Lana Del Rey
Lana on SNL
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Much has been made of the way she has a similar cadence to Nancy Sinatra, but with more swagger...
Is she as good as everyone says, or as bad as everyone says?
It wasn't pleasant to watch, it was worse to hear. I sat there during the performance, nervous, since she was playing SNL prior to her album even being officially released, but I was expecting her to come out solid'her pipes doing most of the work as her band played dutifully behind her. Instead, what I got was far worse than I could've seen coming. The awkward stand-in-place swaying, the constant touching of her hair'she was like a black hole of charisma, the antithesis of the word "performer." It's one of the worst solo sets by a professional musician I've seen in a long time, cringe-inducing, and the only thing I've seen recently that was worse were Ashlee Simpson's two-punch knockout of performances on SNL and at the Orange Bowl.
What I took away after watching her muddle her way through "Video Games" and half-ass her performance of "Blue Jeans" was this: Her backing band is absolutely ready to go play shows in venues across America, even if she's not with them.
When I first heard Lana Del Rey's voice, I was blown away. I was driving on I-5, headed north toward San Francisco, deep in the cavernous nothingness that exists between Los Angeles and the East Bay. Someone had told me to listen to her music, so I'd put the few songs she's released so far on a playlist before I'd left and it came on through a random shuffle. The song was "Born To Die," and I listened to it on repeat trying to figure it out. The song, with its glossy production which was clearly very solid, rang of some middling pop song that would fade out of the charts just as soon as it entered them. But there was something entrancing about it that had nothing to do with the music around her. It was her voice.
Much has been made of the way she has a similar cadence to Nancy Sinatra, but with more swagger, but I heard something different. She sounded to me like a female, mid-career Elvis Presley. I know I'm going to get crucified for that comparison, but her voice has the same husky, smoky desperation he had as he aged, akin to his performance on "Funny How Time Slips Away"; it yearns to be something more than every pop singer right now that isn't Adele. Her vocals sound ripped out of an echo-y, 1970s phonograph, and when that song pumps through your speakers it makes you feel like you're in a '67 Chevy Impala, roaring through the landscape as dust kicks up in your wake.
She has a voice that deserves to be heard.
After the two performances on 'SNL,' I found myself feeling bewildered and a bit betrayed. I had been vouching for this girl with friends and co-workers, telling them that her album was going to be the kind of thing that played solidly for years and would age gracefully. Perhaps that was way too much confidence to instill in someone without any kind of proven track record, but somehow she's become such a polarizing figure that it seemed justified. Days later, I'm still feeling the sting.
She's a young performer, and young performers get skittish, that just goes with the territory. But, on the other hand, this is a girl who sounded leaps-and-bounds better when she performed on Later'with Jools Holland. She was still stiff, but it was worlds apart from the nonsense that she pulled on SNL.
She said later, "If I have other things to think about, or I'm trying to get things done for somebody else, and I'm not in my own way, then' I'm like, 'This doesn't really matter'. Sometimes it seems more important to me than other times, I don't know."
This is cause for concern, in my opinion. If the act of performing doesn't seem important to you, then why are you doing it? And, more to the point, why are you doing it on such a huge platform, where everyone will be judging you if you half-ass it? If you phone in your performance, it's a betrayal to the people who want to hear you and want you to succeed, and ammunition for those that don't.
A lot of people have rushed to pile on the vitriol lately, and since then there's been a "backlash to the backlash" kind of reaction, as only the Internet can provide. Whitney Cummings came to her defense on her blog stating that "performing is FUCKING HARD." Here's the thing: Performing may be hard, but it's your job.
If I show up to a meeting unprepared and skittish, I will get my ass handed to me, the same way Lana Del Rey is currently having her ass handed to her. It's easy to dismiss because she's in front of so many people she doesn't know and that's daunting, but it's still your job. If you can't do the work, don't waste anyone's time.
Lana Del Rey is talented; more so than most of the auto-tuned pop stars that are circulating through the airwaves right now. She has a breathy, sexy quality that seeps out of her voice, and she's got the looks to go with it. But if she isn't willing to put in the effort to make it work, then it doesn't matter how talented she is. She's just someone with skills that got lazy and phoned it in. In an age where everyone has an opinion and an outlet to express it in, being "good enough" will not cut it. She needs to prove she deserves the attention she's getting, and after that performance on 'SNL,' she needs to prove it now.
Alexander Rivera, Features Columnist: Born and raised in Chicago, currently residing in Los Angeles, Alex Rivera is a jaded writer with romantic ideas on how things could be better, both for himself and the world around him. A giant blue-collar chip on his shoulder and a general antipathy toward the people in charge makes him realize that, though he can espouse on about change, it's up to everyone to make it happen. Until then, he shall continue his miserly ways with eloquence. (more...)