We often listen to music made by people we think we connect with. When I listen to the songs of Jens Lekman, or Joni Mitchell, I feel like I know them as human beings a little bit, if not through their maybe-fictional lyrics, then by the feelings they communicate through them. You want to hang out (or make out) with the person behind the voice, or better said, the voice’s personification. In the ideal listening experience, the art becomes a completely separate entity from its creator, like a transformative film performance that makes you forget, even briefly, that you’re watching Meryl Streep or George Clooney.
But the ideal listening experience eschews album art, and tour dates, and promo photos, and videos and the other ephemera that colors our opinion of art. It’s not fair, but it’s true. That Jens Lekman is handsome and gawky and shy — the physical character of “Jens Lekman” is inevitably as much a part of the sonic Jens Lekman as his intonation and melody. The necessary authenticity — or better, sincerity — of this combination is why metal bands often look like this guy.
For critics, it’s important to note our responses and biases toward this imagery, within the context of how that affects our response to the music. To note them for their own sake can be sexist and dangerous; trying to find this line is difficult at best, and why many critics stopped just short of dubbing the music of, say, Warpaint sexual instead of “fascinating” or even “sultry.”
However, in the case of Ms. Del Rey, these sorts of impulses are all mixed up: essentially, she’s the victim/benefactor of an exaggerated, largely invented Internet controversy that the upper echelons of the Internet took at face value. Do a poll of her album purchasers on what they know about her lips or Hipster Runoff, please. I appreciate that the Tiny Mix Tapes review slid past these issues and instead presented a harrowing analysis of a very sad, confused little record, that has an ugly worldview to match its pretty face.
Her Saturday Night Live gig is on her, though.
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- morerobots said: Your post on Warpaint & Odd Future is really interesting. I’ve been noticing differences in the style of album reviews depending on the gender of the musician - women’s looks seem exceptionally important in music.
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- matthewedwards said: “Do a poll of her album purchasers on what they know about her lips or Hipster Runoff, please.” Dude I would love to see the results of something like this. My brother loves Lana Del Ray and is 100% oblivious to the internet shit surrounding her.
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