the Archibald.

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Luke reckons...

Posted July 20, 2012
Blarkon, that's exactly right. By JBs own confession, one of his books was nothing more than a money spinner. But its one that I like.

NBob, I very much doubt that all those talk over a backing track autotuned knuckle dragging rappers wouldn't says they are all artists only in it for the sake of itself (..well that and the b*tches). But at the end of the day people who put together commercial jingles still have and display more talent in their work despite it purpose.

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Cintamani has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2012
I'm with you JB - love the album esp Born to Die.

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damian would have you know...

Posted July 20, 2012
Grub first, then ethics.

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Sekret Sekret asserts...

Posted July 20, 2012
Love Lana Del Ray. Love her groovy voice. She could have been made in a test tube in Richard Wilkins' shed for all I care.

N o apologies or evaluations or justifications. She's just groovy.

I know the jury's out on how developed she is as a musician. Meh.

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Sekret Sekret asserts...

Posted July 20, 2012
Often, under -developed art is fucking great. Ted Nugent when he was 16--great. The Beach Boys, Great. I remember Silver Chair's hit song when they were, what? 16? Tomorrow. Brilliant bit of under developed talent. That's what I mean.

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
Afraid I have to disagree with you Nbob at least until you can provide some standard to evaluate the worth of art other than "I know what I like, and what I like thrashes". In your argument

" A made for sale piece is different, will always be different, can’t help but be different.

To suggest otherwise is to say that a Henry Moore is the same as a Lucky Strike ad"

The first sentence is demonstrably true but only if you define the difference as which is made for sale. The second sentence doesn't necessarily follow from the first. I could believe that Henry Moore and Lucky Strike are both pieces of shit, or sublime and transcendent works of breathtaking beauty but until you give me the yard stick to compare and it isn't "one was done for pay" then I am not convinced that there is a difference.

Some of the so called 'hack' writing/performing/art done by the author is possibly better (for a given measure of worth) than earnest work produced by an artist struggling in a garrett and vice versa.

Or were you taking the piss, I admit I am unsure?

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damian mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2012
Barnes: to this I'd suggest reading a bunch of stuff by Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and then working your way forwards. Walter Benjamin is just one of many 20th century commentators to take in along the way, but a must-read on this subject. Kant is worth looking at too.

In short: this isn't an argument to start from scratch, any more than evolutionary biology is a subject where you can make a reasonable interjection without reading at least a bit first. Cf Hayek's rather spectacularly, embarrassingly wrong exploration of the subject.

Blarkon: I largely agree, but your "only"s, "sometimes"s and other qualifiers are too sloppy, verging on contorted framing in places.

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Sekret Sekret swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 20, 2012
Nbob, I hadn't seen your comment but the immediate response I felt was : Even if that's true, even if Lana Del Ray's intention is one thing, it doesn't measn the effect is predictable. Noone can account for 'something' about an artist, no matter what external factors are at play, manipulating us to see it a certain way.

For example, I knew none of the above about LDR before this post, nada, zilch about her. Interesting that without the benefit of knowledge I was free to respond wihtout most of my prejudices. I can't bear Guy Ritchie or Shannon Knoll. and some tiems I wonder if that isn't because I know their origins, or that they fit into a particualr pattern which I have come to reject because of "who" I am, or who you , we all ,are. Oh to listen without cultural references to tell us we like or dislike a thing.

There's a great book on thsi subject , writtne by an indie Toronto music critic, Carl Wilson called "Let's talk about love: journey to the end of taste" a book about his examination of why he hates Celine Dion. Turns out, it's all about "you".

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2012
Forgive me I was distracted.

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/agriculture-minister-john-mcveigh-under-presure-to-reveal-cuts-to-department/story-e6freon6-1226430631406

@ Blarkon. Tainted ? I didn't say better or worse I said different. Commercial imperative, self censorship.

@ Luke, Riffs, beats & lyrics. It's good if you open your brain to it.

@ Barnesm. I got nothin. You are right. To qualify an intangible is

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beeso mutters...

Posted July 20, 2012
I had a similar experience with Lily Allen. Post music venues I had dropped out of pop music and I must have hit the Js and heard her song. Loved the almost sarcastic lyrics wrapped in bubblegum pop. Didn't realize that it was seriously uncool in my crew. Didn't care. Fun fun stuff.

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Darth Greybeard asserts...

Posted July 20, 2012
Music's never been the same since the Moody Blues and the Small Faces. Now all you kids git offa my lawn.

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damian mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2012
Bob - I get what you were trying to say. Intention doesn't really come into it. Some works clearly "have something" that others don't. Oftentimes this lines up with whether the stuff is popular, and often in a perverse order. What's done to put food on the table isn't necessarily, even usually bad, just more often than the other way around.

But don't talk to me about not running with the cool kids. Meh.

To take GB's point: you mean people have still been selling music since the turn of the century? Who'da thunk?

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 20, 2012
"To qualify an intangible is" yodaesque, which made me chuckle NBob. But I am enjoying the discussion.

And thanks for the suggested reading Perfectly, Terribly Sane Damian I didn't think I had said anything ground breaking, and am sure others have said it before, certainly better than I could. I just don't think that I need to cover the course materials before I ask the question. I believe the Socratic method predates Swift and Pope.

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Sekret Sekret ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
Gbeard, we's settin fire to your lorn.

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damian asserts...

Posted July 20, 2012
Oh, is that what you were doing? I don't think Bob was taking the piss, to answer the only question I spotted there.

On a different but related note, I think it is definitely possible to have an intelligent discussion about things that can't be measured or otherwise quantified, but still have value. One that even has useful outcomes. Some will insist that value can always be quantified, and I will respectfully disagree on that point. Others will, as you appear to do, insist that anything that can't be measured can't exist, and I'll disagree just as respectfully.

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MickH is gonna tell you...

Posted July 20, 2012
Wow!

Where did that vid from Ira Glass come from?

I felt like he was talking to me...

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pi mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2012
Needs more trance. And lazerz and shit.

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2012
No Perfectly, Terribly Sane Damian I think things that can't be measured can exist,.

Just before I discuss a piece of work it is helpful to see if who I want to discuss it with uses a similar frame reference to evaluate as I do. If the person I am talking with has as a basis that art produced to earn money as the primary motivation must be of lesser worth than one produced purely as art then, while that is a valid distinction, it is not one I can subscribe to and therefore no reason to try and discuss the worth of different works because my frame of reference is too different from theirs. I am not saying one criteria is any better than the other, simply mine is different and because its mine obviously the correct one.

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NBlob mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2012
Subjectivity precludes graduation and calibration. Quality depends on the competence of the practitioner. Art is something else, something that transcends quality.

You know, the Lizard may be right, but in a 'round about way. Professional competance is a precondition to producing Art.

It's late, I'm philosophising half cut. Last time we played this game I ended up concluding that Today Tonight was Art.

'night.

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Barnesm would have you know...

Posted July 20, 2012
good advice, Nbob TTFN

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Lobes reckons...

Posted July 21, 2012
(Cool i get to paraphrase the comment i made in last weeks stephen king thread. Don't get up yet brain.)

You would think art has evaded being a victim of subjectivity but even that is somewhat changing with the stuff like the pieces coming out of Warhols Factory and Damien Hirsts assistant created Spot Paintings challenging the concept of what exactly it is that makes art good.

But art is a one off and in many cases is judged by its price tag. A bad Damien Hirst is still a collectors piece that people will pay good money for. Whereas a bad album by a manufactured star (say Stephanie McIntosh) isnt going to have many defenders and may not make much money at all. Both are made for money though.

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damian swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 21, 2012
Barnes, I think we're actually saying more or less the same thing just from a different perspective. By referring to Pope and Swift, I'm trying to share my frame of reference.

I think there are two different things NBob said, respectively 1) that commercial art, or art made for the purpose of making money is different to art made for love, or to art made with the intention of making good art; and 2) that some art has a value above other things that seems to us to be intrinsic to it even while it may have something to do with our own cultural context and our awareness of the artifact's context. I think these are not necessarily related to each other in all cases. But I do think that Apocalypse Now has something that Weekend at Bernie's III doesn't. Other than lots of explodey goodness, of course.

"Ars gratia artis" ("art for art's sake") is the motto of one of the largest Hollywood studio companies, an irony we might reflect upon.

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jp puts forth...

Posted July 22, 2012
She's good, though I think nerves often get the better of her because she hasn't mastered her 'act' yet.

I was at this taping when last in London, dragged along by publishing PR peeps in what I thought would be a terrible bore (eg can't we instead be drinking good scotch someplace with her royal hotness or the like???) but was blown away by her. (that's what she said)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP7mdcm1-6w

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