The Song: Lana Del Rey, “Video Games.”
The Crimes: Irritated-alley-cat vocals; overwrought harps; fundamental misunderstanding of whether or not ironic critique of male-female mores can exist in the Hipster Runoff age; this poor girl’s right thigh.
In 2011 the phrase “Lana Del Rey” wasn’t just the name of an artist on Interscope’s high-priority docket for 2012; those three words became a symbol for indie culture gone corporately curdled, for the confused feminism of the 21st century gone to pot, for the notion that while men could reinvent themselves as cool dudes with names like “Frank Ocean” women had to wear their major-label pasts and boring given names like “Lizzy Grant” like a permanently affixed scarlet L, for the hordes of anonymous commenters on the hunt for as much material for their hatefuck-masturbation fantasies as they could find. What got lost in this abstraction of signs and signifiers that the world is hurtling toward something completely unpleasant, though, was any concrete discussion of the actual music put out by the aforementioned artist. Which is probably a good thing for Del Rey and her people, since “Video Games” is about two harp-strokes, a battery of singing lessons, and a couple of pots of hot tea away from being Enya for the Twitter set.
It’s not too surprising that “Video Games” took off as a song, and not just as an Internet phenomenon. It has the same furtiveness and circularity of other popular tracks that are big in the so-called “indie” orbit these days, although the HFCS-sweetened fake string section and dramatic harp flourishes take it to the next level; it stretches out over nearly five minutes, thus convincing those youngs who find a cultural object’s length almost as crucial to its inherent worth as any meaning or aesthetically interesting decisions buried within. One crucial difference comes up front: Unlike the warm and swaddling vocals that characterize a lot of other soporific music, Del Rey has a squawk that makes her sound at times like a particularly irritable alley cat. If a listener squints her ears hard enough, she can almost sound like a Stevie Nicks impersonator who’s prone to making herself seem different from her Night Of 1000 Stevies rivals by throwing a widdle bidda babee tawwk into her enunications now and then. The resulting song is all instrumental flourish, a mumblecore flick with a soundtrack by a Casio-core John Williams tribute band.
And then there are the lyrics, in which Del Rey pouts and flirts and preens for the love of her life (or at least right now) while he seems way more interested in reaching kill screens than in helping her achieve le petit mort. It’s a sad story, one that many women can relate to, technology trumping reality, guys staring off into the abyss while the potential for a good time is right there in front of them. But honestly, if you think Del Rey’s “I made myself so pretty for you, and now you’re ignoring me” act is at all breaking ground as far as portraying a woman who’s beautiful yet completely insecure about her allure, you’ve clearly never seen the opening minutes of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 masterpiece Contempt. (The below clip has a bit of exposed butt; it is 37 seconds longer than “Video Games.”)
The arguing about The Meaning Of Lana Del Rey was one of the Internet’s most wearying pastimes this year, with nearly every ugly behavior that could be manifested by the Internet’s anonymous hivemind coming up at least once. That it happened again and again every time she did something “newsworthy”—an appearance on a British TV show, a magazine cover, a paparazzi shot—makes me think it was perhaps inevitable that the song accompanying her initial media blitz was little more than an overflowing pot of schmaltz gone rancid; it almost forced people to get embarrassed, and to talk about something, anything else.
The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011
11. Kreayshawn, “Gucci Gucci”
10. will.i.am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez, “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)”
9. Katy Perry feat. Missy Elliott, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix)”
8. Tyler, The Creator, “Bitch Suck Dick”
7. Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger”
6. Bon Iver, “Holocene”
5. Rihanna, “S&M”
4. Brian McFadden, “Just The Way You Are (Drunk At The Bar)”
3. [White Person], [White Person Cutely/”Seriously” Performing Urban-Radio Hit]
2. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
1. Jessie J, “Price Tag”