music

Why Lana Del Rey is the female narrative we’ve all been waiting for

 

When I was young, and even to this day, my favourite book was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. After nicking it off my older brother, I found myself devouring it over the course of a month. I would have finished it sooner, had I not been enjoying it so much and wanting to stretch it out for as long as possible. There was something about the bitter, self-contradictory narrative that resonated with me to a level no other novel had before. The desire for closeness to another human being without sexual activity, yet desire for sexual closeness without wanting to be sexual at all was my entire teenage existence. I had never come across anyone in real life who felt this way; but even though Holden Caulfield was fictional, I saw him as a real person who I could relate to when my peers didn’t measure up. To this day, every other novel has paled in comparison.

But as a girl growing up with these emotions, it often irked me that there were rarely any stories were girls were this complicated. There were few coming-of-age stories for girls that I could relate to. Most of them were concerned with teenage pregnancies and mean girls, and were written in a soapy, flimsy fashion. These girls usually had a crowd of friends they talked to endlessly about the boys they liked. I was unmoved; the boys I was surrounded by didn’t compel me-they were immature and sex-obsessed. There were no stories of disillusionment with adults and society, at least to my knowledge.

Of course, it was only in my twenties that I discovered The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which was almost the female equivalent of Catcher. But even then, it seems to me that the stories we are told about men are complex and ask existentialist questions that are difficult for most of us to answer-whereas stories we are told about women are usually answered in 30-minute intervals in some tawdry sitcom or unrealistic drama.

So it is that we start to look for a complex female narrative; someone who speaks to us in a way we can relate to. Where not everything is always sunshine and roses and cupcakes with vanilla frosting.

Enter Lana Del Rey. With an aesthetic that drums up images of 90s rap legends and 60s pinup girls simutaneously, she evokes a brazen sexuality with a glow of deep sadness. Her image may suggest sexuality and conformity, but look longer and you’ll see that she doesn’t intend her image for the male gaze; and if it does capture them, she’s not interested. Famous for her refusal to pander to the media, she eschews the peppy demeanour of your Perrys and Swifts in favour of a darkness that we rarely see in our female pop musicians. She sings that you’re her daddy, but she also hates your guts. She sings about feeling deeply depressed and not knowing why; rebelling without a cause and kissing men who’ll never truly know her. Hers is a story we rarely hear-she’s destructive and wild and drives down the highway with abandon. But while critics applauded Kerouac for his run-on sentences and nonsensical acid-fuelled narrative, they revile Del Rey’s own Beatnik beats, insisting her lyrics are foamy, substance-less fluff. Because while men have complex souls of which we may never know the true depth, apparently women exist as shallow pools to be carelessly walked through for the convenience of men.

Many may criticize Del Rey’s lyrics as being mostly concerned with men as the basis for her existence. One can see why-it’s true that most of her lyrics plead for men to love her, to notice her, to be both kind and cruel-but it’s this tragic narrative that makes her all the more compelling. I’m all for female independence and girl-power anthems, but I’m also for exposure of the darker depths of women’s psyche. If that happens to be a longing for her man to love her, so be it. It’s delivered with a thoughtfulness and moroseness that is lacking in most female musicians’ discography. She writes rhythmic poetry in place of catchy hooks. Her self-aware sonnet “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” is a nod to press speculation about her. She refuses to censor.

There are more female singers out there are doing something different in music-Lorde, Ladyhawke and Robyn to name a few-but there is something cathartic about Del Rey’s mournful musings on love and life. She creates her own story of tragedy, all without being a big old phony.

The boys, the girls, they all like Carmen
She gives them butterflies, bats her cartoon eyes
She laughs like God, her mind’s like a diamond
Audio tune lies, she’s still shining
Like lightning, ohh, white lightning

-Lana Del Rey, Carmen

 

 

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23 Things To Do Instead of “Getting Beach Body-Ready” This Summer

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Summer is approaching, which means it’s time to be bombarded with an onslaught of body-negative media disguised as health and fitness commercials, They will tell you that your current body is not “beach-ready”, that your bowels are slow and you’ve been eating too much. They will show you what you should be looking like. They will try and convince you that anything other than what this nameless model looks like is unacceptable, and it’s time for you to spend your hard-earned money on their product which will make you acceptable to the public.

Do not listen. They are the embodiment of that crappy ex-friend who tells you that you can’t “pull off” those shorts.

So sit back, relax. Eat the feckin’ digestive biscuit. You look fine. Do not buy into the body-shaming commercials. here are some far more productive things to do instead:

  1. Take a hike up a hill and watch the sun set after a sunny day. Nature is more satisfying than a “chocolate flavoured protein meal shake”.
  2. Take up flossing (YOUR TEETH. God).
  3. Make a “Getting Sh*t Done” motivational playlist to motivate you into getting sh*t done. Song suggestions: “Someday” by The Strokes, “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys and “Strict Machine” by Goldfrapp.
  4. Plan a festival weekend – Alt-J and The Libertines are playing at Reading, Paolo Nutini and First Aid Kit are playing at Isle of Wight and Charli XCX is doing Bestival. Rent or borrow a tent, buy some barbecue food and get gritty for a couple of days.
  5. Make a list of reasons why you’re awesome and deserve better from yourself. Do it seriously-sure you’ve got great hips and great hair, but you’re also a loyal friend and have a thoughtful mind. You just need a reminder.
  6. Take the dog for a walk and accidentally bump into another cute dog walker. Set up a date. Get freaky.
  7. Stop putting off the things you always meant to do or try.
  8. Take up a new sport.
  9. Do you really know your own city? Investigate events going on near you and get involved in some culture.
  10. Learn a recipe and make dinner for your parents one night. They raised you, dude.
  11. Go into a second-hand bookshop and ask the owner for a recommendation. Buy that book.
  12. Ring your best friend.
  13. It sounds really trite and overtly twee, but start a dream journal, Every morning, write down what you can remember from your dream. Look back at it a month later. What you find can actually be really interesting.
  14. Think about a public figure you admire and read their autobiography or a book about them.
  15. Find a free night and clean the bathroom from top to toe. Then run yourself a bath with all the candles, bath bombs and smelly soaps you can find and clean yourself from top to toe. Hair masks, face masks, body scrubs and massage oils aplenty.
  16. Stop Facebook-stalking him. You know exactly what I’m talking about, girl.
  17. Same goes for guys.
  18. When a friend starts putting themselves down, lift them back up and tell them to be kinder to themselves. Giving someone a compliment doesn’t mean you become any more or less powerful or beautiful. It makes you kinder.
  19. Start a blog. If you’re looking for inspiration, click here.
  20. Next time you go to a birthday party, bring a small gift. It could be anything. Just don’t come empty-handed.
  21. Buy a world map poster, put it up in your room, stick red pins in the places where you’ve been and yellow in the places you want to go
  22. When you start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, close your eyes,and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you’ve been in stressful situations before and have survived them. Nothing will ever be as bad as you think it will be, but even if it is, you can handle it.
  23. Listen to “A Little Respect” by Erasure. Trust me.

Rihanna’s Diamond-Studded Ass isn’t the Problem; This Society of Slut-Shamers Is

Unless you’re a hermit or had a family thing going on this week, you’ll have heard/seen/talked about Rihanna at the CFDA Awards held in the United States on Monday. While everyone else at the ceremony dressed according to the Inoffensive Non-controversial Beigeness dress code, Rihanna arrived as a Barbadian goddess draped completely in diamonds, top to bottom, along with a gorgeous diamond headdress. Beautiful as ever, she lived up to her name as a fashion icon by surpassing all expectations (once again) and going for the biggest statement she could think of (as ever). The second I laid eyes on the look I fell in love with it. Girl, ya look good I thought in sisterly solidarity.

But there’s always a party pooper.

Following her appearance on the red carpet, there appeared a hive of naysayers and pearl-clutchers to crow, “Won’t someone think of the children?!” While many found the look dramatic, decadent and fashion-forward, there were several stick-in-the-muds who found it necessary to voice that they feared for the sanctity of childhood and innocence of youth. There are bombs going off in Afghanistan and the US president is doing very little about it, but sure, let’s focus on the female popstar showing some skin.

One of the most hilarious reactions came from Andrea Peyser of the New York Post, bleating that she looked like a “poorly put-together streetwalker” (I don’t know how many streetwalkers can afford to drape themselves in Swarovski crystals, but whatever, logic clearly isn’t your strong point) and how “female modesty and decency have been on the decline for years.” So true! Why, just the other day I saw a young girl display her bare ankles in public, like a common whore!

Peyser goes on to decry how female celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have joined in on this provocateur parade by “twerking indecently against singer Robin Thicke, then a married man of 36”, never questioning why a married man of 36 was grinding on a girl 16 years younger than him. I’m no Miley fan, but the double standard of expression of sexuality here is disgusting.

Oh, quelle horreur! She displayed her nipples! She displayed her breasts, these things that also give babies life! Disgusting! Lock her in a tower and throw away thon key!

The bright side of this admittedly horrific representation of our overly-conservative, slut-shaming, patriarchal society is that the object of the controversy remains completely undeterred. Rihanna has remained unapologetic about her outfit, even joining in on the joke by changing her Twitter display picture to a Peter Griffin parody of her dress. She responded to a question on her provocative dress on the red carpet at the awards with “Do my tits bother you? They’re covered in Swarovski crystals, girl.” After a fan tweeted a Maya Angelou (R.I.P.) quote in relation to her dress, Rihanna clearly resonated with the comparison by retweeting the quote “Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” Damn straight.

The constant censorship of the female body is nothing new, and it would seem that there will always be people trying to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, disguising their judgement and dictation as “concern for children” and “in the name of preserving the sanctity of society.” Fuck off. Target the rape culture, the subtle sexism, the media’s consistent oxymoronic objectification of women in men’s magazines and simultaneous shaming of those who dare to show flesh in public and on their own terms, because that’s what’s polluting the minds of society’s youth. Stop taking the moral high ground when it comes to the “offensive nature” of the naked female form, and start taking issue with what is really going to harm your children. Because I guarantee you it’s not Rihanna’s nipples,

Fresh Funky Beats: Hudson Taylor

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An acoustic folk duo from Dublin, their sound is like Mumford and Sons except it doesn’t smell of aftershave and Marks and Spencer’s cheese. These exciting up-and-comers have recently released their debut single “Weapons” and it ain’t too shabby. Give it a listen and let me know your thoughts in the comments…

Good Listener : Playlist 1

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Regina Spektor – Eeet

Roxy Music – Love is the Drug

The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The XX – Sunset

Eva Cassidy – Time After Time (cover)

Augustana – Boston 

Otis Redding – Try a little Tenderness 

Jon Cryer in Pretty in PinkTry a Little Tenderness

Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac – Fare thee Well

Bruce Cockburn – Lovers in a Dangerous Time

Music Review: Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon

Being a big fan of these Tennessee natives, I have had to put aside any bias to conduct as professional a review as I can.* Bear in mind I usually detest music reviews in general, for the way most of them write as if their opinion is fact, instead of opinion (I don’t need the tightly-wound dirty teenagers at NME telling me what’s cool to listen to) – so I urge you to regard this article as exactly what it is: an opinion.

kolThe follow-up to critically lauded Redneck-rock offering “Come Around Sundown” in 2010, “Mechanical Bull” is somewhat a departure in terms of musical structure – gone is the  red hot sun, while the reliable down-South rock n’ roll sound the band are known for is sustained.

“Supersoaker” is an electrifying opener, perhaps the most “mainstream” tune of the entire album, so it’s not surprising that it was chosen as the lead single. A good beat, reliably country-boy lyrics (“Down in the delta, I’m ringin’ bells”) with a jubilant tone. Are the lyrics patriotic? “I’m a supersoaker, red, white and blue on the way” does suggest an Americana declaration, but Followill’s lyrics are notorious for being taken far too seriously (calling to mind “Sex on Fire”, which many misinterpreted as having a deeper, metaphorical meaning when in fact Followill has since said it was written as a joke). Nonetheless, a strong opener.

But for me, “Rock City” is really where it kicks off. Put your Aviators on, climb into the open-top Mustang and set off on the dusty road to Memphis, because there’s no other way to listen to this tune. Soaring guitar riffs and classic rock lyrics are the epicentre of this song, a freestyling, spine-tingling anthem to beat the dashboard to. “I was runnin’ through the desert, I was lookin for drugs/I was searchin’ for a woman who was willing to love” calls to mind the best work of Jackson Browne’s pen, and showcases the band in all their Southern glory. Cameron Followill’s stratospheric slide guitar storms the track, and I challenge you to listen to this one without playing the drums on whatever surface is closest.

“Put your Aviators on, climb into the open-top Mustang and set off for Memphis, because there’s no other way to listen to this tune.”

“Don’t Matter” is a somewhat darker track, a tone of passionate frustration. “It’s always the same/ And I’m always the same” rings several times through the song, but mostly to showcase the lead guitar, which thrashes out this track to match the tone of Caleb’s vocals and ascends into a screeching riff in the middle. Whether it’s due to familial relation or natural musical cohesion, the band knows how to jam together. There is no confusion of tone here; it’s pure seamless rock. that calls to mind the early days of the band when they were just a bunch of redneck kids bashing out great music.

“Beautiful War” lends itself a more languid, easy-rock vibe, with a scintillating rhythm that ascends into an anthemic chorus. There’s that raw desperation in Caleb’s vocals, and the repetitive riff at 3:30 is fantastically symbolic of the album’s namesake, the constant ride of the “mechanical bull”. The song reaches a soaring crescendo without any prissy X-Factor choirs or key changes, just strong backing vocals and lead guitar. Though the chorus is repetitive “love don’t mean nothin’, unless there’s somethin’ worth fighting for”, the Tennessee twang gives it an irresistible war-cry tone, as the song fades out with a defeated tone that “It’s a beautiful war.” “Wait for Me” is the other slow-rock song on the album, and again it carries the theme of a journey, an internal war. The lyrics are pleading “I tried all the way” “Wait for me, wait for me”. It might be pure conjecture to think that it refers to the recent internal battle of lead singer Caleb with controlling his dependence on alcohol, which caused something of a rift in the band early last year.

“Temple” is more upbeat, and combines the band’s loyalty to both rock n’ roll and church by comparing the love of a good woman to drinking the blood of Christ with “Take wine from the temple, I take wine for you”. Or at least that’s what I could glean. Maybe it’s not. Maybe these kids wrote the song because they knew that chumps like me would read way too much into it and now they’re having a good old chuckle at me typing away on my laptop while they enjoy a couple of Coronas on the sundeck. I dunno. Whatever, it’s such a tune.

“Family Tree” is the sense of humour in the record, and showcases the band’s remaining ability to write rock n’ roll, calling back to the days of “Aha Shake Heartbreak”-the band clearly haven’t lost any of their edge just because they gave up the drugs. “I am your family tree, I know your A to Z” pleads the family in question not to listen to the “make-believe”. But the climax is when the entire band joins in on the chorus at the same time, a catchy, thumping acapella. Hot damn.

“the band clearly haven’t lost any of their edge just because they gave up the drugs.”

“Comeback Story” is lighter fare, with more delicate riffs, a whistly tone, and a lighthearted chorus line “I walk a mile in your shoes, and now I’m a mile away and I’ve got your shoes.” The snare builds up to a majestic chorus but the song has no pretension – the song doesn’t drag, it just flows. “Tonight” professes “I don’t know why i keep acting this way”, a tonal shift to images of lonely nights, hand clasped around an Old Fashioned. The growling verses contrast with the emotion in the chorus and the song alludes to the spiritual roots of the band (“Tonight, I’m gonna leave my body”) and the song fades out with the guitar in tandem.

In “Coming Back Again”, the piercing electric guitar presides, not unlike Don Henley’s 80’s stuff without the cheesy over-synthesized riffs. It makes me think of driving fast through the city, bright lights and cool breezes. It’s a grand finale, if anything, and closes the metaphorical book on “Mechanical Bull”, a collection of songs which allude to a shift in direction for the band, without veering too far from the dusty trail. Needless to say, them Southern boys have done it again, but hey, don’t take my word for it.

*Aw, who am I kidding? I love these guys. I find it especially irresistible when they play up their Redneck roots, ’cause there’s nothing like good old Southern rock n’ roll. But that’s just me.