Ever since she appeared on the music scene, Lana del Rey has been a point of contention for people who like to voice their opinions about music. Heretofore, it seems that one had to choose sides, to either love her or hate her, and there was no neutral ground on which to stand. Lately, however, after what has been widely regarded as a dreadful performance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the subsequent cancellations and/or postponements of many tour dates, more people seem to be jumping over to the hater side.
I really can’t think of another musician in recent memory who has been such a lightning rod for criticism as Lana del Rey, and it’s interesting to note that most of the criticism is almost entirely unrelated to the music she’s making. It’s all about whether or not her lips are the result of plastic surgery, about how she dropped her birth name for a more evocative moniker, how she comes from money and her father paid for her early recording ventures, how she’s stiff and weird when she performs. Not only are all of these criticisms irrelevant in deciphering the value of her art, they’re also just mean-spirited.
Watching this shitstorm that Lana del Rey has found herself in unfold, I can’t help but wonder if the reasons folks are citing for disliking her say more about us (the collective “us”) as consumers of music entertainment than about Lana del Rey as an artist. Because let’s be real, most of these criticisms are bogus: Ms. del Rey is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, musician to alter their appearance with cosmetic surgery (see: Cher, Michael Jackson), nor is she the first musician to change her name (I would probably go by Lana del Rey if my birth name was Lizzie Grant, too). And does it really matter if her daddy’s rich? Can she really help that? And yeah, maybe she’s stiff and weird when she performs, but I suspect that’s part of her image, and some people just aren’t born performers. I believe that’s how the musical genre “shoe-gaze” got its name.
But back to the collective “us.” Maybe the reason everyone is so quick to judge and hate on Lana del Rey is because there is a clear delineation in our minds between our perception of music as art, where everything is real and has some kind of emotional depth or innovative sound, and music as entertainment, where a strategic image is marketed and artists sing surfacey radio-ready songs written by other people. I don’t believe that to be true, but let’s pretend, for all intents and purposes, that it is. If everyone who initially liked Lana del Rey believed her to be the former, someone who sang with a nostalgia that belied her age and who pieced together her own music videos using fuzzy vintage film footage, only to later find out that she had (gasp!) projected an image that wasn’t entirely rooted in reality, I guess I can see how that could feel like a betrayal, like you were tricked and now look like an idiot for thinking she was a pulled-herself-up-by-her-own-bootstraps indie darling when she wasn’t. But that’s asinine, if you ask me.
For people who only extol musicians that are of the music-as-art variety, it seems that there’s a requisite level of authenticity that has to be met before a musician can be regarded as an “artist.” But isn’t art about imagination, about the ability to visualize the world as another would, to find a way to evoke emotions that are beyond yourself? If that criteria is met, it shouldn’t matter if an artist edits their own life story. I don’t remember a Lana del Rey-level backlash occurring when it was discovered that Jack and Meg White were, in fact, ex-spouses and not brother and sister as Jack had formerly asserted. Because we live in a culture where we feel entitled to know everything about famous people and because there’s multi-million dollar celebrity gossip industry that indulges us, we fixate more on the personal life of the individual creating the art rather than the art itself, and that only brings down the quality of the art that we consume. The art becomes secondary to the personality, and that’s sad.
All of which is to say: leave Lana alone. If you want to make a judgment on her, do so on the basis of her music and not on who she is as a person or what her image is. And if you’d like a much cleverer defense of Ms. del Rey, consult with SNL.