The video for "Video Games" by Lana Del Rey, the worst thing to ever happen to music. (citation needed)
There are three types of people currently reading this blog post about Lana Del Rey: those who reflexively rolled their eyes upon reading the very words "Lana Del Rey" just now, those who have no idea why the words "Lana Del Rey" would provoke autonomic eye-rolling and those who scoff at the thought that people can be divided into only three types.
The last group, there is no hope for. Those people are just the worst.
The other two are on a collision course, ready to smack head-on into one another tomorrow night. For that is when Miss Del Rey (neé Miss Grant, about which let me say more in a sec) makes her American television debut – two weeks ahead of the release of her first album Born To Die – by performing on the Daniel Radcliffe-hosted Saturday Night Live and what has been largely the province of online music and pop-culture tastemakers gets unleashed upon the populace at large.
To appreciate the weight of this, there are two things that you must understand about Del Rey. First, she is almost universally loathed by most of the major music blogs. And second, the first fact is almost entirely unimportant.
What's the problem with Del Rey? I'm going to tell you, but before I do, I must warn you that what I have to say is so shocking, it will rattle you to your very core and almost certainly send you to join the chorus of Internet naysayers eagerly panting their dismay. If you are not sitting down now, you almost certainly will be when I reach the end of the next sentence:
Her name is not really Lana Del Rey.
Okay, there's a little bit more to it than that. For a rundown on the matter, I humbly direct you to this marvelous Awl piece, which discusses how the erstwhile Lizzy Grant committed the inexcusable crime of coming from a privileged upbringing. It's worth mentioning that writer Adam Rosen falls squarely on the side of finding the whole uproar embarrassing for those doing the roaring. It's also worth mentioning that the very first, apparently-not-remotely-ironic reader comment immediately following the piece reads thusly: "Thanks for this. I got as far as 'boarding-school pedigree.' At that point, I knew all I will ever need to know about her."
Rosen's pointed call for music fans to respond to bands and singers based on "the simple matter of whether or not someone sucks" might not get much traction in cyberspace. Luckily for Del Rey, the blogstorm that has swirled around her for the past year will become almost entirely irrelevant once Harry Potter introduces her tomorrow night on SNL.
As it happens, blogs don't really affect popular success, at least not as far as the mainstream is concerned. The average pop-radio listener – whether it's straight-up Top 40 or niche formats like adult alternative, where Del Rey's dusky songs are likely to end up as a sort of stopgap Neko Case proxy – doesn't know anything about the blogs. (A more cynical wag would say that the average pop-radio listener doesn't know anything about anything, but we refrain from such incendiary remarks.) Nor does he or she care. Such folks have a pesky habit of liking the music they like, with little or no regard to the narrative attached to it unless there's a tabloid component. The hate-on for Del Rey doesn't remotely qualify.
The video for "Blue Jeans" by Lana Del Rey.
Let's step back three and a half years, when pop hopeful Katy Perry hooked up with the Warped Tour, the annual breeding ground for skate punk, emo and sunstroke. (Seriously, people, stay hydrated out there.) The pairing was ridiculous both on the face of it and in practice; she stuck out like a sore, fake thumb playing shows that were cravenly designed to earn her cred from the in crowd. And having failed at that, she licked her wounds, shrugged and went on to become one of the world's biggest pop stars.
From a mainstream perspective, credibility is overrated. Perhaps Del Rey can seek solace in the tale of Vampire Weekend, the fresh-faced preppie Ivy Leaguers with a penchant for once-removed (i.e., Western-filtered) African music who faced an awfully similar backlash as 2007 gave way to 2008 and they prepared to release their debut. It happened so far in advance of the record's release, in fact, that there was enough time for a backlash against the backlash to develop. And then, once their album came out and they themselves played SNL, they were met with a chorus of, "Yeah, they're all right."
It'd be hard to pin that exclusively on the show, but it's certainly true that the reach of one episode of SNL far exceeds that of the people who've spent the better part of a year howling for Del Rey's head on a platter for acting out to the exact letter one of the core tenets of punk rock, which was the ability to demolish your own past and recreate yourself in whatever image suited you. (Apparently, you now have to submit your proposal to a board for approval first.) Once SNL looses Del Rey on to a public that knows nothing of her past – both her biographical background and her online notoriety – all of that righteous fury fueling the blogsplosion will be reduced to shouting in a wind tunnel.
Whether Del Rey makes more than the slightest blip on the pop-culture radar is up in the air, of course. She'll rise or fall on her own merits and the usual cocktail of vagaries that dictate whether any pop artist is successful or not. And the blogs will almost certainly continue to provide their own takes on her music and career as long as she's pursuing both. But tomorrow night is when she ceases to be an issue of purely academic concern and becomes merely one more new singer vying for your eardrums, just like everybody else you haven't heard of yet.
(Written in the full knowledge that Lana Del Rey is neither Neko Case nor punk rock, not that this will help.)
The video for "Born To Die," the title track of Lana Del Rey's upcoming debut album.