“Wow watching this “singer” on SNL is like watching a 12 yearold [sic] in their bedroom when theyre [sic] pretending to sing and perform. #signofourtimes” – Juliette Lewis on Twitter
“It wasn’t just me! Seems like the OVERWHELMING consensus is that @LanaDelRey was horrible on SNL last night!” – Perez Hilton on Twitter
“Slut whore. I’d bang her hard” – comment left beneath YouTube clip of Lana Del Rey's Video Games
It may have come to your attention in recent months that singer Lana Del Rey is rather physically striking. Of course, the fact she’s attractive means she can’t have any discernible talent and she certainly can’t have invented a persona that would cause the entire music industry to chase its own tail in a frothy-mouthed frenzy for weeks on end. Definitely not, I mean, everyone knows women can’t be both pretty and clever; they’re mutually exclusive qualities.
If you’re now thinking, “that’s clearly a load of nonsense, you troll,” then well done, give yourself a gold star on your wallchart in the row marked, ‘Being a well-balanced, reasonable human being’. But the collective tizzy that music writers, fans and commenters have gotten themselves into over Lana Del Rey’s authenticity, or perceived lack thereof, could lead you to the conclusion that the bunkum in the above paragraph must be true. At its best, it’s lazy stereotyping and bad journalism. At its worst, it hints at a nasty streak of misogyny endemic in the music appreciation community. I don’t recall notoriously “not ugly” singer-songwriters James Taylor and Cat Stevens being put under such a spotlight in the 1970s because of their aesthetic qualities.
The reviews for Del Rey’s debut album, Born To Die, are mostly in now, and the general sense seems to be that people are underwhelmed. However, given the media circus that’s surrounded her, it’s hard to know how any album could have lived up to that level of hype and expectation. A feted artist releasing a curiously flat first record is nothing new, but the sheer breadth of opinion in the reviews is a little unusual, with Born To Die receiving scores at both extremes of the spectrum.
All the reviews reference her image, dizzying rise to fame and sadly inevitable backlash. That’s to be expected; pop music has been about more than just the music pretty much since it was invented. However, the more negative and scathing reviews tend to review the actual content of the record noticeably less. Some, but not all, of these write-ups seem to be fuelled in part by anger; maybe the writer is annoyed with themselves for having been hoodwinked into championing what they thought was a “serious” artist. For a certain type of music critic, there’s kudos in discovering an artist and having the measure of them almost immediately. To see the indie queen reveal herself as a pop starlet – and thus, consequently, not be a “real” artist – must have stirred up some conflicting emotions. This phenomenon was summed up rather neatly in the following open letter on popjustice.com.
Both PopMatters and The AV Club likened Lana Del Rey to Ke$ha in their reviews of Born To Die, with the clear implication being any similarity between the two is a slight on Del Rey. You get the impression if Del Rey hadn’t appeared so fully-formed and “fooled” us all, but had been a straight-up pop performer from the start, she wouldn’t get such short shrift. Sputnik says there is “little substance” to the music, The Independent calls the album’s content “almost morally objectionable” and The AV Club (again) asserts “she exists only to titillate”. Clearly, in the eyes of these people, music is only worthy if it plumbs the depths of the human condition and reveals something new to us; being transient, trashy and immediate is clearly unacceptable.
The most extreme example of this reviewers’ backlash comes courtesy of Tiny Mix Tapes, who don’t bother to properly assess the album on its own merits at all. Instead, it’s simply a face-saving job, a defence to keenly protest they knew what Del Rey stood for all along. No comments on instrumentation or album cohesion here, simply evidence that TMT have never been fans followed by a damningly comprehensive index of the lyrical themes of Born To Die, held up as an indication of the album’s – and by extension, Del Rey’s own – vacuity and materialistic urges.
Would this have happened if Lana Del Rey hadn’t had the sheer temerity to seduce the world with her angelic looks, stylish videos and adept button pressing of the indie cognoscenti? Would anyone care so much if she hadn’t released an album previously under her real name to little fanfare? Would she have stoked such ire and opprobrium if she wasn’t the daughter of a rich businessman with links to the record industry? Would the knives have been sharpened quite so much for Lennie Del Rey? Probably not, and in particular, the issues of wealth, class and entitlement are hot potatoes in music that could be debates until the end of time.
No, Del Rey’s “crime” was that she purported to be something she wasn’t, and got found out. Curiously, we don’t mind artifice, just so long as it’s flagged up from the beginning with either a knowing wink or over-the-top flamboyance. French dramatist Jean Giraudoux once said, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Lana Del Rey failed at the first hurdle, and even though she’s on the verge of selling millions of albums, there are plenty of furious people with loud voices who aren’t going to let her forget she’s been rumbled as a “fake”.