Lana Del Rey in hindsight
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 22:10
Last year around this time, a young woman named Elizabeth Grant (a.k.a. Lana Del Rey) was the Internet’s favorite target. For a while, everyone hated Lana Del Rey—and I mean everyone. Even NBC news anchor Brian Williams cited Del Rey’s “Saturday Night Live” performance as “one of the worst outings in SNL history.”
It’s been over ten months since that nightmare of a performance. However, Del Rey’s music was criticized long before her SNL train wreck (which only reaffirmed everyone’s statements), so what was the real reason she was the source of so much denigration? Is that criticism still valid today?
It’s a tough call to make. Del Rey originally fell under scrutiny because of her metamorphosis from thriving artist Lizzy Grant to constructed indie sex goddess Lana Del Rey. But it wasn’t the gimmick itself that left blood boiling – it was the idea that Del Ray gave up on the mainstream industry and instead tried to appeal to an entirely new genre. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong one. In creating the alter ego Lana Del Rey, she was doing something that the genre itself stands firmly against. She was constructing a gimmick based primarily off her sexuality before even establishing herself as a talented musician.
But wait, indie is a market, too. There are gimmicks (think: Wavves and Best Coast’s cats on the cover of… everything). But, Lana Del Rey simply didn’t seem genuine. Where indie gimmicks normally involve humor and self-mocking, she worked off a hyper-serious sex-kitten angle. She also denied having a rhinoplasty or collagen injections, both of which seem likely when comparing pictures of early Grant to current Del Rey. Nothing about her seemed honest, which rubbed avid xx and Fleet Foxes fans the wrong way. Naturally, there was Internet backlash; people took sides and most were vehemently against Del Rey.
Now that Del Rey is essentially a thing of the past (quite honestly, I forgot she existed until I saw a picture of her yesterday), let’s try and examine why there was so much controversy surrounding her. First, consider that when Del Rey was still young Lizzy Grant, she was trying to enter the mainstream music industry—an industry that focuses predominantly on image. Naturally, after years of being conditioned on how image works and how to transform oneself, the artist brought those lessons into her Del Rey endeavors. She packaged herself as a sex kitten because those artists are the ones that make Top-40. Unfortunately, she wasn’t considering her audience. No one reading Pitchfork wants to hear music from a privileged, young woman cherry-picking influences to create an image (remember her claim to being “a gangster Nancy Sinatra?”)
I believe Del Rey would have been heralded by listeners if she’d remained Lizzy Grant. If she’d come out in jeans and a white T-shirt and sang “Video Games,” minds would have been blown. Because, quite honestly, her voice is beautiful, powerful and evocative. It’s a force to be reckoned with. But Del Rey kept that tool in her back pocket, placing looks before talent, and that was her greatest mistake.