The Future: Playing Video Games

Roll up roll up roll up! Hello and welcome to The Internet, otherwise known as The World Wide Web, or as we like to call it, ‘Meme-land’, a place where ‘viral’ is a good thing and music is everywhere, despite the best efforts of the industry, and also free! You can find music here on blogs, on iTunes, on Grooveshark, on Facebook, on something that people apparently still use called ‘Myspace’, on Soundcloud, and hell, you can even find music on YouTube!

Yes indeed, ladies and gentleman, and that is how the world has come to know Lana Del Rey, a self-described “gangster Nancy Sinatra” who croons a drugged-out Stevie Nicks lilt over minimal chords and cinematic strings on her YouTube hit, Video Games.

If you don’t know who she is or why The Internet got so worked up about her, here are the crib notes:

  • Once known as ‘Lizzy Grant’, her music career in New York under that name flopped
  • She’s the daughter of a successful domain investor – ie. a person who buys and sells domain names; a profession entirely based on the existence of The Internet (henceforth capitalised, because It’s Important)
  • She claims to be a fan of Elvis and also claims to have lived in a trailer park
  • She was re-launched into the music scene with a manager/producer team as ‘Lana Del Rey’ with not only a new name but a new face, with fairly obvious changes to her lips (her top one is in a constant pout)
  • She says she writes her own music and makes her own videos
  • Her songs ‘Video Games’, ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Kinda Outta Luck’ are damn catchy
  • ‘Video Games’ went viral almost immediately when it was released as a YouTube video
  • She recently picked up Q Magazine’s Next Big Thing award and has just been signed to Interscope Records

Alright, so now we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about this lady. Properly.

There are a lot of reasons why Lana Del Rey went viral. Here’s eight of them. The controversy of Lana Del Rey’s ‘fake’ image (or lips) or her perceived reinvention of self seem ridiculous to me. This blog from The Telegraph agrees – “It amazes me that anyone even talks about authenticity in the 21st Century. Didn’t we go all postmodern at least two decades ago? We live in an age of instant worldwide communication, moving towards a kind of virtual omni-culture whose inhabitants are free to pick and choose from all kinds of sources in every aspect of their lives, including the creation of their own identities,” the author explains.

However, a really great article on Pitchfork pointed out something that I hadn’t really fully realised but totally agreed with: pop musicians are allowed to – almost expected to, now – put on a persona and celebrate their inauthenticity through ridiculous characters (Katy Perry, Ke$ha, etc) but “…with indie musicians it’s the opposite. The music itself is allowed to follow its aesthetic imagination off in strange directions, but the artists are often expected not to. The artist is always just an auteur, the creator of a fiction: She might make an album totally committed to theatrical concepts, but she’ll show up to interviews in normal clothes, explaining her ideas like a normal person.”

Admittedly I’d say there were some exceptions to this rule – like Tex Perkins, The Decemberists, Those Darlins… but when interviewed they tend to reveal themselves to be ‘normal people’. Lana Del Rey, so far, has used all of her interviews to sort of perpetuate her marketing myth. And personally I have no problem with that – but the indie community seem to be seriously outraged that someone has challenged their world view that every ‘indie’ star has to be a grungy dude who played guitar for ages in his dad’s garage before gradually creeping in to public consciousness.

The fact is that this girl, who is half vintage Playboy, half American Apparel, seems to be doing much more than just putting forward a challenging physical image – her video, especially the clip for Video Games, challenges the viewer in a few different ways, which serves to intrigue and disturb viewers… and it all seems so DIY. Whether it really is DIY, I have no idea, but looking at the clip closely, it seems to have some strong ideas behind it.

The most immediately striking thing about the video – other than its Adam Curtis-esque stock footage montage and obvious nod to postmodernism and nostalgia in that respect – is Lana’s gaze. She claims to have made the videos herself, and in doing so we can see her gazing at the computer screen rather than at the camera lens. It is, very simply, confronting – and in the strangest way, because a direct stare is usually more confronting than looking away.

But Del Rey’s gaze is certainly a sign of the times. The fact that she is watching the computer screen signifies that she is either watching herself, or, more disturbingly, that she is watching you. You look at the screen like that if you’re taking a photo or video of yourself (cf. Myspace, ‘selfie’ or even recently acronymmed as ‘GPOY‘) or if you’re having a video chat (Skype) with someone else.

And what a call it would be. David Foster Wallace explored the confronting nature of video calls in Infinite Jest – read a bit of that here. But a video call with Lana Del Rey, pouting, smiling, over-acting, batting her lashes – that would be more than one standard unit of video call. Certainly that would be closer to… phone sex? Webcam porn? Something like that? Either way, her behaviour renders the whole experience more than slightly voyeuristic – either we are peeking in on a girl taking photos of herself (which is generally accepted as being a private experience where you try to make yourself seem more attractive than you actually are) or we’re Skyping a girl who seems to be playing the role of a girl-next-door-style-pornstar. Confronting. And even more so for her obvious sense of ease.

Lana Del Rey’s father’s entire career has basically existed because of The Internet. So it doesn’t really surprise me that Del Rey’s video reflects on the nature of the net with her indirect gaze. She may not even be aware of it – most likely she’s been using the net since she was little, and this kind of thing is pretty natural for her. But I have to admit that her on-screen pouting and GPOY-style eyelid flutters really are something completely out of my comfort zone, and most likely would be the same for many others. And I think this is partly what has infuriated, delighted and intrigued people about LDL – the fact that whoever she is, fake, real, good, bad, hot, whatever – that she seems to be squaring us up and looking right into our souls.

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