Lana Del Rey – heard of her? If you haven’t, you will because “Born to Die,” Del Rey’s first full-length album was released today following nearly six months of Internet buzz and an ongoing wave of hatred or fawning adoration from bloggers.
It seems as if everyone has an opinion on Lana Del Rey’s physical, pop-star transformation from Lizzie Grant to Lana Del Rey, the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” As if she’s the first woman in music to craft a specific image, name and sound, by herself and/or with the slick management of studios and handlers and go from obscurity to fame in 60 seconds. There’s been plenty of handwringing over her musical credibility and authenticity – as if her past as a private school kid with a rich daddy from Lake Placid, NY, somehow makes her less of a performer and singer. Who cares? In an age of edited and scripted reality TV and instant YouTube fame, since when have we demanded authenticity from our pop stars and celebrities? It doesn’t exist in the realm of music, Hollywood and celebrity-dom. Unless you’re a hipster. How ironic.
In October, Business Insider called Lana Del Rey “the musical equivalent of a smoke-filled room” and the corporate invention/robot of Interscope Records. Huh? As if our entire image-driven, American celebrity and and pop culture isn’t a maze of smoke-filled rooms? More importantly, the article dismisses Lizzie Grant/Lana Del Rey and renders her invisible as a person and woman who can make her own decisions about her career, image and persona.
This is not surprising, considering that we expect our female pop stars (and women, in general) to be passive, mute, pretty and incapable of real agency and self-determination. She can’t possibly exist as a real, bonafide performer, so let’s tear her down because her image, her looks must be equivalent to her musical talent. Even though we demand and expect our female pop stars to be impossibly beautiful by undergoing some physical transformation from girl-next-door to old Hollywood sexbot.
I admit that Del Rey’s shaky Saturday Night Live performance in December convinced me that she needs to work on her live performance. But I don’t equate her physical appearance with her talent – a double standard that is all too familiar for women everywhere whose talents and looks are far too often conflated. As my co-blogger and friend osea asks at Rhyme et Reason, where’s the love for Lana Del Rey (Ladies)? An excerpt:
“I am not suggesting anyone has to like anyone, least of all because they share the same genitals and similar societal expectations. But Lana’s reception reminds me of something Gloria Steinem once said:
Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.
So, where is it? Where’s the love? Where’s the support? Where’s the sisterhood? Where’s the CONSTRUCTIVE criticism? Nowhere– well, here and over at Slate!”
It’s not only American media that perpetuates the hypocritical, sexist scrutiny and double standards over Lana Del Rey’s looks (did she, or didn’t she have plastic surgery on her lips? Oh, she dyed her hair and changed her name! She’s not who she says she is!). Yesterday, I came across an article in Le Monde that previewed Born to Die and immediately dissected and speculated on the origin of Lana Del Rey’s looks in the opening paragraphs of the story. In the French-language interview, Del Rey insists that Lizzie Grant and Lana Del Rey are the same person but the writer continues to cast doubt on her claim for several more paragraphs.
I’m tired of reading about the sincerity and authenticity of Lana Del Rey, which is entirely based around her looks as a woman making music. I want to talk about her music and her sound, which is smoky, dark and beguiling. And I love it. Now that Born to Die is finally here, listen up and let’s evaluate Lana Del Rey’s talent on her music. That’s a discussion worth having.