AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This week, the debut album drops for one of the biggest artists of 2011 you may not have heard of. Lana Del Rey. After months of online hype and a handful of YouTube videos to accompany her songs, Del Rey recently made her "Saturday Night Live" debut.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIDEO GAMES")
LANA DEL REY: (Singing) Heaven is a place on earth with you. Tell me all the things you want to do. I heard you like the bad girls. Honey, is that true?
CORNISH: Even though that performance earned her heaps of Internet scorn, Lana Del Rey's album, "Born to Die," is considered one of the most anticipated for 2012, and she's not the only one. 2012 could be the breakout year for many other artists who have enjoyed magazine covers and rapturous music reviews long before their debut albums hit stores.
Here to talk more about who they are and how they get there is NPR's music critic and correspondent, Ann Powers. She also writes for NPR's music news blog, "The Record." Welcome, Ann.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hi, Audie. How you doing?
CORNISH: Pretty good. So, talk to me a little bit about why people hate Lana Del Rey so much. I mean, I've heard people from the actress Juliette Lewis to news anchor Brian Williams kind of diss her. I mean, Williams reportedly called it one of the worst outings in SNL history, which is sort of hard to believe. Who is Lana Del Rey and why do people hate her so much?
POWERS: Lana Del Rey is the alter ego of a woman named Lizzy Grant who's 25 years old. She's from New York. She was a struggling singer/songwriter before she kind of hit on this character she's created. The music itself sounds like kind of Julie London, that torch singer thing, but done with this futuristic ghost story.
CORNISH: Yeah. She called it Hollywood's sad corp.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
POWERS: Yeah. She comes up with a lot of great phrases that aren't always accurate, but that one actually is pretty good. And she looks like she walked out of a film noire. So, she became controversial because, as much as people liked this song, they doubted her authenticity, I guess, as if that really matters for a pop star. But they thought she was too self-created. And many people also doubted that she was an Indie artist.
CORNISH: And, Ann, what's interesting about that is everywhere you went online, on Twitter, on random music blogs, people were talking about her so much. And essentially, she's this artist who really benefits or is suffering from what you've called the hype cycle. What exactly is the hype cycle?
POWERS: Well, the hype cycle's been with us for as long as pop has existed. But in the Internet age, it's been wildly accelerated. Basically, an artist puts forth product. It is quickly absorbed by many different people online. They become the talk of the Internet. And suddenly, this complete unknown goes to, you know, center stage of the pop consciousness, sometimes in a week or less. And that's what happened with Lana Del Rey. So much talk, so little product. That's the hype cycle.
CORNISH: What's the danger for the musicians involved? Because I'm thinking of something like an artist like Del Rey isn't going to benefit from the 10,000 hour rule. Right? I remember this from the book, "Outliers," this idea that The Beatles had performed for 10,000 hours in shows and practice in Germany before they hit it big in England.
POWERS: Absolutely. That is something that gets talked about a lot with these new Internet sensations, that they haven't had time to hone their crafts. In truth, some Internet sensations have been around for a while. A great example is Frank Ocean, the R and B singer. He's someone who is a professional songwriter, redid his image and is quite seasoned and you can really hear it in his music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWIM GOOD")
FRANK OCEAN: (Singing) I'm about to drive to the ocean. I'm 'a try to swim from something bigger than me.
POWERS: That's an example of the hype cycle working and kind of in a good way, giving someone a chance, you know, to break through.
CORNISH: At the same time, how much of this is a change from, say, the old music business model where it was DJs and singles that would sort of rev up the hype cycle versus music bloggers and downloads who are the taste makers now?
POWERS: Well, Audie, it's not like hype is at all new. You mentioned DJs and singles, which takes me back to, say, the dawn of rock and roll. I think this is kind of a similar time. The artists who capture our imagination are hitting hot buttons. The rapper, Kreayshawn.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI, GUCCI")
KREAYSHAWN: (Singing) Gucci, Gucci, Louis, Louis, Fendi, Fendi, Prada. I'm looking like Madonna, but...
POWERS: She's a white girl from Oakland. She adopts African-American styles. This hits the hot button of race.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI, GUCCI")
KREAYSHAWN: (Singing) I'm yelling, free V-Nasty, 'til my throat is raspy. Young, rich and flashy, I be where the cash be.
POWERS: So these artists - they start arguments. They raise our passions because they're somehow getting to the deepest issues that we're dealing with every day, even if they're doing it with music that may not be that great.
CORNISH: And in the end, some of these artists, I hope, there's a nugget of talent there, right, including Lana Del Rey?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
POWERS: Absolutely. We don't talk about just air. We don't care about things that are totally hollow. And even with Lana Del Rey, she has a talent. Perhaps it's not quite clear how she can hone that best, but it's there. It's hitting us on some level, and we need to respect that that's happening.
CORNISH: Ann Powers, critic and correspondent for NPR Music and for NPR's music news blog, The Record. Ann, thanks so much for talking with us.
POWERS: Thank you, Audie.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KITTY'S X CHOPPAS")
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
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