In Defense of Lana Del Rey
Photo by Nicole Nodland
It seems from the very start of Lana Del Rey's career, the whole world was rooting for her to fail. There were articles exposing her former persona, Lizzy Grant, not to mention accusations of plastic surgery and conspiracy theories about how she'd been manufactured by record executives.
Then came her first major live performance on television -- Saturday Night Live on January 14, 2012. You could almost hear the collective snarl from critics and journalists waiting to tear her performance apart.
Unfortunately, Del Rey gave them exactly what they expected -- shaky renditions of "Video Games" and "Blue Jeans." Some called it "the worst performance in SNL history," but that title still belongs to a lip-synching Ashlee Simpson. Instead what happened on TV was an obviously nervous woman trying hard to prove her critics wrong.
But even if things didn't go her way early on, Del Rey has fired back with song after song, steadily winning a large, loyal fan base. And now, on the heels of her second album, Ultraviolence, she's about to embark on a sold-out tour.
So, why do critics and music snobs still cry out "wannabe pop tart" when speaking about Del Rey?
It could possibly boil down to sexism. Men in the music industry can change their look and sound fairly easily with little mention from media and fans. In fact, they are often celebrated for it. (See Justin Timberlake, Usher, Kanye West.) But even that's too easy an answer.
After all, Miley Cyrus was able to shed her Disney-fied persona and co-opt twerking as her own, with Middle America being none the wiser. Sure, there were cries of cultural appropriation and racism at the beginning, but now everyone just seems to say, "She's just being Miley."
No, there's just something about Del Rey that seems to rub certain people a wrong way.
See also: Britney Spears: Why It's Time to Retire
Maybe it's her West-Coast-hipster-meets-Vegas-lounge-singer way of delivering her material. For fans, though, that's her most endearing quality; she doesn't really sound like any other pop singer out there. Her vocals can go from raspy to bubbly on a single track, like "Off to the Races," for which she plays both a smarmy gold digger and dimwitted harlot.
Or maybe it's perhaps that except for her sole hit, Cedric Gervais' remix of "Summertime Sadness" she isn't a chart topper the way acts like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are, but she still seems to garner just as much press. However, in the age of Spotify and YouTube, the Billboard charts seem pretty meaningless -- even if the formula for chart placement has been tweaked, it still seems antiquated. And with a sold-out tour, it's hard to argue that mainstream audiences aren't aware of Del Rey.
Some accuse Del Ray of being inauthentic. But is outgrowing a previous persona, like her Lizzy Grant, unheard of? You can hardly expect a young artist to not to want to experiment with her look and sound.
Of course, there have been some fair criticisms of Del Rey's work. Her 2012 album, Born to Die, was an uneven effort that bordered on boring at times while edging toward thrilling at others.
But since then, further releases have shown Del Rey hitting her stride, including 2012's Paradise EP, but especially her latest single, "West Coast," which lifts the singer out of the Las Vegas lounge and drops her in the middle of a surf rock party.
All that to say, when a Lana Del Rey song comes on, we don't hear a fake. Instead, we hear a young woman still trying to find her footing in the music industry. And that's not a bad thing.
Crossfade's Top Blogs
Lana Del Rey. Sunday, April 27. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.