Pop Music: The Big Reveal When Writing Poetry About Lana Del Rey | Electra Heart: Or How I Learned to Love Marina

qb lana marina

Recently, I was challenged to write some poetry for a ‘zine I learned about. The editor asked the writers to select verses from songs by Lana Del Rey and write poems inspired by them. The poems could be reinterpretations of a line or grow into larger poems based on the topics commonly found in Lana Del Rey songs, such as Americana, youth, addiction, and so on. I thought I could do this easily. I got into Lana’s music last year, and there were songs I liked of hers that I thought would be good sources for lyrics.So I had my lyrics, I had my themes, and I had my nerve to start writing. Unfortunately, I found that I wasn’t as inspired as I had hoped I would be by her lyrics. I figured writing a poem about them would feel a lot more natural. Lana sings about subjects that interest me, and her style appeals to me, too. However, when I scanned my iPod, it occurred to me why I wasn’t enjoying Lana Del Rey as much: because I had found someone better.

I started listening to Marina and the Diamonds earlier this year after getting a few recommendations from friends. I was drawn to the British singer, particularly through her album Electra Heart. The music of Marina Diamandis tackles a few of the subjects Lana tackles, from the price of fame to womanhood to sexuality and more. I liked a lot of what I heard from Marina and started to listen to more of her songs.
Around the point I tried to write poems for the Lana ‘zine, I had also been listening to Marina more often. Because of a weird issue with my iPod, I’ve had to make playlists of certain artists just to hear all the songs from one person. Marina was one of those people, so I often used the car ride to and from work to listen to all the Marina songs I had. When I looked over my playlists, I realized I had playlists for artists like Nina Simone and Florence and the Machine but Lana wasn’t one of them—even though I have more Lana songs on my iPod than other artists.

Part of me wondered if this was just an issue of changing tastes. I drank the Lana Kool-Aid, but now I wanted Marina Lemonade. However, the more I looked at the music of both women, I found that the reason I was responding more to Marina was because while both women sing about the same subjects, to me, Marina is more successful at carrying her message.There are a lot of issues that come with being a female musician. As a female musician, your image is often more manufactured than a male musician’s, and you often find yourself having to drop artistic integrity in order to appeal to as many people as possible. Both women sing about these issues, with songs like Lana’s “Carmen” and Marina’s “Sex Yeah” being probably my favorite examples for each. The difference, I feel, is that Marina is more willing to talk about these issues further than Lana is.

In Electra Heart, Marina sings about various kinds of women, from homewrecker to seductress to conformist pop star and so on. She’s singing about various kinds of women she’s known, but she’s not trying to criticize them. She’s becomes each character to show how she thinks someone could become like that. Most of the women Marina sings about have been deluded by the American Dream: fame. Sure, not all of the people she plays are pleasant individuals, but they’re human. “Bubblegum Bitch” and “Starring Role” may describe some pretty unpleasant people, but they deserve empathy, too.

I realized that I never really got that kind of reaction from Lana Del Rey. Lana Del Rey may sing a lot about addiction and the price of fame, but where’s the empathy? When I listened to her new album Ultraviolence, I found myself fairly bored. Lana continues to sing about similar issues, but she never goes very far with them. She never attempts to do more with the material other than sing about how these problems are killing her. At the same time, her style remains so unchanged that her songs blur together, making it difficult to remember specific songs. Critics criticized Marina for changing her style from The Family Jewels to Electra Heart, but I can at least tell one song from another.

Maybe this explains the difference: Lana’s style is reminiscent of singers from the mid-20th century, carrying that slow, soulful ballad style. Marina is a lot more upbeat and poppy, mixing electronic music and New Wave. Because of this, both women convey different moods.

For Lana, everything is slow and sultry, as if the listener were in a jazz club in the 1940’s. While this is nice and can be appealing, it does make her songs sound very similar to one another. While a jazz club might be a nice place to go and listen to music, it can get kind of melancholy. It’s good music, but it’s not always fun.Marina’s music would probably be a lot easier to play on the radio (at least if there are radio friendly versions), but Marina’s music feels a lot more subversive. A person can dance and sing along to “How to Be a Heartbreaker” but might miss that it’s about a woman who is so afraid of being alone and committing that she acts overly flirtatious and uses men without forming any connection. This sneaky subversion makes Marina’s music a little more impactful. Once you know to listen closely, you’ll do just that and actually remember her lyrics.

I don’t completely dislike Lana Del Rey’s music now, but I’ve found an artist I feel works a little better for me. There is a lot to appreciate with Lana’s style, but Marina is better at singing about the critical aspect of her subjects. If anything, the reason I started listening to Marina was because I found a mashup of one of her songs with a song of Lana’s, which helped me notice connections between the two. As it is, one is just a little better if we’re looking for music with a strong yet nuanced message.

This piece was originally featured in Quail Bell Magazine.

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