my connection to music has always come before my connection to fashion. as a child, i would sit in front of the television watching whitney houston videos on MTV, admiring her voluminous hair & the paint splattered music video direction for ‘how will i know’. these moments weren’t me as a child, during toddler years, but as an infant. in my attraction to music, i’ve been able to directly associate style with sound. i’ve said it multiple times- sound inspires style for me. what i find particularly interesting about music, is the incredible need for image; especially in today’s industry. here in america, that concept of ‘image’ has significantly taken over- artists are able to transcend onto billboard through great style, while lacking actual substance & talent. it’s no secret, image is everything. not just in america, but around the world. there exists this small percentage of artists that have substance, talent & are able to serve an image so slick that it cuts into your heart. there also exists a percentage of artists who have the talent but falter in the industry through lack of a proper image. these individuals exist where true art lives. in 2011, females dominated the charts & as early as it has been in this new year, a few key artists have been generating a buzz in the vein of style versus sound.
among that small percentage of artists of the new school is lana del rey. after causing a stir on the indie circuit last year, LDR has been readying the release of her first major label released album, in the form of the highly anticipated “born to die“. out today, january 31st, i have said it numerous times- lana del rey is america’s answer to adele. before you start throwing discs of “21” at me, sit back & let me count the ways in which i feel. in america, the need for astounding image, sexualized presence & diversified inspiration is needed. beyond a want, the reason these types of artists are needed in america lies in the culture. speaking more specifically to the need for diversified inspiration; america has become a multi-cultural melting pot. most individuals i know are of mixed raced, combined ethnicity or have been born in other regions beyond the united states. in school, i’ve been fortunate enough to be in the presence of such company. it’s easy for those born in america to lose their sense of heritage amidst the heavily influenced culture that america has become. with my mother & grandparents arriving in united states in the late 60’s, the term ‘that’s the american way’ was heard often. overtime, in the last 40 years, we’ve successfully intergrated into american society. while our traditions & cooking still in tact, other than my grandmother & grandfather, none of my relatives have an accent & cannot be as easily placed, ethnically, as other individualized. we’ve become americanized. in growing up, we learned the difference between our more ethnic ways & how to differentiate them from the caucasian forms of behavior that were expected of us from society. being of combined ethnicity, i learned etiquette from one side of my family & learned ways of humility, struggle & preservation from another. this portion of learning for me is what made & makes me who i am. through my own life, i’ve looked to represent myself in what i believe is american. through pride, strives to be the best & in execution. in looking for where i fit in society, ethnically, i have been able to identify with more diverse forms of style, inspiration & sound. i often look for the same themes of diversity from my own life in my own stylized interests. what i’ve grown attracted to, musically & fashionably, often represent this theme of diversity. i feel as though musical artists are the best reflection of the culture & lana del rey’s sound emulates this. her sound is not easily placed, much like me & my family, but is still distinctively american in it’s saturation of varied influences. creatively, forms of symbollism that appear be intertwined in lana’s video imagery, sound references & even just her vocal delivery, represent a diversified artist who has directly been impacted, not only by music & style, but by the culture. for the more simple minded, she’s different. del rey represents the difference- the widely inspired in the overexposed, commercial music game.
in recent years, we’ve seen an uproar of new artists who have gone to greater lengths to conceptualize certain image directions with the help of more consistent image delivery through sound, advertising & overall branding. artists like amy winehouse, janelle monae & lady gaga have been a few key players in promoting these forms of musical direction. sound & style, in today’s market, have collided head on. artists are viewed as, well, artists– more than ever. these leaders of the new school have made it nearly impossible for lacking industry prototypes to even enter the charts as everything polished & poised seems to take center stage. adele’s debut album, “19″ (2008) went quadruple platinum in her native of london & the follow up, “21″ (2011), is now the best selling digital album of all time in the united states; also landing #1 in 26 different countries. both albums were promoted through sleek, modern yet classic styling as the sound of the album was driven by inspiration of motown. amy winehouse, another great of the united kingdom, had noted success on her debut album, “frank” (2003) , which seen winehouse taking on aspects of jazz & fusing them with influences of hip-hop & soul music. for winehouse’s follow up album, “back to black” (2006) she took inspiration from girl groups of the 60’s & created a breakthrough album which took home the grammy for record of the year & song of the year that same year. amy’s image of troubled, beehived & bad ass was in full effect following the release of “back to black”. it blurred the lines of image & reality so well that it actually contributed to the success of her album & it’s lead single, aptly titled, “rehab“. janelle monae, whom hit the scene with a set of concept albums in 2007, released albums in the form of suites. monae’s image of android, baby doll, soul singer has had noted success in music & mindful attention to image is to credit for monae’s signature tuxedo. the consistency of her sound, as it impacts her style, has garnered the singer grammy nominations for best contemporary R&B album, as well as a nomination for her 2010 single, “tightrope”; which was also nominated for a grammy under best urban/alternative performance. most famous of all the image driven artists of our modern musical age, hands down, is lady gaga. her larger than life, performance-art stage presence & big budget talent that backs it; has catapulted her to the top of the dance & pop charts, keeping her in the press, on the blogs & on the covers of the countless magazines, every year since her debut in 2008. with a string of grammy, MTV, billboard music, american music & world music award wins to her credit- gaga has single handedly proven that image is, indeed, everything. her 2008 debut album, “the fame“, got her just that- fame. equipped with a disco stick, platinum blonde hair & piano skills that slay- gaga has cited david bowie, madonna, michael jackson & queen as her image & sonic influences. while each artist is a complete & separate package from one another- all exist in the same lane due to their manipulation of style.
in no attempts to discredit the talents of adele, but with the intent to contrast as a reference of the united kingdom’s own; i feel that lana del rey is america’s answer to adele. with what adele has accomplished, musically, in mind- the american recording industry would be silly not to respond to this beckoning call from our friends across the pond. being the american answer, lana is backed by beautiful production, an artists’ mentality & appears to thrive in a wealth of musical inspiration that ranges from eminem to britney spears to frank sinatra- all american. much like winehouse, who was then followed by adele, lana’s image is an homage to a certain style era & that look is clearly translated through every aspect of her image from production influences, to album artwork, magazine spreads & music videos. it’s the painting of an artist, that’s what branding has become. that’s what branding is intended to be. to clearly mark separation through distinction- both artists, adele & del rey, exist in the same lane in terms of overall image- their theme, their delivery & their method of execution. not in the same lane, identically, visually- but in the same lane considering that both use image as a motor to drive their sound. as we’ve seen, this pattern of stylized acts have surfaced over the course of the last few years & upon debut, most have record shattering resumes that continue to flourish each year. lana is the latest type to hit the scene & hard. this month, in anticipation of the album, she graces the cover of interview magazine in russia & germany, as well as a cover for billboard magazine & marc ecko’s complex, to name a few. with a gang of interviews & images floating around the internet, lana is well placed in a catagory of music that seems to be hungry for what she has to offer. with her album hitting stores today, it’s already hit #1 in 11 countries & currently sits atop itunes as the #1 album in the united states. the method in which de rey uses symbollism through her music videos, plus her ability to poetically fragment words to inspire style, this will prove to be a winning combination.
when listening to the album, the feel of cinema is ever present. you cannot listen to lana’s debut record without the feel of escapism. you become enveloped in the production- entranced by the fantasy of the image that lana paints with her voice. often lyrically based in the depths of despair, through emotion that we try to forget; you can’t help but become immersed in the music which suddenly means so much more when you actually see lana sing. as it relates to fashion, del rey has proved to be quite the favorite; performing at christian dior’s beijing runway show & being heard as the runway soundtrack to the houses’ haute couture show, just last week. boasting song titles like “blue jeans”, “video games” & “national anthem” – the american theme is filtered in & out of lana’s image, inspiringly. in the way that adele has become the new face of british music, inspired by another time & effortlessly assasinating the charts, i believe lana represents this same feat, from an american standpoint. through powerful style, sexually-tinged lyrical undertones & addictive use of language- lana is all the things the american market is looking for but is too afraid to give way for. as the first of many installments to follow, lana del rey is one artist whom does not settle with just a sound or just style, rather she successfully merges the two in such a way that greater forms of creative artistry are shown & represented in the mainstream. it’s these artists that allow our musical culture to progress.
this is an installment of the sound vs. style music feature series
click here to view past artists featured