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 Everett True

two discussions around the notion of ‘authenticity’ in pop music

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These discussions are taken from Facebook, lifted from the comments left on a couple of links to Brigette’s recent CB article around Lana Del Rey – and edited down, for clarity. If anyone involved has a problem with this, please let me know.

After all that kerfuffle over whether or not Collapse Board stays or goes (it stays), an absolutely sensational piece of writing from Brigette Adair Herron to welcome us back into the real world … The Question of Authenticity and Lana Del Rey 

PART ONE

Everett True
‎Neil Kulkarni, White Hotel, Vanessa Briscoe Hay … you might well enjoy this.

White Hotel
I did like this! I read the song slightly differently though – I hear a defiance there in the expression of its despair, in its honesty. Kind of: oh look, here I am articulating everything that’s supposed to make me happy, and it makes me fucking sick. The truth is: the love we’re raised to seek is bad for women. It’s paralysing. It’s stifling. It’s insulting. And here I am articulating that insult. It feels like a dream, this reality, because no one else acknowledges it, and I am alone.

I actually think the St Vincent album is a study in that kind of narrative. No one who’s reviewed it has picked up on that yet. It’s a concept album about misogyny. It takes a different tone – bright resignation and brittle humour – but the songs are all about situations where women have to choose other than what they’re raised to choose just to survive. And mostly they don’t, and mostly they are terribly wounded.

I fkn LOVE these kinds of narratives, and see them everywhere, actually. I might put together a playlist for Brigette.

David Cotner
I can think of no self-aware adult male who would take any women even the faintest bit seriously who ever uttered the words, “Heaven is a place on earth where you tell me all the things you want to do”. While it’s unfortunate that criticism of this woman’s work is uniformly reduced to the leering mode with which it’s viewed by many in the press, the overall message remains as noxious as mustard gas. We already figured out how to avoid such things about a century ago. Do not kill the messenger. Shun her; drive her back into her cocktail lounge, for she is the harbinger of death.

David Bennun
(To White Hotel): You might also be describing the Best Coast album there. Or the entire Girl Group style. Which is one of the things that’s so powerful about it.

Whether that paralysing search for love would cease if women were raised differently is a whole other question. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t assume the answer to be yes.

White Hotel
Yep: girl groups, tons of country and r&b too. It is powerful, and it is seductive. Love is magic, but it isn’t always good for you.

Lucy Gulland
(To David Cotner): The lyrics are:
“Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do.”

Not the same thing as, “Heaven is a place on earth where you tell me all the things you want to do“: read it closer. (Are you saying that men, even the mythical self-aware adult versions, don’t want to hear their lover ask them what they want?!)  And, seriously, you if think all songs should be expressive of perfect power relations rather than the reality of the situation (love – let alone societal sexual inequality – does funny things to a person) then you’d have to dismiss most of the best songs ever written.

White Hotel
(To David C): I think that’s a fantastic lyric. Built into it is the Belinda Carlisle reference (and with it the acknowledgement of her secession from The Go-Gos and from punk feminism, her miserable struggle for a body politics that didn’t exclude her, her dieting and her bulimia; ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’ was released at a time when Belinda was skinny, disordered and terrified, it’s actually, if you listen to it closely, a metaphysics of suffering) and the acknowledgement that heaven, like earth, is ‘you, it’s you, it’s all for you.’

White Hotel
Lucy: I think the lyric is “where you”, not “with you”, and I think it’s stronger that way… Love these kinds of discussions, close reading is pretty rare among music critics

White Hotel
On the point about authenticity: I have no idea what makes some forms of contrivance acceptable in pop and others not. Transparency? A desire to identify? Anyone else?

Lucy Gulland
Ah, I was going on Brigette’s text and what the lyrics sites seem to be have! But listening again I think you’re probably right. What a desperately sad song. I’m still kinda reeling from reading “the overall message remains as noxious as mustard gas… Do not kill the messenger. Shun her; drive her back into her cocktail lounge, for she is the harbinger of death”, which seems a peculiarly harsh reaction to a complex and self-aware expression of fragility. The discussion about what love does to a woman in a misogynist society is fascinating: driving it away (to “the cocktail lounge”?!) is the last thing I want to do.

White Hotel
Yeah. I have to take issue with the too-often expressed idea that patriarchy would go away if women stopped whining about it.

Lucy Gulland
Yup, “authenticity”, pah! It’s as bad as “real music”! No such thing. I watched/read the interviews with LDR mentioned by Brigette and Joseph and my impression (mediated as it is!) is of a talented woman with very little self-confidence, who finds the trappings of fame so uncomfortable that she is backing herself into a persona to try to alleviate the horror.

Lucy Gulland
Yeah, exactly WH! Thing is, songs tend to express emotions, they’re not generally blueprints for life. Not that I’m adverse to those at times, but it’d be pretty bloody boring if every song had to articulate life as it “ought” (by someone’s definition!) be lived as opposed to letting loose the shit that we carry around in your heads/hearts/bodies.

Wallace Wylie
I see a bigger problem. The only reason anybody is talking about LDR is because somebody (with money and power, probably male(s))wants us to. So here we are, talking about her. No matter what our conclusions, they’ve won, and we are simply following their agenda.

Scott Creney
But Wallace, isn’t that true of (pretty much) any artist who gets mainstream attention? Isn’t that true of novelists? Or visual artists? Or filmakers? Why does the money invalidate the art? And more importantly, why is it female artists who are the quickest to have their art invalidated by this common fact? As Lucy would probably ask, How come The Sex Pistols get to be artists but LDR does not.

And your opinion about her music is not a good reason. I think I may not have heard a more powerful song this year than ‘Video Games’.

Wallace Wylie
To a certain extent, which means everybody gets to attack LDR as much as Fleet Foxes or other artists who get hype. When I attack Fleet Foxes there are no real complaints other than from disgruntled Fleet Foxes fans. If I attack LDR I’m suddenly a tool for a partiarchal system? Yet without that system LDR would not be up for discussion. There’s a certain perverse madness to these conversations.

Tamsin Chapman ‎
“Backing herself into a persona to try to alleviate the horror” – fits very neatly with feminist masquerade theory – the adopting of an OTT ‘feminine’ persona – frills, feathers, wigs, and yes – pouty lips – as a kind of mask or disguise to protect yourself from the male gaze. (I’ve often thought this about Dolly Parton – by turning herself into a cartoon character she has protected the real her – she’s always witty, always smart, but never reveals her inner self. You could say this has also worked against her – she’s one of the best songwriters of the 20th Century but is never recognised as such, people just see the tits and hair. But seeing as how she still wouldn’t get the recognition she deserves no matter what she looks like, due to her possession of a vagina, she’s damned either way.) LDR seems to be the latest in a long line of female artists who experiment with identities to hide or to subvert. Her persona and videos actually remind me a bit of Cindy Sherman’s work

Wallace Wylie
I should add that the article is a great piece of writing and has made me rethink LDR, for what it’s worth.

Scott Creney
There are, Wallace. Even your fave Joni Mitchell had a male manager and record company paying/paving her way. The intersection of art and commerce is a complicated and thorny one. There’s plenty of great art that had shitty business going on behind it (erm..early Bob Dylan). And plenty of terrible art that had admirable business tactics (erm … Fugazi).

Wallace Wylie
After reading this piece and then doing a bit of investigation it does seem like there is an amazing amount of hatred being directed at LDR, with a lot of it undoubtedly being fueled by the fact that she’s an attractive woman. It does become rather irritating to be exposed to her every move and this makes my ears close over at times. I will say I listened to the song “Video Games” properly and it is actually a pretty good song. I couldn’t care less if she didn’t actually write it. A song/performance either works or it doesn’t. So, in conclusion … I don’t have a discernible point to make.

White Hotel
The Quietus asked her about persona, and she told them she didn’t feel Lana offered Lizzie any protection to speak of. I don’t know if persona as mask feels quite right for this artist – I’m thinking more persona as metonym. Some sort of super-concentrated revelatory aspect of self, not self as such.

White Hotel
And I have to say I think there’s a problem with modernity mixed up in these expectations of authenticity. I doubt Patsy Cline took this much shit for being a torch singer. The biggest legacy of ‘indie’ is this unwillingness to acknowledge the greatness of popular songwriting. It’s just sad.

White Hotel
This is reminding me that I really really want to write something massive about generic discourses of romance, particularly doo-wop, girl group and torch song.

An absolutely sensational piece of writing from Brigette Adair Herron … The Question of Authenticity and Lana Del Rey 

PART TWO

Michel Fenderwoods
Apparently the footage of the girls & guys on mopeds in the video is Dutch, recently shot by someone trying out an old 8mm movie camera. And I like the song, but her lips are scary.

David Pye
Great thanks, the whole hype behind LDR has kind of passed me by, I saw her perform live on TV here in the UK a month or so ago. I just thought the whole thing was stunningly average. It was interesting to read the lyrics, because I don’t aim to listen to the song again, they’re quite good really. Did we decide if we DO think this is authentic or not?

Lucy Gulland
Authentic! What *is* authentic? There is no authentic.

David Pye
OK, wrong wording (just seemed relevant, never mind) do we know if this has actually been CREATED by a label, or by a lone individual as we’re led to believe?

Lucy Gulland
Does it matter? (Does it matter whether her lips are real?)

David Pye
No, her lips don’t matter, but to me YES it does matter whether she has been sculpted by a large label to appear like an indie artist, or whether she actually is one. Personally I think it looks planned and created as if a major label had done it, but the fact that the music is a bit average makes me think otherwise.

Lucy Gulland
But why does it matter to you? What’s the difference to your perception of the song/video? The song is all that we have firsthand; everything else is mediated.

Lucy Gulland
Ha, interesting! The averageness of the music means you think it’s NOT major label?! I’d usually guess the opposite.

David Pye
Sure, it won’t change my perception of the SONG itself. But it would change my perception of her as an artist, and therefore it would change my perception of the song, as where the song has come from DOES mean a lot to me.

David Pye
By average I mean it doesn’t sound honed, like if a profession POP song writer had written it for her. I just mean it’s imperfect (a VERY GOOD THING), and I do like it more because of that. If it was the creation of a large label, and they have factored in the imperfections of the writing and her manner in interviews and live performances to make her seem real, then I’m a bit scared.

Lucy Gulland
I don’t really know what an ‘indie’ artist is, anyway. Is it about finance or control or songwriting … ? Makes no difference to me that some of the greatest pop songs ever were written by committee.

Rosalind Blair
If only she had the guts to be an undecorative girl. But very few of us have the guts to be that.

Lucy Gulland
Yes, especially those getting their appearance ripped apart on the internet! She does have the guts to express her fragility/powerlessness in that song. Her decorativeness as a singer (playing the game for the media) is directly relevant to her compliance in ‘Video Games’: what is the cost of playing the game of fame/love?

Jonathan Saltmiras
Incredible piece. Thanks.

David Pye
Lucy, is this not a slight contradiction? “The averageness of the music means you think it’s NOT major label?! I’d usually guess the opposite” and “some of the greatest pop songs ever were written by committee”? If she was an ‘indie’ artist, I would find it more interesting as for one person to create that is something of a feat of creativity, for a group of people to create that (the persona, the artwork, photos, videos, songs) it seems a little more evil. Major labels are only in this business to make money, they don’t just stumble across great music and put it out anymore. And to create something that seems so fragile, with the idea of making it more popular therefore is a bit odd in my eyes.

Lucy Gulland
Not a contradiction at all! Major labels churn a lot of average shit but sometimes they hit the jackpot and do the supreme pop thing to a ridiculously wonderful degree. No?

David Pye
Not in recent years, in my experience. I think modern major label pop is largely total shit, targeted at 10-15 year old girls and of no musical worth whatsoever. Go back 30+ years and yes, maybe, but still mostly it’s bubblegum.

Genuine and interesting music comes directly from people’s hearts and minds, and not from marketing and PR campaigns, beautiful faces and bodies, wonderful hair and styling. It doesn’t matter to me what this lady looks like, but it is 90% of the reason why people took notice of her and talked about her in the first place. Shame.

It all just leads me to think of some young upstart working for a major, suggesting:

“What if … a wonderful and interesting looking female, were to appear as a strong and independent artist who at the same time is fragile and awkward when spotlighted in the media. She could release some cheaply assembled songs and videos on the internet that she ‘made herself’, cause a massive hype because she’s so hot and people will constantly analyze her for her looks, then sign to a major (you know, so it looks like she did!) carry with her all her ‘indie’ supporters and fans + credibility, while striking a chord with all other (pop loving) women in the world for telling of their plight. Guys will like to look at her, girls will want to be her, women will want to support her.”

It IS perfect pop, maybe slightly too perfect for me. Too perfect, while at the same time, being a bit average.

Everett True
Late-come to this, but … “I think modern major label pop is largely total shit, targeted at 10-15 year old girls and of no musical worth whatsoever” … really? Really? Bangs alive!

Everett True
Far rather that than modern major label indie, aimed at 10-15 year old boys.

Lucy Gulland
‎”Evil”? Wow. I just think you could tie yourself up in knots forever trying to work it all out. Every singer gets mediated to some extent, is marketed, is in some way a collaborative effort, even gnarly-handed beardie rockers or the most hardcore DIYsters.

Everett True
For example. Daniel Johnston. A marketing man’s dream.

Lucy Gulland
‎”Genuine and interesting music comes directly from people’s hearts and minds.”

There is no genuine. “Plastic pop” is interesting AND fun! Nothing is “authentic” that has been mediated. Were the Sex Pistols genuine?! Or were they a construct? A marketing man’s dream? A manufactured band. What is the difference between coming from the heart and from a advertising dept? What is “from the heart”?! There is no heart. (PS: God doesn’t exist. Sorry.)

David Pye
Ummm ohhhhkkaaayyyyy.

Lucy, yeah sure, I do know that all artists are marketed, this is not my point. I do work in this industry and I see it happen close up first hand a lot. I’m familiar with it, it’s fine.

Everett, whether major label pop, or major label indie, whether targeting young girls or boys, I don’t see that any of it is particularly worthwhile, I wasn’t claiming to have discovered this fact, or be enlightening to anyone here, was just stating an opinion which I think I’m allowed to.

Lucy, there is genuine, why would there not be genuine? Yes Sex Pistols were “manufactured”. I don’t believe in God either, thanks for clearing that up.

Lucy Gulland
PPS: I love ABBA. I love Girls Aloud. I love Throwing Muses. I love Beyonce. I love Kylie. I love Slint. I love Big Black. I love Buddy Holly. I love Woody Guthrie. I love Prince. I love Godflesh. Who gives a fuck which of these are “authentic”?

Everett True
You love Slint? What is wrong with you?

Lucy Gulland
Teehee. Slagging off Slint could be more controversial than admitting to a loathing of John Lennon.

Scott Creney
A couple of points: 1) if LDR were a major label creation, why is she such an uncomfortable/untrained live performer/interviewee. If anything, she seems COMPLETELY ungroomed. 2) Why do her songs have a depth/creepiness that you never see in other manufactured types.

David Pye
I think to assume someone could not affect those mannerisms is a little short sighted. I’m not convinced she IS a creation, but I find it hard to believe she definitely isn’t.

Sorry to continue the earlier debate about the difference between a label creation and an ‘indie’ artist, but the way I see it is this: A label manufacturing of music, be it pop or any other, is a product created purely for one reason, to make money. The ‘authentic’ creation of music by one person or group of people, for no other reason than the desire to make a piece of music, is wholly more satisfying to me. I see that you could draw a comparison with visual art.

Consider a label creation as a basic watercolour painting of a beach whose sole purpose was to be sold as a greetings card or postcard. For people to obtain cheaply with little effort or research, to effect someone for a very brief amount of time.

A true creation of music, for the sole purpose of making music, is more like a genuine piece of classic art, something that an encompasses an artists emotion and goes on to move people for a long time.

Sure, there will be audience members who will see no distinction between the two, and will get just as much enjoyment for just as much time from both mediums. To these people art does not matter and their enjoyment of it is much more superficial. There’s nothing wrong with that, I know, but it’s not what I look for in music.

David Pye
N.B. I’m not for a second assuming none of you already know or feel this or that it is in any way news to you, it’s just my view on what is and isn’t ‘authentic’ as discussed in the original article.

Joseph Kyle
If she’s a sincere artistic diamond in the rough find, how come there’s a cover-up of all her Lizzy Grant recordings? Those early videos are being removed from YouTube, her music on iTunes has been pulled, her Myspace and Facebook sites have been deleted, and there’s no mention of those recordings on her website?

Brigette Adair Herron
If Lana Del Rey is a fabrication, or has been guided in her decisions (which she most certainly has, and plenty of other artists have as well with less criticism) then she is genuinely living out the voice in her songs which are essentially about having no identity and being controlled by another person. So I think the emotions expressed in her music are absolutely authentic. Fake? Real? I think that both of those things can exist simultaneously, that’s what makes it interesting.

Lucy Gulland
“A true creation of music, for the sole purpose of making music, is more like a genuine piece of classic art, something that an encompasses an artists emotion and goes on to move people for a long time. Sure there will be audience members who will see no distinction between the two, and will get just as much enjoyment for just as much time from both mediums. To these people art does not matter and their enjoyment of it is much more superficial. “

See that, to me, seems ridiculously snobbish. As I said before, there have been totally wonderful pop songs written by committee, for money, performed by hired hands and churned out at a rate of knots: if there’s talent involved it will win through. Talent trumps ‘genuine’. I don’t think my appreciation of (non-auteur) pop makes me someone to whom art does not matter or someone whose enjoyment of music is superficial.

David Pye
Then I guess I’m a snob. I am able to enjoy music by committee, I’m not 100% against it. I just prefer other kinds of music. I will reply further in the morning, I’m too tired now.

6 Responses to two discussions around the notion of ‘authenticity’ in pop music

  1. annaphallactic November 15, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Interesting discussion, but…Fugazi made bad art? Really?

  2. Everett True November 15, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Fugazi made bad art?

    Yes.

    Really?

    Yes. (Ducks and cowers in case Stevie Chick or Ben Myers are anywhere near the vicinity.)

  3. annaphallactic November 15, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Hey, as I tell my bandmate whenever we disagree on aesthetics (or food or whatever): More for me. I’m not a furniture thrower when it comes to these things.

  4. casperfandango November 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Interesting discussion here, as well as Brigette’s article.

  5. Simonius January 1, 2012 at 2:00 am

    I don’t understand why you are publicly discussing a text without first establishing what it is.

    “Heaven is a place on earth with you
    Tell me all the things you want to do.” is correct.

    To prove it I had to play the video in fullscreen at 1/4 speed. The line occurs first at 1:09. At 2:35 and 3:34 you can see Lana’s tongue move forward for the “th” of “with”, which it would not do for “where”.

    It is quite feasible to sing “with you” distinctly in a langorous style and while holding an open mouthed pout. It is conceivable she is deliberately leaving room for alternative hearings, but I suspect it was an accident.

    Lana is capable of excellent enunciation and often uses it but there are also several examples of indistinctness like this which I find curious e.g. “Diet Mountain Dew” or frustrating e.g. her 2007 blues song “Disco”.

    BTW LDR haters should have a good listen to Disco, and some of her 26 or so other songs which are on YouTube.

  6. Simonius January 1, 2012 at 2:39 am

    Oops I just noticed that this conversation is assembled from Facebook posts so my first sentence above is deleteworthy.

    LDR talks about “Video Games”, I can’t remember where I clipped this from:

    The song is about a relationship, in which she expresses her frustration at making all the running. She explained to Complex Magazine: “When you’re an introvert like me and you’ve been lonely for a while, and then you find someone who understands you, you become really attached to them. It’s a real release.”
    Del Ray’s lyrics were inspired by two broken relationships in her past. “The verse was about the way things were with one person, and the chorus was the way that I wished things had really been with another person, who I thought about for a long time,” she told Socialstereotype.com … “‘Swinging in the backyard, pull up in your fast car, whistling my name’. That was what happened, you know? He’d come home and I’d see him. But then the chorus, ‘Heaven is a place on earth with you, tell me all the things you wanna do’ wasn’t like that. That was the way that I wished it was — the melody sounds so compelling and heavenly because I wanted it to be that way.

    The verse is more matter-of-fact because that’s how it was. It’s a mix of memories and the way I wished it could have been. Just because things happened a certain way doesn’t mean that that’s the way that they are. It really is what you choose to think about. Bad things happen every day but you’re not going to be any happier thinking about them. So I don’t think about them. I don’t have that luxury any more. Some people say that ‘Video Games’ stops them in their tracks; it’s that kind of song. It’s just really sad.”

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