February 23, 2012 19 comments
We’re nearly a month removed from the release of blogosphere enigma Lana Del Rey‘s debut album, Born to Die, and the collective reaction throughout MJF is a resounding “what the hell is this?” From a critic’s standpoint, Del Rey is the type of artist that can easily be summed up in throng of dismissive adjectives and comparisons. This realization, and some less than favorable introductions to her music, were chief reasons why I couldn’t even form a proper review. The album’s terrible. But, that’s not what’s so perplexing. No one was expecting the female equivalent of Brandon Flowers to transform into Janis Joplin just because of a major label deal. What’s so confusing is why, exactly, Del Rey is remotely as relevant as she is now?
An SNL performance, a Q Award, inevitable dramatic soundtracking in various CW shows; she’s blown up based on… Well, hype, I guess. But, not the type of hype we’re used to, — you know, artist displays talent, builds following, gains press attention, then emerges from the underground on the shoulders of an unflinching fanbase, and into a starving music business — this is unique. I know this isn’t the first time (and, if you learn anything here, it’ll be to expect many more), but I genuinely believe that, in the dog days of profit in the music industry, labels are looking to blogs more and more (if not primarily) for that niche artist. That singer or rapper to interchangeably annex into various Kia and Apple commercials. Regardless, the vetting process involved in taking a blog darling from a little known .zip file to a “12 song, bonus track, Best Buy edition, major label recording” artist is one that usually takes some time. Lana Del Rey’s notoriety, however, dates back to late 2010, if even.
Speaking of 2010, that’s also the year that Odd Future assaulted the internet with a barrage of their own buzzworthy material. Now, I know you’re thinking “but Lloyd, you said Lana Del rey’s situation was unique. What about Goblin?” The thing about OF is that, phrenetic and unfocused as they seem, their progression was as natural and homegrown as you can find—even with the synthetic hand of the blogosphere guiding the way. Goblin was a release from a blog star who had been one for long enough to garner justifiable demand for a physical release. Lana already has a lackluster album under her belt and Earl’s still in high school. Figure that.
It’s all about speed. The faster record labels think you’re willing to commit to an artist, the sooner they’ll pull the trigger on awarding them a contract. But, that means that the artist has to be the total package. Lana Del Rey’s appeal is as much audio as it is visual (and sexual, and nostalgia…), whereas someone like James Blake may have the voice, and look, to be a commercial success, his penchant for deconstructive beats and dreary soundscapes makes him a risky investment. As sketchy as Lana’s past may be, her marketability is built in. She can be broody and melancholy on “Video Games” or, like on “Blue Jeans”, she can be lovesick and, well, melancholy again. Yet, that plays into a vendible alcove that can turn a lack of talent into faux reverence. She’s almost the music world’s equivalent to Kristen Stewart (permanent scoff and monotone alike). But, that’s part of the blog peacocking trend. Novelty.
There’re a lot of novelty artists in the indie hip-hop world who are looking be in the same shoes as a Tyler, the Creator, or even a Lana Del Rey. Up and comers popping up on blogs often enough to justify any discernible musical talent, based on sheer traffic. You can see it in MC’s like A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller, who basically planted seeds in Datpiff and watched them grow into a multi-million dollar contract and a record setting iTunes single downloads respectively. Mac made a rumble in the mainstream, but isn’t polarizing enough to maintain it, and Rocky has a more questionable background and image than Lana. Yet, these CEO’s are throwing cash around listlessly, hoping to nab the Jeremy Lin of their label. And, let us not forget the million dollar offer that was dangled in front of, Malibu’s most wanted, Kreayshawn, solely on the strength of that one song about basic bitches (shout out to SPEAK!’s residual checks). But, can you see any the current crop of blog MC’s being as commercially accepted as Ms. Del Rey is (or was)? Do any of these artists have the potential to be the next (and I dread the term) “breakthrough artist”?
Collaborations and remixes have been the entryway lately, and there’s some substance in the theory of making connections via shared taste. The Weeknd released a trio of critically acclaimed mixtapes last year (some good, some passable). And, all of a sudden, an active endorsement from Drake now has Abel Tesfaye’s independent, bedroom project influencing one of the biggest albums of 2011. The same practice is happening with another OF member, Frank Ocean. Yup, that’s his voice you hear in the trailers for that awful looking Denzel Washington flick. He’s probably got the best shot at commercial success in my eyes (Kanye West and Jay-Z don’t just cosign anyone), but his affiliation with the not-so-radio-friendly Wolf Gang crew hinder that a bit.
As far as eras in music go, this one is, by far, the least particular with the artists that we choose to glorify. The fact that the next Lady Gaga, or Lil Wayne, or Adele could be a musician whose roots are entirely embedded in blog source code is one that should be accepted at this point. It’s already happening, but with the right type of ambition (and a decent wi-fi connection), nearly anyone can take their unsatisfactory identity and build an entirely new, profitable one. All behind the ambiguous static of online opinion. I don’t think Lana Del Rey is that definitive artist (let’s be real, the girl can barely sing), but I think she’s the closest we’ve had in terms of exposure. More importantly, the “Lana Del Rey sign and market” blueprint has already been written.
So, who do you think has the chops to turn their blog hype into real, sustainable, commercial success? Or, better yet, is international, blog-born stardom even achievable? Now, that’s a good ass question.