Yesterday I bought Word magazine to read its review of ‘MDNA’ – yes, I purchased a magazine because it wasn’t available online. Very 2000. One of the articles inside is yet another piece on ‘authenticity’ and Lana del Rey. Now, to be fair to the writer, it takes this as a launch point and delves a little deeper into questions of ‘authenticity’ than most of the ‘LOL SNOBS AUTHENTICITY IS JOKES’ pieces I’ve read elsewhere, but at its root is ultimately still takes this position.
Soon after I read this piece, I read the above article (I say ‘article’ – it reads more like it was lifted verbatim from a press release) on a new girl group (called a ‘band’ in the headline – very relevant) called ‘Stooshe’. I can’t claim to have ever heard of them and I very much doubt I’m their target audience. What I found interesting was that, while acknowledging that the group “were put together a year ago by their “creative director” Jo Perry”, the piece quite clearly chases rather traditional notions of ‘authenticity’.
Just look at the headline: “We’re not your typical girl band”. Thinking about that for more than five seconds reveals it to be an utterly meaningless statement but the desired effect is clear – ‘hey, don’t run away just yet, we’re not just a manufactured group!’ The piece emphasises that the girls swear. It’s pointed out that they ‘added’ to the lyrics of their new single. They rejected Simon Cowell! They have tattoos and piercings! Even the story of how they were formed underplays the fact (easily found elsewhere) that Perry actively scouted for potential members in TopShop and didn’t just randomly discover them one day.
The most interesting quote is the following:
A week earlier I had another glimpse of them being themselves. I spent the evening with them at the NME Awards, where they shone like a bright neon beacon against the neutral colours and black Ray Bans of the indie world, totally, perfectly out of place. “The girls”, as their manager Sam calls them, were allowed to drink for the first time in three weeks, and they made the most of it, resulting in them harmonising Vybz Kartel songs and assorted dancehall and R&B tracks at the tops of their voices in the post-ceremony cab.
This perfectly summarises my problem with not only this piece, but much of the approach by ‘pop writers’ towards the authenticity question. This is a manufactured group who don’t want to be seen as manufactured. They want us to believe that being put together was incidental – sparks flew, magic happened, creativity flowed and they ended up as a spikey, uncompromising, ‘real’ band. The kind of band which attends the NME Awards.
Yet when they attend said awards, they are ‘perfectly out of place’. Suddenly they’re a manufactured pop group again, and that horrid, closed, snobbish indie world isn’t welcoming to them. They are outsiders, bravely ‘being themselves’.
It’s utterly facile. The group, like Lana del Rey, are clearly concerned with ‘authenticity’ and where they are positioned. Yet they (or the people behind them) are smart enough to understand how these things work, hence the bit about the NME Awards. They’re a ‘real band’, but if anyone was to attack them for being ‘manufactured’ they’re already set to wheel out the ‘we’re a pop group, you’re a snob!’ card. This is part of why I’ve found so many of the responses to Lana so trite – they act as if Pitchfork et al just randomly claimed her as ‘their own’ and then took offence when they found out ‘the truth’. What clearlyreallyhappened was that Lana was deliberately marketed to Pitchfork et all and wanted the ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ that her defenders now ridicule as being ‘snobbish’ and unimportant. Absolutely none of the pieces I’ve read on her have tackled this point. You can’t have it both ways – either all of this stuff is completely unimportant and stupid, in which case Lana del Rey deserves to be included in criticism of that, or it’s not and a more sophisticated response is necessary.
A cursory look at manufactured pop reveals that notions of authenticity are generally still seen as hugely important. The Spice Girls, Take That, Motown, Girls Aloud, Will Young and on and on and on – they have all chased after the same narrative of being ‘in control’ of their careers, being creative, writing their own material. Nicola Roberts’ solo career is a perfect example of this. I noted a while back that if you took some of Matt Cardle’s quotes about writing his own music etc (which are so ridiculed by Popjustice) and mixed them up with quotes from Nicola Roberts’ interviews promoting her solo album, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Both claim to be ‘real’, both trumpet their songwriting and their artistic vision – yet one is also a ‘popstar’ and so any deeper examination is deemed as off-limits.
‘Authenticity’ clearly matters, then. Why it matters and what it specifically means are bigger questions for another time, but for the moment it’s enough to say that the kneejerk responses to it being mentioned anywhere near a ‘popstar’ are not only tedious, they’re completely idiotic.