I’ve been thinking a lot about Lana Del Rey the past few days. Her album is dropping on January 30, which means that the publicity elves underneath her must be whirring their magic machines, bringing her to the attention of people like me, who enjoy music but don’t follow it. I’m the last stand before she hits the Michael Buble market.
Lana del Rey, apparently, has been around for a while, or at least a few months. She first appeared on the music scene in June, when she released her single “Video Games.” Since then, she’s become one of the most hated musicians in the industry, derided for her past, her lack of musical talent, her good looks, her record deals, her music videos, being sexy, eating food, walking, and the way she came out of the womb.
People hate Lana Del Rey so much that Maura Johnston of The Village Voice named “Video Games” the“2nd Most Infuriating Song of 2011.” They hate her so much that they write long, nonsensical essays giving her the power to define what’s wrong with an entire generation of young women in America, like Amy Klein of the indie band Titus Andronicus, who says:
“Lana Del Ray is waiting for you to come home so you can go to bed and act out all of your wildest fantasies which is exactly what she wants to do—what you want to do, that is. Lana Del Ray is waiting for you because she is your mirror.
(This sounds awesome to me.)
Lana Del Ray has conquered America with plastic surgery, video games, a regression to nostalgia, and an appeal to the sex drive of every male music critic on the planet. It doesn’t matter if she has anything real to sell because Lana Del Ray has made us think about the relationship between selling fantasy and selling lies.”
Titus Andronicus, on the other hand, is all of the fears you feel when you go to Williamsburg, and see a bunch of useless people fetishizing outmoded devices like tape recorders, making esoteric references they don’t understand, and not working. “Who are these bearded people approaching middle age?” you ask yourself. “And why are they still acting like children?”
Overtly, the music world is angry because Lana Del Rey seems like she’s studio produced and inauthentic. Born Elizabeth Grant in 1986, in New York City, she grew up near Lake Placid. Her father was apparently a multi-million dollar investor, which is irksome to culture writers who, by definition of their occupations, also probably grew up wealthy. In 2010, she released a 3-song LP called “Kill Kill” under the name Lizzy Grant. The haters love to say that she was trying to sell herself as the next Britney Spears, which seems ridiculous when you see the music video off the album.
When that didn’t work out, they claim, she tried to rebrand herself as the next Fiona Apple. Some call her the “Frankenstein of Indie Rock.” Others say that she is the Lolita of the music world. She calls herself a gangsta Nancy Sinatra. Whatever she is, she definitely did something to her lips in the transition year between morphing from Lizzy Grant to Lana Del Rey, a name she freely admits was conceived by her management team.
They go from being pretty normal to being huge, puffy, bee-stung masses, thereby transforming her from an ordinary hot girl into someone extraordinarily arresting to watch. Most lip jobs look like accident scenes, but on Lana Del Rey, they work.
The problem with Lana Del Rey, unfortunately, is that she won’t admit to having them. In an interview with Complex Magazine, she states: “I haven’t had anything done at all. Anyone who’s known me will tell you that. I’m sorry, but I was living in a trailer park for a few years. I didn’t even have enough money to buy Cocoa Puffs. It’s not like I crawled from under the bridge and got surgery. I’m quite pouty. That’s just how I look when I sing.”
There are a few things wrong with that statement, not the least the bit about the trailer park. I mean, maybe there’s a chance that God came down and gave her a heavenly rash underneath the leaf pile where she apparently shivered through winters, or that DuWop Prime Venom Lip Gloss works really, really well on her. But to my eyes, there’s almost no denying that she had something done to her face, and I say to that, “Who the fuck cares?”
Because, when you strip Lana Del Rey down to what she’s trying to sell, her music is actually pretty good. Her three singles so far, “Born To Die,” “Blue Jeans,” and the infamous “Video Games,” are ear-worms. They are sultry, and catchy. For me, they strongly recall Tori Amos, although with Lana Del Rey, there is less talent and Period-angst, and more retro, Nico-esque gorgeousness.
Her look is like MIA meets Mad Men meets Brigitte Bardot meets a bunch of other screen sirens, and quite frankly, I love it. I search the Internet looking for pictures of her, because she makes all of my primal instincts scream “she looks like she has a healthy immune system, show me more!”
And in an age where music videos are what makes an artist, Lana Del Rey has excelled. Her mash-ups, which she claims to make without anyone else’s help (and I believe her), slice together clips from classic films, the news, paparazzi videos and cartoons, along with shots of her singing.
Lana Del Rey’s taste is mainstream, and maybe even bad (you can read all about what inspires her here), but she has a good eye. By using shots of actresses like Paz De La Huerta, who incidentally also looks like she just came out of a root canal surgery on her front teeth, she capitalizes on a certain kind of cool girl glamor, and she does so effortlessly, without any sarcasm or ego. And quite honestly, that’s refreshing.
After watching Lana Del Rey’s videos maybe 100 times in this past week—and maybe more, if you’re asking me to be honest as you’re asking Lana to be—I decided to try watch some clips of her doing live performances. I’ve yet to been to a concert—excluding Bruce Springsteen—where the artist hasn’t been disappointing, so I wasn’t expecting much. And Lana del Rey delivered exactly that. When she sings, she’s very clearly nervous. Her voice doesn’t stay on pitch, and she’s so careful with every syllable that it’s obvious that she has had extensive voice training just to be able to make through a single live song. In the voice department, in other words, she’s exceedingly average.
The nervousness, however, made her more endearing. Lana Del Rey, rather than coming off as some kind of rich girl trying to pull the wool over your eyes just looked like someone who had minor talent, major beauty, and luck. She made an Internet video that was compelling, and went viral. Someone picked it up, and now, whether she likes it or not, she is becoming famous.
Watching her live performances made me interested in watching her speak during interviews. There are very few clips, and in them, Lana is whatever the antonym for charismatic is. If she makes it, she’ll have to be trained to do better. But as it is, she is clearly floundering. “I’m a really quiet person,” she insists in the interviews. “I always have been. It’s hard when you see a lot of things written about you. It’s not what I had in mind.”
Her persona is almost as awkward as the nutjob Fiona Apple—which is where the comparisons must lie—only without any of the real pathos. Fiona Apple is brilliant. Dare I say that Lana Del Rey seems kind of…stupid?
So, her music is good but not revolutionary, her lyrics are provoking but hardly poetic, her videos key into the zeitgeist without transforming it, her rise to fame seems accidental rather than planned, and she’s not particularly compelling to watch. In other words, there is nothing even a little bit intimidating about Lana Del Rey besides her beauty, which, in the day of the “enlightened woman,” shouldn’t really be threatening at all.
The fascination with Lana Del Rey lies, then, with her ability to provoke furor without doing anything interesting. Pop stars and icons have invented and re-invented mythologies about themselves for years. They have manipulated their appearances, lost weight, dyed their hair. Straight men have worn women’s clothing. Super glam woman have ramped up their male. They have plumped up their lips, gotten boob jobs, and sold their appeal based on sex.
They have sang songs written by other people, they have lip-synched their way through concerts. Even the best Indie bands have trouble being innovative, and it’s exceedingly rare for one to sound like they’re doing anything but making noise in live performances.
Lana Del Rey could have been an Internet sensation with a single hit music video had it not been for people like Amy Klein, who propelled her rise to fame by writing nasty shit. Without Amy and the other haters in the blogosphere, it seems doubtful that Lana, a minor talent, would have been signed by a major record label, Interscope, in October 2011.
If Lana Del Rey’s management team, as they are insidiously called, really calculated all of this, then the music critics are the fools for playing into it. And if it’s all accidental, then they’re even bigger fools for feeding the flames by not choosing to be more rigorous, and writing about things that can be intelligently critiqued. The general cultural consciousness is never elevated. It is always depressed.
The American media loves to attack things that are easy to rip apart. The fools in the Republican debates. The kids who are smoking weed at OWS. The small missteps our Presidents make in their carefully calculated speeches.The rising star Lana Del Rey. What we don’t do is step up our discourse, talk about the scary things that everyone is afraid to tackle for fear that someone will call them an idiot, or malign them, or disagree with their views.
Lana Del Rey isn’t the symbol of anything. She’s more of the fucking same, and to be honest, as a fan of pop and Indie and hip-hop and Beyonce and whatever other manufactured shit comes my way, I can’t wait to hear her new album.
To you, Lana Del Rey. To saying in an interview, regarding all of the criticism. “I’m not that cool. I feel like I want to fucking kill myself. It’s miserable.” For using “fuck” a lot. For wearing crowns of flowers in your hair. For your long, sharp, pointy nails. For using Grace Kelly in your music videos. For being compelling, for making me obsessed with you. Here’s to you, Lana Del Rey, you’re my fucking icon of the week.