Not a Blogger: We Are All Terrible People — The Music Criticism of Lana Del Rey

Doc Zeus really thinks you need to stop taking your talking points from Carles. There once was a pretty girl named Lizzie Grant who decided that she wanted to make music for a living. She signed a...
By    February 10, 2012

Doc Zeus really thinks you need to stop taking your talking points from Carles.

There once was a pretty girl named Lizzie Grant who decided that she wanted to make music for a living. She signed a record deal with a major label and recorded a gooey, happy-go-lucky pop record in the vein of Stefani Germanotta or Katheryn Hudson. It failed.

Like an untold number of aspiring singers, Lizzie was forced to start over. Whether by the influence of the divine, personal genius or the focus-tested will of a shadowy group of headphone-hawking record executives, the girl took a stage name and in the grand tradition of 90% of showbiz transformed herself from Lizzie Grant, peppy pop ingenue, to Lana Del Rey, trash glam sex bomb with penchant for torch songs about bad boys and Diet Mountain Dew.

After emerging from her cocoon, Lana crafted a couple of songs that made the rounds at the various hot spots on the internet and started to gain attention. It happened because sheʼs pretty and had music industry connections. But it mostly occurred because she has an image and sound that appeal to certain subset of fans who actually purchase music. Hence, think pieces were furiously dashed off, her big deal with Interscope Records was revealed, and she started appearing on television in preparation for her big new album. All was right with the world.

Wait a second. Does this story sound banal? It should. It’s the exact same story told before the first commercial in every “Behind The Music” episode ever. Girl has big dreams, fails initially, goes back to reinvent herself and goes on to fame, fortune and Pepsi commercials. This could be the story of Gwen Stefani or Bjork, for all we know. Nothing about this is notable. Nothing about this is interesting. Nothing about this could possibly be seen as offensive to anybody.

Here’s where the story veers from the VH1 norm and careens into the realm of the deeply inane. Carles, the content baiting troll and zeitgeist mongerer behind Hipster Runoff, notices the attention that Lana is receiving, spends a few hours researching Lanaʼs past on the internet and posts a blog “exposing” Lanaʼs stage name, pop star past and the likelihood that she had her lips transformed into a dirigible. And yet people automatically disregarded the last 60 years of popular culture to buy into the patent absurdity of Carlesʼ “expose.”

Just because Lizzy Grant got a makeover and once sang pop songs doesn’t mean that Lana Del Rey is a carpet bagging, faux hipster, corporate devil. It means that she’s a pop star. How else can you explain Madonna, Lady Gaga or Rick Ross? Itʼs stupid because we all know “authenticity” is dead, until it aims to tap into with the long bastardized and beaten down “indie” sub-culture. It’s willfully short-sighted because all successful artists have carefully constructed images and a management team to back them. It’s stupid because Nancy Sinatra (and Amy Winehouse and Fiona Apple and Lily Allen) kick ass and why the fuck wouldnʼt she want to aim in that direction.  All artists have influences and we shouldnʼt shame them for trying to incorporate them into their aesthetic.

Which brings us back to Carles, who almost single-handedly turned Lana Del Rey into the pariah du jour of the indie world. He kickstarted a flood of snarky pieces, each upping the ante of indignation at Del Rey’s manipulations, or lack of talent, or existence as a sexist relic. Each move she made was dissected from every angle. Think-pieces were written about the nature of authenticity, the sexual politics of her music, the sexual politics of the writers writing about the sexual politics of her music.  Even the noted and important indie rock commentator, Brian Williams, declares her the worst performer in the history of anything after a particularly brutal performance on Saturday Night Live. Think-pieces were even written on that.

The obvious undercurrent is that cultural critics need to make this shit seem important. If they canʼt convince you that the hype matters, they donʼt get paid and with a dwindling number of actual paying gigs, the thirst becomes more desperate. The internet has paradoxically placed the written word at a premium, but the availability of content has caused publishers to stop paying for it. There are a million aspiring journalists and we all canʼt get a staff position at the Times. The Lana Del Rey phenomenon happened for no other reason than a couple of music writers needed to pitch something to their magazines and once an artist becomes controversial, its becomes easier (and more profitable) to write about the “controversy” even when its completely asinine and inorganic. “Haters” generate page views and because you want that check, suddenly the girl who wrote a sad, little song about her inattentive boyfriend becomes an avatar for all that is wrong with popular music. You juke the stats and section editors become managing editors. Or better yet, you don’t get fired.

And hence, I have beef with everyone. I have utter contempt for the uncreative ways that print critics, online bloggers, and message board trolls trill their overwrought opinions. I have beef with the artless and incendiary takedowns that have popped up in my timeline every day for the last two months. I have beef with the corporate-owned media entities who force editors to generate clicks at gunpoint. We should all be ashamed of ourselves for the unslakable thirst with which we destructed and took down a twenty-something with Nancy Sinatra influences and an image consultant.

Who gives a fuck if she went to boarding school or lived in a trailer park? We’re supposed to judge musicians on the strength of their music, but she’d already been the recipient of a hundred non-reported think pieces by the time her debut hit market. Everyone had weighed in — mostly in the negative. It reeked of the desperation of the permanently un-cool, bloggers taking cues from other bloggers and falling over themselves to be too smart to like that “lamestream” Lana Del Rey.

Heaven forbid anyone change their fucking mind, or exhibit a bit more nuance than being white knights coming to her defense or haters gleefully throwing kindling on the bonfire. Or you know, wait to hear more than two songs. WHAT IF YOU DON’T LOOK HIP TO THE BESPECTACLED TUMBLR MASSES. Before it even was sent to the manufacturer, Del Rey’s debut was born to die. Well, except for the fact that Interscope will make millions. They always do.

Oh, and as for Born To Die? Two great songs, a few good ones and a bunch of filler. In other words, itʼs a pop music album on a major label in 2012. I’ll take it over Gaga.

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