Say what you will about Lana Del Rey, the pop singer whose recent Saturday Night Live debut Brian Williams called “one of the worst outings in SNL history”; at least she didn’t pull an Ashlee Simpson. No amount of awkward pirouetting could equal Riverdancing offstage while your own canned vocals play on. Sure, Del Rey’s voice wavered — it was her real voice.
Let’s take a break from the whole Del Rey shitstorm (or “arrantly stupid discussion,” as Sasha Frere-Jones calls it) and look at a few brave artists who have refused to lip-sync in their music videos.
The Strokes: “Last Nite” (2001)
Here’s a simple concept: play your single live, and make it every bit as tight as the recorded version. In fact, you could easily mistake this performance for the recorded version; maybe that’s why Albert and Fab knock over both overhead drum mics, causing a few pops and resulting in a slightly wonky mix for the rest of the song. They seem to say, “Yes, we’re doing it live, and yes, we’re this good.” Cocky bastards. God bless them.
(Four years later Arctic Monkeys followed suit with their all-live video for “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.” Less cocky, but so little!)
Elvis Costello: “Veronica” (1989)
Now here’s a different tack. Opening monologue aside, this one seems at first like standard high-budget VHI fare. But listen closely: Costello is singing along with his own track. Bold choice, although it adds a weird meta-layer that makes the rest of the video seem too quiet. Leaving the quick cuts and focus-slips alone might have resulted in a more straightforward tear-jerker. But trying telling that to the guy who wrote a pop hit about his grandma.
Björk: “Hyperballad” (1996)
Michel Gondry projects Björk’s face onto…Björk’s face, and that spectral surface-Björk sings the verses live. The difference is subtle; if the vocals didn’t get louder in the chorus, you might miss it. But as another gentle layer in a feast of them, both aural and visual, it works.
The Pixes: “Here Comes Your Man” (1989)
This one looks like one of the dozen videos the Smiths used to shit out in a single day — but here, instead of lip-syncing, Frank and Kim simply leave their jaws hanging open, dentist-wide, whenever there's singing. It’s certainly the bluntest lip-sync rebuke I know of, but otherwise it's pretty uninspired. Also, when the fisheye effect stretches out Frank's forehead, he looks way too much like Rush Limbaugh.
Yo La Tengo: “Sugarcube” (1997)
Why worry about lip-syncing or doing it live when you can get the Mr. Show guys to make one of the funniest videos ever? There’s so much comedy here that the song itself gets upstaged till you can hardly pick out the melody, and that’s fine. Want to hear the song? Buy it. (At the time, it was available on something called a See-Dee.) Meanwhile, watch this now and quote it forever. “If you want to write rock lyrics, you must learn about where the hobbits dwell."
Lana, if the Wavves' PR people can parlay a just-plain bad performance into juicy backstory, you can one-up them by bringing that listless, uncertain delivery of yours to MTV. Ramp up the discomfort; think about attaching Miranda July or Laurel Nakadate to direct. That'll teach you, Brilliams.