Last night Glasslands played host to a “secret” show by Lana Del Rey, an up-and-coming singer who was described by the one press release I received about her (in July) as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra” and whose overall aesthetic is like what would happen if you asked Charlotte Gainsbourg to try and remake a Zero 7 album—tastefully blippy and languid, ready for airplay in a low-lit bar that has a menu just for its “martini” selection. (This press release, it should be noted, also quoted a commenter on a popular music blog offering the following trenchant bit of music criticism: “Beautiful, dangerous, I’m in love.”) And today lots of people are talking/arguing about her, probably because the rain is keeping everyone cooped up and unable to go out to lunch.
A note, first, about the function of the “secret” show in the current music economy. Obviously one thing that recorded music is not lacking is scarcity—fire up Spotify, head to Google and append “+ mediafire” to your query, and you’ll find what you’re looking for and a lot of things that you probably weren’t. But the illusion of scarcity remains crucial to those sorts of people who think about “coolness” in a high-school way.
What to do in the era where buying Japanese import CDs or seven-inches on microlabels from the UK doesn’t have the same crate-digging cachet that it once did? Enter the “secret show,” a type of pseudo-event set up by PR agencies and sponsored by brands looking to flavor their public profile with some subcultural edge. There are at least three or four of these sorts of events every night in New York City, which serves as the home to so many (too many?) self-styled tastemakers who are more than willing to hold each night of their life up as content, or at least fill a blog-posting quota with news of new artists on the horizon. Invite these people to an event (preferably where the free alcohol flows) and voila, you’ve manufactured a scarce resource—namely, being there. Those people who weren’t invited are therefore being forced to think that the person performing is interesting for some reason, because why would there be so much coverage? Isn’t this “the news”?
Well, sure, although my use of the term “pseudo-event” up top was pretty deliberate: It’s a term used to describe an event designed not to be enjoyed but to be disseminated, whether through news stories or publicity photos or, now, breathless blog posts and tweets. (It was coined by the brilliant Daniel Boorstin, whose book The Image is pretty required reading for the current cultural moment.) The explosion of media outlets has, of course, resulted in a corresponding explosion in these sorts of events, which is why you see certain blogs breathless about things like vodka launches and iTunes deluxe edition track listings (The “event” doesn’t have involve people gathering, either; these days it can pretty much be anything that can have a press release cobbled together about it, from the release of a single cover to a “statement” about current events.) SOTC has covered a bunch of these events because they are part of the New York City musical fabric; so much of the industry is based here that it would be kind of against our charge of covering the local music scene to not do so.
So yeah, Lana Del Rey played Glasslands last night. Many bloggers and members of the music media* were in attendance; some took photos. (Note that Pitchfork and Stereogum’s coverage barely touches on how she sounded, and only focuses on the fact that she appeared. The Pitchfork photos in particular look like they’re ready to be repurposed as album covers at a moment’s notice.) Hipster Runoff celebrated the occasion by publishing a sorta-exposé of her past, which occasioned a lot of comments about her cosmecutical decisions, because she is a woman who has made herself into something more conventionally “attractive” than a singer-songwriter who might be shunted off to the adult album alternative section of people’s mental music-storage racks. Relatedly, her rise has sparked arguments over how “indie” the ideals of femininity in “indie” might be, and whether or not the timing of all this chatter about her was some sort of weird reaction to this week’s new records by the admittedly more ferocious Wild Flag and St. Vincent. There are some concerned discussions over the fact that she chewed gum during her set. There is even one guy trying to claim “firsties” on all comers, which, oh my God, can we just shut off the Internet now, please.
But all of this, of course, is a sign that the “secret show” tactic worked once again. The fact that people are arguing about her—even over extramusical aspects of her career like her looks—is a sign that she’s achieved some sort of “success” in the current moment, when artists like Kreayshawn and Odd Future reach the top of the “musical fame” heap while having their music serve as a secondary concern at best, with arguments from the peanut gallery that they rebuke when they see fit pumping up their presence. The old maxim was that all press was good press; the 21st-century corollary dictates that all online mentions have the salutary effect of inflating one’s Google Page Rank, whether they’re people giving lukewarm “this happened” non-criticism or going on vicious tirades.
My question is: Are we really trying to bring back early-’00s singles bar music as a retro “thing”? Like, can’t some courageous music blogger stand up and say “Hey, PR person, I like you and I like the people who work where you do, and I know we’re all on this sinking ship together, but really I can’t take every piece of culture with a visual aesthetic that I’m attracted to that you’re offering?” Because I just can’t with the overproduction here:
Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
Lana Del Rey, “Blue Jeans”
*I was otherwise occupied. Also, I’m pretty sure got the better Sinatra shout-out when Anthrax exited the stage to “New York, New York.”