Whats Wrong with the Music Biz?

Much like Venus rising out of the sea foam in a half shell, miss Lana Del Rey arrived on the music scene in a flurry of hype and over-eager buzz, the creation of music industry gods and magicians.

With her perfectly rolled hair and pouty upper lip, the “gangster Nancy Sinatra” went from being hailed as the “next big thing” to being completely vilified by the same critics who had placed her on such a high pedestal to begin with. After her now-infamously bad SNL performance, she was crucified on a cross of high expectations by an unimpressed public.

Keep in mind, this was all before her album, “Born to Die” was even released. She has graced the covers of dozens of magazines in the last four months, from British Vogue to Q to NME, being touted as the next star of the music world.

The Lana Del Rey fever of the last few months is a sign of so many things that are wrong with the music industry today. In a desperate attempt to revitalize the stagnant cesspool of alternative music, critics and writers are chomping at the bit to label every new flash-in-the-pan as the savior of music.  Del Rey had a few songs on YouTube when she sprang up on the radar of bloggers and cool hunters; those few bare-bones tracks became the justification for an onslaught of “have you heard of her yet?” comments from hipsters and others eager to stake their claim on the Del Rey fame-bandwagon early.

People in the music industry are so excited to find artists and capture them before anyone else has ever heard of them that they will pluck up any undeserving artist with a glimmer of potential and shove them down the throats of the public before they’ve really matured into fully fleshed-out musicians. Obviously, the music industry is founded on discovering talent first, but when someone like Del Rey garners that much attention and hype before even releasing an album or EP, you have to wonder whether or not they deserve the glory.

It’s safe to say that Lana Del Rey got so far at least on part because of her appearance; had she not had such an intriguing and sultry look, we might have glanced over her videos without a passing thought, but because she looks like a combination between a Playboy bunny and an old Hollywood movie star, people got pulled into her web much more easily. She photographs well — if she didn’t, I don’t think she would have captured the music industry’s attention so completely.

But music shouldn’t be a beauty contest, even though it is. A musician’s success should be built upon what they create, not what they look like. In an ideal world, if this was true, we probably would never have had people like Jessica Simpson or Miley Cyrus get to the level of super-stardom that they did.

It’s worse because this sort of emphasis on looks seems to be more prevalent for female artists; a girl’s “look” becomes such a huge part of her musical identity that you almost can’t separate their physical style from their musical style.

But can anyone really be blamed for putting such high hopes on her shoulders? The music world is in need of artists who can shake things up and breathe some new life into the bloated corpse of popular music. Once you put such high expectations on one musician, you only set them up to fail — there was essentially no way Lana couldn’t disappoint with such great expectations stacked against her. Had she become the focus of such attention after her album had been released, the buzz might have been more deserved.

Del Rey is an example of the flawed system that is the record industry today, where if you hope to get ahead, you’d better have a cute look, killer clothes and a fake name to get anyone to pay attention to you.

 

Natasha Aftandilians is a fourth-year political science and international studies major. She can be reached at naftandi@uci.edu.