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?