The fact or fiction of Lana Del Ray

By now you’ve probably heard of Lana Del Ray. My first encounter was online where a blogger was musing on whether they’d have embraced her music if they’d seen what she’d looked like first. That isn’t to say Ms Del Ray isn’t beautiful, quite the opposite, she’s almost impossibly so. Describing herself as a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra”, imagine a doe eyed Natalie Portman crossed with Priscilla Presley, and your almost there.  In her videos she pouts and purrs, staring vacantly just beyond the camera like jail bait, but despite her tender looks at 26 Del Ray’s musical sensibilities seem surprisingly mature based in a hip melancholy nostalgia for the 60’s that never were.

Perhaps this is an ageist or misogynistic judgement, but for me it’s an issue about authenticity. Del Ray’s fame thus far hails from the internet, her first album has yet to be released, but on tour recently she’s appeared on the most prestigious variety shows, (where better to discover such an obscure artist then on Later with Jools Holland?). Yet in each performance, vulnerable and strained, she remains an enigma with most of her interviews in print rather than on T.V.

You can peruse videos for her particular brand of retro ‘sad –core’ pop on You Tube. Nothing is claimed or denied but it’s suggested that these promos are compiled using home movie footage. Yet the slick hair and makeup, consistent sepia tinting, montage elements of neon lights, tree lined boulevards, and archive film and cartoon footage, beautifully evoke the mood and tone of her Americana melodrama suggesting something altogether more directed and processed. (It seems since I wrote this full credits are now available for the archive footage sources.)

I dig further and turn up some interview clips under her pre fame name. The look is there, but she seems unsure of what she’s saying.  After a false start with an album released under the name Lizzy Grant with support from her businessman father, ‘Lana Del Ray’ was created and re-launched as a Lolita in the ‘hood, cholita of the trailer park. She’s undoubtedly talented, with a voice whose expressive quality lends a bitter sweetness to the bad girl love songs of longing, self obliteration and loss. But ultimately it’s this nostalgia for a time not her own, juxtaposed against the little girl lost posturing that makes me wonder if this act was written for rather than by her.

I’m reminded of J.T LeRoy, a writer famed for his gritty style of magic realism who shot to acclaim at the age of 19 with ‘Sarah’, a semi-fictionalised account of his troubled childhood. Until it transpired that the tragically talented gender bending ex-drug addict, was in fact a character created by then unknown writer Laura Albert, and played in public by her sister-in- law in sunglasses and a wig. LeRoy gained many celebrity fans and literary endorsements, many were angry they’d been fooled, while some claimed to have always been in on the ruse.

Maybe the question should be: if the much lauded literature exists, does it matter if the author was fiction?

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2 comments

  1. I’ve not really listened to much Lana Del Rey, and to be honest I’m not wild about music that’s as backward-facing as hers seems to be – but the thrust of your piece seems to be about authenticity, and whether or not it’s important, and that’s fascinating.

    My personal feeling is that it doesn’t really matter whether a creator – in this case a musician – is entirely accurate when discussing their inspiration and cultural back-story, if they don’t particularly trade on it. If the art, divorced of the self-created mythology, is strong enough to attract people, then the mythology is just icing on that cake, and it doesn’t matter how consistent or persistent it is.

    But if it’s obvious that the mythology is the selling point – the artist contrives to mention it in every interview, or their image is a meticulously designed thing intended to provoke it, and the art is an afterthought – than the mythology has to be sound. Or at least, if I felt an artist had very deliberately lied in such a cold-blooded way, I couldn’t help but be swayed by that.

    Mind you, I think it’s more important that we encourage better curation and critical skills in audiences than vilify bullshit merchants.

    I’m not entirely sure I’ve added anything useful to your post, but I did enjoy reading your deconstruction of the subject!

    Like

  2. I’m so out of the loop – Lana Del Ray wasn’t on my radar at all, but glad your blog turned me on to her. Loving what I’ve heard so far.

    Like

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