The most recent cash-in on the Indiana Jones franchise rolled on the small screens in Easy Street Records as girls who had donned their best leather (or alternately looked like Skrillex) could hardly hold in their excitement at Lana Del Rey’s impending appearance. Their boyfriends weren’t so sure it seemed, though a chance to see the latest It Girl is never a bad thing. I, an over-thirty bearded blogger, was obviously outside her key demographic. Was it coincidence that “The Curse of the Crystal Skull” was playing, or was it a subtle statement by the ever effete record store clerks who’s normally quiet and uneventful Saturday afternoon by the occasional request for Beatles or Rolling Stones on vinyl was being invaded by teenagers. Though it might seem dumb, I couldn’t escape the thought of what they might be trying to say. “All special effects but no substance” maybe? “Sometimes tired idea’s shouldn’t be resurrected?” I could see those sides of the coin immediately, and that’s part of why I showed up at all. To see for myself the substance of a Lana Del Rey performance before leveling the kind of judgement others have. Yes, I too was intrigued. But should I be?
“Video Games” is an insidiously good pop song, it string and harp melodies instantly set it apart from the usual gamut. It is a dense song, and one thats reception is indicative of a changing of expectations about how women might present themselves as entertainers and more simply, empowered people. That’s not to say “Video Games” is exactly modern in it’s depiction of a woman tied to a man. It’s pretty old fashioned. But it does reveal a women who seems in control of her chosen path, sexually and otherwise, and is somehow living in her own fantasy through owning that choice. One who’s positioning herself as much as a sidekick as a lover, an equal partner in any mischief they might make or games they might play in a “world built for two.” Though the situation might not be modern, the woman inhabiting surely it is.
Toiling in New York City the hard way like everyone else, Lizzie Grant never really could get on anyone’s radar. Making a viral video got Lana Del Rey noticed right quick though, long before any band had developed or Grant had done a single live performance as Lana Del Rey. This creation lived only in that song and video, shots of a smokey Grant all dolled up and almost modeling for the camera woven among the found footage of other peoples summer memories. Lana Del Rey was a tightly controlled mystery at first and this was in her favor. “Who is this complicated beautiful girl with a swollen upper lip?” we asked ourselves. I thought of Scarlett Johansson’s character in Sofia Copolla’s Lost in Translation.
If Grant has been a pseudo-elegant Lana Del Rey for her recent blockbuster music videos (tigers!) and late-night appearances, as she emerged on stage with piano player and guitar player, she seemed just Lizzie Grant in front of crowd of hundreds, still taking in the notion that she now had all eyes on her, and still fumbling with what to do with this attention she’s sought. Her early performances on the biggest of television programs didn’t exactly go off that well, with Grant’s nervousness at the lurch into stardom obviously still being worked out and the vocal gymnastics that many of her songs seem require always appearing to elude her. She could obviously hit the notes sometimes, just not always all in a row, with never a completely flawless effort end-to-end. Saturday Night Live would make me shake in my boots too. So I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
Here free from national television camera’s she didn’t seem so nervous but was still inconsistent and pitchy, though not as much as her critics might’ve hoped. The differences in her live version of “Video Games” make me cringe, her low “every little thing that I do” line just ruins the song for me. (In some cases just playing it exactly like the record came out should be the rule, for instance right after you’ve just released it!) And though Grant’s songs show a strong female personality, on stage Grant herself still seems fragile and immobile, not at all commanding of the Lana Del Rey arc she’s so steadfastly developed. Not really being her key audience none of the other songs really did interest me as it appeared it did for the rest of the under-25 set, though I think a good performance might’ve changed the tone of this review.
Following a similar ambition and Big Apple path when her moment arrived Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has had no trouble shedding her old name, and in fact has embracing the very literal mantle of Lady Gaga to massive success. Though the famous persona of Lana Del Rey may be what she most desires, it’s obvious that the creation Lana Del Rey has been rushed to prime time with Grant still not fully capable of pulling off an end-to-end performance of these songs or able to meet the social demands of her new sultry alter-ego. Though the original video hit last August, if she has it in her, since right now she’s got just a few dates scheduled in Europe for June we aren’t likely to glimpse it for some time.