Posted: October 15, 2011
I’ve never been as fascinated by the persona of an artist like I have become by Lana Del Rey within the last twenty four hours. And I’m not alone. People on the internet seem to love talking about her, both building her up and tearing her down. She’s generating that amount discussion for two very good reasons. First and formost her breakout song, “Video Games”, hits a sweet spot between quality and wide appeal, not to mention an earnestness and originality, that I can’t imagine any human being taking issue with. And it possesses all of those things in abundance, making it frighteningly addictive. Secondly, she wears the identity of Americana, something everyone seems to either see themselves reflected in or otherwise have strong opinions about, simultaneously as a scar and a badge.
The song itself is a black hole, and couldn’t have been planned better as such. Its rich atmosphere draws you in while its serene tranquility keeps you there and its originality and sexual allure keep you interested. To me, the song is full of love and compassion, strength and optimism, which are at odds with its lyrics about misguided devotion in the face of a relationship that has some barriers within it. I suppose I wouldn’t disagree with anyone for finding it morose or fragile. Its impact manages to completely overpower lyrics that seem like they should come across as nieve, and instead renders them stark. (“I say you’re the bestest/ Lean in for a big kiss/ Put his favorite perfume on.”) But its sincerity is the mortar that holds it all together. The song certainly uses a sexy, appealing and, most damnably, well established aesthetic as shorthand to get the listener on board, but it doesn’t appear do so for the purposes of being popular. It’s genuine. Can you really argue that someone made something that sounds like this in an effort toward mainstream success? (Side note: If we had to put up with hearing Rolling in the Deep four thousand and thirty eight times on the radio to get to have this, it was totally worth it.) When was the last time you heard something so original and bare in the mainstream? This song owes its appeal to being a perfect storm.
It’s a storm that extends to the persona of its singer. The song itself is already potent enough, but one look at Del Rey and you are totally disarmed.
She’s a redneck-chic, elegant white-hot nightmare of Americana, bordering on surreal. Her affluent physical beauty and glamorous hairstyle didactically clash with her pressed nails, bling and down home attire, all neatly separated by her look’s real centerpiece, her face. I don’t know if Lana Del Rey has had cosmetic surgery and I don’t care to know, because regardless she very much has the look of someone who has and that’s producing some very telling responses from people. This literally bold-faced statement of superficiality feels at odds with the deep emotion of “Video Games”, and watching her sing it can feel incongruous. In fact, it seems to be making a lot of people uncomfortable, challenging their perceptions of what someone who looks like Del Rey is supposed to be like. People don’t like being called judgmental assholes, so the mere sight of her seems to be enough to make viewers defensive and angry. So if you’re someone who has decided to not only hate Walmart but the people who shop there, you’re going to have a hard time watching “Video Games” come out of Lana Del Rey. But that incongruity serves to only feed the storm. What seems like it should only tarnish the poignant beauty of “Video Games” instead heightens it. The whole thing is not too different from Susan Boyle or Ted Williams, two other cases of the internet thrusting fame upon surprising incongruity.
It all comes together so neatly, people are right to be skeptical about her origins. Is “Lana Del Rey” (real name Elizabeth Grant) the concoction of record company executives? It all seems to work too well to be true. Even her missteps, such as the parts of the “Video Games” music video where she films herself as someone would photograph themselves on MySpace in 2003, contribute to her being greater than the sum of her parts. Could it all be real? Perfect storms don’t just happen. (Except when they do.) In the end, I don’t really care. Artists are never real people to me. What’s the difference, really, to me, between “Bruce Willis” and his character in Die Hard, John McClane? I’ll never know what either of them are really like. We’ll never hang out. They’re both fictions. That’s one of the things I really love about The Venture Brothers, they hold David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the same regard as Batman and Johnny Quest. Which, really, they are. So what do I care about the difference between Elizabeth Grant and Lana Del Rey? You’re not being made a patsy by believing in Lana Del Rey, because you’ve never known the truth about a single artist. Accept that, and accept her. See how well you can handle it by watching her first, and so far only, television appearance on Jools Holland (another suspiciously good choice on her part):
I’ll tell you one thing; If record company executives came up with the character of Lana Del Rey, I don’t care. Because that would mean they’re fucking creative geniuses. This shit is solid.
Looking toward the future, this is not sustainable. I’m guessing that with the release of more music, the landscape of Del Rey’s sound and emotions will diversify, diluting all the didacticisms I outline above. The more we see of her as a human being, the more mundane she’ll become. But right now, in this moment in time, this is absolute perfection.