Mike Madriaga 12:40 p.m., May 25
Lana Del Rey on SNL: Coup or Crap? Local Reaction
Like most of America, I had never heard of Lana Del Rey when she took the Saturday Night Live stage on Saturday, January 14, to sing two songs apparently from an upcoming album set to drop at the end of the month.
In a move rare for SNL these days, Del Rey is all but untested in live settings, harkening back to the days when the NBC show was actually able to "break" new artists, at least in the U.S., like Kate Bush, Devo, Elliot Smith, and Natalie Imbruglia. Miss Del Rey (who I now know was formerly called Lizzy Grant) made her rep on YouTube, on the strength of two oddly mesmerizing videos, "Video Games" and "Blue Jeans."
Both tunes are reminiscent of the best of early Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Loreena Mckennitt, Laurie Anderson, Portishead, Clannad, Cowboy Junkies, Annie Haslam (Renaissance), and even a bit of Nina Hagen, Jewel, and Lene Lovich in her unpredictable vocal inflection, which can shift several times from punk growl to Bjork-ish kitten in the midst of a single passage.
I was struck enough by her SNL set to seek out her videos for both songs, as well as some of her live performances on overseas TV shows like the Jools Holland program. To my mind, the "studio" versions of ALL her songs sound remarkably superior to most of her concert renditions. It's this Dylanesque "reworking" of her delivery that has caused many music and pop culture bloggers to dismiss Del Rey as some kind of manufactured wanna-be pop princess.
Notwithstanding the fact that artists like Adele, Tori Amos, and Dylan himself routinely rearrange their own songs anew with almost every performance.
The fact that her father is wealthy, coupled with a noticeably manufactured set of lips that don't even resemble the mouth Lizzy Grant used to sing out of, has been held against her in countless Twitter and YouTube bitchfests.
I'm glad I knew none of this when she hit SNL.
I thought the performance was riveting, albeit clearly marred by extreme nerves (perhaps the most headlight-frightened woman I've seen on SNL since Ashlee Simpson's lip-synch track accidentally outed her fakery, or maybe when guest host Katie Holmes was jump-humped by crazed Mr. Peepers monkey Chris Kattan).
During the first number "Video Games," her stiff slow-mo moviestar body movements were eerily aloof, an affect that may have been purposeful but which distracted from a quite lovely number that she sung, shakily at first but with increasing confidence.
(Del Rey on SNL)
The second tune "Blue Jeans" was far superior, though she still looked somewhat small and scared to be on that legendary stage, essentially being introduced to millions of viewers...a substantial number of whom subsequently took to the 'net and characterized the SNL set as some kind of career-killing trainwreck.
I'll grant the girl had a look in her eyes like a mildly tipsy cheerleader who just lit the wrong end of her Clove cigarette and is hoping to shrug it off without anybody noticing the melted filter OR that weird burning smell...
But, doggone peoples, those two tunes are outstanding, different, courageous, retro-cool, subtly sarcastic (something most critics seem to miss when dissing her frequent flights of babydoll phasing) and even, dare-I-say, elegant. As is Miss Del Rey, botched BoTox, Veronica Lake 'do, and all.
As evidence to back up my POV, I direct your attention to the video selections below, which demonstrate both her studio creations and at least one live rendition that was, yes, far more ready-for-prime-time than she was on Saturday night.
Following that are vids of her two SNL songs. Don't let some blogger-slash-hipster TELL you if Lana Del Rey is any good, or if she's "authentic" (whatever that's supposed to mean in this post Tay Zonday/Rebecca Black/William Hung world). Listen, watch, and decide for yourself.
Mind you, I'm not enamored of ALL the Del Rey songs I found and played online (so far numbering less than a dozen tunes). A couple of cuts sound for all the world like a skimpy platter of Adele-Lite, ordered off the diet Kidz Bop menu.
And her Golden Age-gilt moviestar stage persona keeps showing unlikely (if intriguing and complicated) cracks, taking her from wounded-looking Warhol junkie-star to passive-aggressive bitch-goddess, pissed off that everyone thinks she's a bitch, but loving that they nonetheless worship at her frequently-naked feet.
Shortly after SNL ended, I posted both tunes to Facebook, and was immediately struck by how downright polarizing the set appears to be. A few comments that were posted by locals in response:
Scott Wilson: She's getting reamed for this performance everywhere else. Are you joking?
Jeffrey Joe Morin: I'm with Jay. S'matterchew people?
Steve Roche: Not my cup of crap.
Kelsea Rae Little: Wow, gorgeous voice!! it almost sounds like a romantic horror musical or something. Danny Elfman-esque.
Donna Fazio DiBenedetto: Arcade Fire was on Austin City Limits at the same time. I was going back and forth. Glad to see this post, she's interesting, need to hear more.
Jesse Sanford: Wow, I'm surprised. Most everyone else is bagging on this, saying it was a trainwreck.
Spud Davenport: Really, across the board people either love her or hate her. IMHO she wasn't ready for national TV.
Gary Heffern: Heinous...everything that is wrong about music.
Bill Farkas: I thought it was a spoof on a musical guest from one of the cast members because they had a cancellation of the real musical guest. That act would have been "gonged" by Jaye P Morgan back in the day.
Marcia Manna: Needs more experience vocally, made some bad note choices that made me cringe, but she has an interesting look
Julie Dongu: She doesn't have any stage presence. I'll take Joanna Newsome.
Tom Harrington: My wife kept insisting it was a female impersonator.
James Kruk: Not as exciting as all the hype. The music was good. She could go either way, but usually big stars are hated by many in the beginning.
Brenda Bowers: I'd still fuck her. Hahaha. Just kidding. Or am I?
Spud Davenport: I love yer stick-to-it-tiveness on this chick, Jay. You're diggin' her. Don't matter what the others say. Hey, it's ART.
Okay, Reader readers, your turn. This is the studio/video version of "Blue Jeans":
And "Video Games":
Here's what I consider an excellent live rendition of "Video Games":
And, finally, the now-infamous SNL renditions:
So whaddya think???
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