Sunday, 29 January 2012

Born To Die

So I've decided to take my friend Braden's advice and start posting my thoughts on pop and music and other things here as well. It's something I think about a lot in my spare it relates to us and how effectively pop stars are being handled/managed/promoted...etc.

Today's song is brought to you by Lana Del Rey. It's called "Dark Paradise" and for me it was one of the most immediate songs on her album, to be released this coming Tuesday.

Every once in a while in the world of music someone comes along who seems to rise meteorically overnight. Besides a certain Lady of the Gaga variety, it's hard to recall someone who has made such a name for herself in such a short time other than the lovely Lana Del Rey. The comparison between those two doesn't end there, either. Both are operating under pseudonyms (Lana's real name is Elizabeth Grant.) Both were raised by parents on the wealthier end of the spectrum, but both seem to talk about going through phases of hardship or struggle. This seems to be where a lot of the criticism for Lana stems from - that she is pretending that she once lived in a trailer park. That she didn't really struggle to get her music heard because her dad paid for her album deal. I have seen and heard many people jumping to the conclusion that she is not being authentic...and I think those people might be missing the point. I think it's very possible for people who come from those types of upbringings to want to separate themselves from their parents legacies - to go out and create something on their own terms. A friend of mine argued with me that Gaga was always really Gaga, and that the stage name is just an extension of her own artistic vision...and then went on to say that they didn't like Lana Del Rey at all because she come across as completely fake. I thought this was a bizarre argument...fine if the music isn't your style (he confessed he loved Video Games and Blue Jeans before he'd discovered that she wasn't who she claimed to be) but to dismiss her because she wanted to start fresh? I think that's completely unfair.

Lana Del Rey is obviously a character that Lizzy Grant has created. She is the pop star version of herself. Lizzy had released an album under her real name that didn't generate much buzz, so she decided to up the ante. It is rumoured (and likely) that she had collagen to make her lips fuller, to give her an old-fashioned Hollywood glamour look to match the sound of the music she wanted to make. Also not the first time a young female artist has been accused of having plastic surgery very early on in her career - as a massive Britney Spears fan, I remember the boob job rumours like they were yesterday. I was indignant then, because I knew the rumours were not true. What doctor would perform that surgery on a 17 year old girl? Why would they wait until after she'd released her first video to have her boobs done? And why do her boobs do such wonky things now if they are, in fact, implants? But in the case of Lana, I think it's almost certain that the rumours are true...and I love it. If it gets her more in character and makes her feel more like the star she wants to be, why not? On stage she comes across as extremely timid and shy and anxious - any boost to her self confidence is a good thing at this point, if you ask me.

But at the end of the day, I don't have Lana sitting here with me in my apartment. I have a copy of her album, so the music is what really matters. Say what you like about her image and her persona, but the music is almost all undeniable. The album is fantastic. She sings romantically charged sweeping orchestral ballads somehow fused with a trip hop undercurrent. It's a sound that is both completely nostalgic and strangely like nothing I've ever imagined. I've had the album on repeat for days and it is one of the most strongly assembled, sonically cohesive bodies of work that I can recall...the last time I was so throughly impressed with a (non Britney Spears) album was probably Dragonette's "Galore" back in 2007. In the iTunes era, where people can sift through and pick-and-choose the singles they want rather than purchasing entire albums, it almost seems like LPs are going the way of the 8-track. They could cease to be relevant within a few years from now. More and more artists might take the track that Robyn took last year - release an EP every few months with 4 or 5 really strong songs on it. No one can fault you for taking that approach - in the end you get the same amount of music as a fan, but you don't have to wait as long in between releases. I wouldn't mind that, because lately I've felt like many albums have been the 4 or 5 obvious singles mixed in with a bunch of filler...why bother?

So this album is a breath of fresh air. I can play it through entirely on loop and not feel the need to skip any songs (except possibly This Is What Makes Us a boy it's difficult for me to relate, sort of.) It's almost entirely about her love of bad boys and how she's vulnerable in these relationships to a state of total melodrama - "I wish I was dead," "I will love you 'til the end of time," etc. But it all fits. The lyrics are almost all phenomenal. If this album is an ode to old Hollywood glamour, then it may as well be the soundtrack to one of those grand sweeping tearjerkers. They lyrics are often grandiose in that manner, but there are too many contemporary references for it to feel archaic. On first listen it might sound pretentious, but the lyrics are so wonderfully scripted that you find yourself relating. You feel like she's singing thoughts you've had before. Some of these thoughts are wonderfully funny and often wildly sexy at the same time, like on the title track - "Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain - you like your girls insane?" Or on the "Bittersweet Symphony" tribute that is "National Anthem": "I'm your national anthem, god you're so handsome, take me to the Hamptons." Though the album is littered with these hopeful instances, the lyrics frequently venture into the darker aspects of her failed affairs. It's not clear how autobiographical the song "Carmen" is, but it's definitely the albums blackest spot. It seems to suggest that the subject fell into prostitution to make ends meet when she was younger. "She's only seventeen, but she walks the streets so mean" and "she doesn't mind lying to herself 'cause her liquors' top shelf."

Now let's talk about something I'm not absolutely in love with (other than "Diet Mountain Dew") - the album cover.

I get why they went with the cover they's very vintage/classic Americana inspired and they wanted something iconic. You can also see her facial features more clearly in it, which for a debut album is important - they're trying to make her a recognizable face. I, however, don't necessarily think it is an iconic album cover just because of the influences they decided on. I know iconic images can be assembled...but I don't necessarily think they went about it in the right way. Especially when she's had such stunning imagery in her other photoshoots and videos. It seems like a bit of a letdown.

What I love about the cover I'm using is that it's dramatic, romantic, and a bit morbid all at the same time. It completely embodies what the music is actually about, as opposed to what they want her to come 
across as, which I think is more important.

So, in conclusion, there is only one thing we can all be certain of: Lana Del Rey loves to make out. Kiss her hard, on her open mouth, on her fruit punch lips, in the pouring rain, or in the bright sunshine. Lean in for a big kiss in the park, in the dark, or in the blue dark.



Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Harry Potter

Every song seems to be speaking to me lately. So many lyrics I feel like I could have easily written. I suppose on some level it's comforting to know that others have found themselves where I find myself.

Monarchy - I Won't Let Go

The Nostrand Avenue stop on the A train is about a 30 minute ride from downtown Manhattan. For something to read on my daily subway trip I put all seven Harry Potter novels on my iPhone in early September. Prior to this fall I had read the series at least 10 or 15 times (before every book was released and before every movie was released) and since then I've added another three read-throughs to that list. 

It's funny - when I decided to start using iBooks the thought of downloading something that I hadn't already read never crossed my mind. I've always been a creature of habit, so maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise...but I think there is more to it than that. I don't just read Harry Potter again and again out of habit, or because it's less work than actively seeking new reading material. It's not about convenience or laziness or the fear of the unknown. The fact of the matter is that I love Harry Potter. The story still completely absorbs me every single time, even the parts that I hate to read. Each cycle through the saga shows me something I hadn't noticed before, or introduces me to a tidbit I had dismissed as being trivial. I cry fresh hot tears almost constantly toward the conclusion (speaking from experience, I don't recommend reading the end of Half-Blood Prince in a public place.) There's just something about that magical boy with the lightning bolt scar that won't let go of me.

I care about Harry. I want him to succeed, to be brave, to trust his instincts - even when he's being a complete douche (all of book 5, for example.) I'm so happy for him every time he catches the Snitch and when he winds up with the girl of his dreams. I love watching him learn and grow every time and I never really forgive Snape for being so cruel to him.

I've always had trouble letting go. I can get nostalgic over just about anything. I never like to throw stuff away, even if its been sitting neglected in a corner heap for months. Just in case I might like to examine it on a trip down memory lane someday, something which I find happens more and more frequently the older I get - therefore justifying my hoarder sensibilities.

Yesterday I told someone I was having trouble moving on and they said: "It is always good to buy books you will read after you're done with the one you are currently reading." 

But why buy new books when I've found the story that makes me happy? I've read enough books to know that nothing else could ever make me feel the same way, and I would be perfectly content reading and re-reading this series for the rest of my life. 

I see no reason to continue searching for what I've already found.