Lana Del Rey is one of the most divisive figures in pop music. As she approaches the release of her second album, Ultraviolence, two of our writers took sides. One in defence of Lana and the other against. Today, Sam writes in defence of Lana Del Rey.
I’m usually the first to sigh at the mention of Lana Del Rey. As a personality, I found her hard to gravitate towards. Everything, from the way she speaks, to her unbearingly literal lyrics and her supposed falsities, grated on me and I found myself moving away from the singer I once applauded for the beautiful, Video Games.
It’s not until I read her brilliant feature with The Fader last week, that I started to consider Lana Del Rey again. And understand her.
The Fader quipped “With Lana Del Rey, everybody’s a critic, and any interpretation is possible,” which is the very reason we found ourselves writing a feature for and against Lana Del Rey.
She’s a hard personality to pin down, which I think is the root of all her criticisms. She’s had different monikers, dated record-label execs and has a presumably rich, entrepreneurial Dad. None of these things bode well for her as a flower-wearing indie-kid who’s now signed to a major record-label.
In 2012, when she began to creep up the pop charts with Video Games, people took great delight in revealing these things, thinking they’d caught her out. However, she’s been more than open about such things. The Fader interview proved that. She openly admits she had a seven year relationship with a record executive and has a song on her new album about it (Fucked My Way To The Top). In 2011 she even told Pitchfork, “People have offered me opportunities in exchange for sleeping with them. But it’s not 1952 anymore. Sleeping with the boss doesn’t get you anywhere at all these days.”
Everything Del Rey does seems to be taken as a PR stunt- the long videos, her hatred of Lady Gaga and her name-change. She’s an impossible personality to digest on the surface. She seems fake, an opinion I also held. But if you invest the time in reading her backstory, some of her visual and audible contributions over the past few years make sense.
Herein lies the issue of Lana Del Rey. She was a self-made indie artist who suspiciously signed with two major labels very soon after the release of Video Games. I can admit, that is suspicious, however, the only issue with it would be if Del Rey appeared to be the product of label manufacturing. After reading her interviews, watching her videos, and listening to her sometimes grating lyrics, I can’t see how anyone else is behind Lana other than Lana. As her friend Jamie King says, “The only person who created Lana Del Rey is her.”
She’s not the first artist to change her name and persona for a crack at the industry. Katy Perry was once known as Christian singer, Katy Hudson, yet she’s not accused of inauthenticity half as much as Del Rey is. Bowie, Lady Gaga and Madonna have all also adopted stage personas over their own. Perhaps it’s her ambition that creates criticism. In just over three years she’s released a controversial album, played Jackie Kennedy in a video with a black president and starred in a self-directed short film, Tropico. The latter was reviewed by Speedy Orbitz member Sadie Dupuis, who said “a footnote of a PR stunt from a singer whose cinema chops are as wispy as her faux-retirement.”
All this seems to be a product of Del Rey’s apparent unsurety with who she actually is. Even without mentioning Lizzy Grant, Lana has been a myriad of characters. But I’m not sure they’re really characters. It seems she’s actually lived the life of many of them. Despite the fact she grew up with an entrepreneurial Dad, Del Rey spent time in a New-Jersey trailer-park.
She revealed to Nylon Magazine she feels connected to the biker culture, ““It’s about living for the day, which was my mindset for a long time”, she said. This identity is explored in the video for Ride. And yet she was critiqued for portraying a “prostitute” in a “stupefying video”.
Lana’s not a feminist, she details in The Fader interview. Yet she remarks, ““My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.” To me, that notion is portrayed eloquently in the Ride video.
Del Rey is an intriguing character because she’s so unsure herself of who she is. She tells Fader, “I’m trying to do what feels right. I tried a lot of different ways of life, you know, things I never really talk about, just because they are kind of different. I didn’t really have one fixed way that I could envision myself living.”
The most appealing trait I’ve noticed in Del Rey over the past few years is the impeccable grace she’s maintained during the storm of vicious criticism. After her Saturday Night Live appearance, Gawker called it the “worst outing in SNL history”. Two weeks later, she performed a stunning rendition of Video Games on David Letterman. As they say, don’t get angry, get even. This year she played Coachella with the LA Times calling it “a measure of redemption”.
Ultraviolence could’ve easily been an immaculately-produced pop record that panders to radio but instead she’s dropping one that willfully departs pop. It’s a gritty, rock-driven record with provocative titles that are bound to anger people that already find her unbearable (Money Power Glory, Fucked My Way To The Top). She’s either oblivious or she’s learnt to not give a shit. I’m going to side with the latter. After over five million sales of her debut album, she’s become unapologetic. And so she should be.
New York Times writer Jon Caramanica posted perhaps one of the most scathing reviews of Del Rey in 2012. He wrote, “Her cultural stamp has already been affixed, her biography written in concrete. The only real option is to wash off that face paint, muss up that hair and try again in a few years. There are so many more names out there for the choosing.”
His comments about the fleeting nature of her success seem devoid now given that she’s got a multi-million selling album, two platinum singles and over 100 million YouTube views. He did use a metaphor in that piece though, writing “one has to wear clothes for a long time before they fit well.” If that’s the case, Lana Del Rey has certainly grown into her assumed, fake persona. Everything we’ve heard off Ultraviolence so far sound bold and unphased by opinion.
Everybody’s become obsessed with authenticity like a soul-searching X Factor judge, when the industry always has and always will be about entertainment. And god damn, Del Rey is entertaining.
Love or or hate her she’s managed to penetrate the mainstream despite the barrage of criticism that suggested she’d never move past Video Games. She’s also done so without the help of David Guetta, Pharrell or Max Martin which is a feat many can’t claim.
Liz Phair said it best in her defence of Lana Del Rey when she wrote, “as a recording artist, I’ve been hated, I’ve been ridiculed, and conversely, hailed as the second coming. All that matters in the end is that I’ve been heard.”
Tomorrow Hannah will reply with a critique of Lana Del Rey.