Is Lana Del Rey a ‘product’ that has been put together by larger forces in the music industry to cater to the increased demand for indie-yet-easy-to-consume artists? Or is she an overly dramatic young woman expressing her saccharine emotions?
I remember fervently listening to MIA four years ago, during her Arular period and enjoying her music for its pleasant Diplo-matic beats and what I considered to be a political element. But after seeing her perform live three times my respect of the political paragon of her lyrics dwindled progressively. I ultimately decided that what I was proudly consuming as indie music was pop, and I felt sour or tricked. Today, it is funny to me that I thought MIA was a political activist that would in any capacity be a catalyst for change in Sri Lanka.
I came to accept that there was a legitimate validity in the critical 2010 Lynn Hirschberg profile in the Times. The fact that the profile was accompanied by pictures taken by Ryan McGinley did not ameliorate my view of the musician. Additionally, having arrived briefly after Maya’s NME daring cover statement, “Lady Gaga sounds more like me than I f-cking do,” I felt less inclined to dance to “Paper Planes” than ever before.
The reason Maya’s attack on Lady Gaga was a turnoff for me was abstract — I was agitated that while I loved MIA’s music she did not possess adequate intellect to be perceived as an artist or an intelligent individual. This was the direct opposite of my opinion of Lady Gaga, whose music I did not consider as anything more profound than pop, but who was capable of, time and time again, demonstrating a rather insightful and thought-provoking presence in the media.
This particular moment in mainstream music is significant: mainstream musicians are for the first time facing the growing expectations of an audience that expects them to be well-rounded, intellectually curious and opinionated. Certainly that has yet to become a universal rule, as pop singers who lack any interest in ‘educated’ matters have not ceased to exist. However, a trend began in the past decade, with the younger consumers of music expecting more from their singers than a “Baby One More Time.”
Maybe the Internet, which spawned the ostensible beginning of her career, is the reason Lana Del Rey has been the recipient of such harsh criticism. It is undeniable that Lana Del Rey has become an overnight fixation, spurring much debate over whether she deserves her success. Many feel deceived: they thought they had discovered a girl with retro style, but it turned out to she’s a signed artist with a record in the works.
Lana Del Rey’s beauty is unquestionable: her gestures, movements and body language imply that she is cognizant of it, or at least performing that she is aware of it exceptionally. Questions regarding her ‘natural’ beauty arise, questions that do seem malevolent if we remember the myriad stars of the past and present who have foregone plastic surgery procedures to enhance their appearance. All of a sudden, consumers feel the need to express their desire for organic beauty and excellence.
Changing her name from Lizzy Grant to Lana Del Rey may have been an unwise move, providing an argument for her critics to say: ‘She is completely manufactured from her sound to her name’ in a vitriolic manner. Others insist she is appropriating an aesthetic: she is doing the white trashy, tattooed up, gangsta thing. And naturally, Lana Del Rey is not worthy of their respect due to her affluent roots: they nullify her street cred.
Remember that Del Rey did not enter our world promising to change it or alter our system of order. She did make music and did find an audience. Our fixation on her may be short-lived or it may be the beginning of a lasting career. She does not have to be an opinionated intellectual to be a successful musician, and having such expectations from all pop stars might be unfair.
Not everyone needs to, nor can, be Patti Smith. If we remind ourselves that Del Rey’s music is indeed pop music — and not an indie product that came to fruition sans the support of producers — it will be harder to be offended by it. Especially with lips like that.