So there’s this singer-songwriter called Lana Del Rey. If you don’t know who she is yet, you’re surely about to, as she’s slated to appear on Live With David Letterman, Ellen, and (this coming weekend) Saturday Night Live with host Daniel Radcliffe. Who is this pouty lite radio chanteuse and from whence did she spring? Here are some things you should know about her.
1.) There have been a lot of Internet fights about her.
This is no accident, as her image seems to have been constructed with “making people angry” as at least a secondary concern. This tactic has become such an easy route to fame that it’s common enough to have a name now: trollgaze. The fact that she is trying to brand (or rather, re-brand, as she used to look quite different and go by her real name, Lizzy Grant) herself as some sort of “Lolita in the hood” (her words, not mine), thereby perpetuating the idea that a book about a child rapist is sexy, the borderline offensive references to the ghetto when she’s the daughter of a wealthy Internet domain guy and went to prep school in Connecticut, the way she’s being branded as an “indie” artist when she was never a part of any D.I.Y. scene, her obvious and distracting surgical augmentation, the fact that she insists on lying about said surgical augmentation, etc.
Also, some feminists dislike the fact that she sings about waiting around for boys to notice her, turn into men, fulfill her fantasies, etc., saying she displays a stunning lack of agency. Others take her interest in fallen beauty queens as a subtle critique of our trashy, myopically nostalgic, hollow, celebrity-worshiping culture. Rocker Amy Klein wrote a pretty good analysis in her blog.
2.) Not a lot of these fights have a lot to do with her music.
The funny thing about Lana Del Rey, as with many pop stars these days, is that while her image is rich and interesting and contains a lot to analyze and argue about, the music itself is almost aggressively boring, like it was tailor made to score a particularly poignant scene in Gossip Girl (and indeed, it has). Personally, I try to judge people on the quality of the music they make, and the most I could muster when I first heard it was a “meh,” so I ignored both Lana Del Rey and her backlash. But as time wore on, I began to get annoyed by the gap between her image and her sound, and started to understand a little bit better why people hate her. I am annoyed by her for a lot of the same reasons I’m annoyed by Lady Gaga. You cannot make boring, formulaic pop music and a.) talk about yourself like you’re an innovative musical genius, and b.) save all of the interesting stuff for your image. That might be okay with people who don’t like music, but I think it sucks. At least Lady Gaga’s unearned persona is empowering.
3.) She is a currently a high priority for her label.
Music money doesn’t grow on trees these days, even for Interscope, the major label that signed her. The fact that they shelled out for a high quality video for “Born To Die” (with tigers and everything!) and have been pushing aggressively to get her on TV mean they really, really, really want to make her a star.
4.) It’s probably going to work.
Like it or not, the trollgaze approach is effective; Lana Del Rey became a viral sensation long before releasing a full-length album, and now she has a national audience. Her music is now primed to reach the millions of people who don’t read music blogs but do like boring, repetitive songs, and they are going to buy her album on iTunes because they don’t know how to use bit torrents. The fact that it was largely hatred that got her there matters little to them, or to her bank account. Even Lana herself acknowledges that while she doesn’t love being shit talked, it’s a decent trade off.
5.) She inspires people to say incredibly stupid things about her.
Lana Del Rey seems like an evil genius compared to the people who slobber all over her, and maybe she is. Here is a phrase from her press release: “armed with the mystique of Dusty Springfield, the girl-next-door charm of Duffy, and the defiant charisma of Britney Spears…” False! But I guess “armed with the voice of a poor man’s Fiona Apple, the rock aggression of Coldplay, and did we mention she’s really fucking hot?” can’t really go in a press release.
A much worse offender is this V Magazine profile, which contains such choice nuggets as “Outside of the obvious physical evidence, she’d said several things in the preceding interview that convinced me of her specialness” and “Palpably, everyone noticed her.” Are the baby talk coos she throws into her vocals a secret incantation to drain I.Q. points from those around her? People who dislike her say stupid things about her, too.
I don’t want to come off like a total hater here, because I do think she’s got more going on upstairs than a lot of people give her credit for, and I also don’t think she’s entirely uncritical of the misogynistic ideas she engages with. I still hold that you should judge a musician based on their music, so if you like what you hear on SNL, you should totally buy her album. It will probably be better than a Katy Perry album! And, as a 26-year-old woman who likes posing for pictures, I remember from my not-so-distant past what it’s like to try too hard to be sexy, so I’m not going to judge her too much for that. I guess the main thing that bothers me about Lana Del Rey is not Lana Del Rey herself, but the endless amounts of attention and money being devoted to her that could be going to more talented, but less pouty and viral, people. This is not Lana Del Rey’s fault, but I still reserve the right to be angry about it.