Quantifying the allure of Lana Del Rey
I only went to see Lana Del Rey at Splendour over the weekend to fritter time between a poorly made not-at-all Mexican meal and the Bloc Party set I’d been waiting to watch since 2006.
I felt about as interested in watching the singer as she’d seemed while performing on Saturday Night Live, which is to say robotically not. The thought of laconic, monotonous vocals for a straight hour - standing! - after two full days of mud skipping left me cold(er than I was already). But my friend, who, incidentally, is also called Lana (well, technically, Elana) insisted we attend because “It’s Lana Del Rey”.
I would’ve usually baulked at the martyrdom of going for the sake of going, but given that basically every single person at the festival was flocking for her stage, I decided to bear witness to what the hype was about. Sparing my lecture on gratuitous misery, I acrimoniously joined the legion of red-lipped, flower-crowned, ‘Bad’-ring wearing and overly perfumed punters.
Before watching the Summertime Sadness singer’s set on Saturday night, I’d read about, written about, watched and even thought about Lana Del Rey. Like every online entertainment reporter, I’d contemplated the “is it art or is it artifice” viral or petri-dish cultivated Video Games clip. I’ve been acutely aware of Del Rey’s ‘clickability’ since late last year and at times even used her perennial popularity to pique peoples’ interest. Only until the weekend, she had failed to pique mine.
The no-introduction-required performance of Blue Jeans elicited exalting roars from the purple-doused crowd, but for every thunderous punter was another totally rapt in silence. This paradox encapsulates, if you will, the Lana Del Rey effect, where incidents and aesthetics are mesmerizingly married by dichotomy. Her performance onstage, complete with marionette moves, coloured her somewhere between magnificent and macabre, and so my obsession was born. Lana Del Rey is utterly transfixing.
Though there is an undeniably maudlin irony about her music and her persona, I found Del Rey highly evocative, and – disingenuous as this sounds – she stirred something deep inside me. She is stunningly sinister, alluring and guarded, and yet there was an aura of tragic romance to the way she swayed and smoked on stage. She became everyone’s misty-eyed, retro corpse bride. Contrived or bona fide, Del Rey is able to conjure an atmosphere.
Since watching (not even all of) her set on Saturday night, I have read every article I can find on the singer and scrolled through over 30 pages of Google images of (or merely related to) her. I even reached the point of trawling through Etsy to order clothes that mimic her “gangster Nancy Sinatra” degenerately aspirational style.
Sick, I know. But at least I’m not alone. There’s a reason her name returns more than 60 million Google hits and the blogosphere explodes everytime she does anything ever. Even though typically all Del Rey does is stay silent, further augmenting her inscrutability.
Del Rey is a loved and loathed chimerical creature and she (or the money hungry record company mongrels that may-or-may-not own her) has crafted a strange persona, simultaneously self-made, scrappy and sensuous. The profound(ly vapid?) indie-pop star exists in an era bygone, yet she’s also a hyper-mediated, Warholian vision of the “fifteen minutes” future.
It is just as easy to believe that she is a trust fund baby with a career backed by her millionaire domain investor father as it is to accept that her fragmentary nostalgic, video pastiches were, in fact, shot and edited in a trailer park. Lana Del Rey is an overexposed enigma who has mastered the art of ambiguity.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Del Rey is that no one is quite sure how she transformed from an anonymous Brooklyn club scene singer named Lizzy Grant to a Number-1-in-14-countries pop pin-up. Besides bigger lips, a pseudonym and a new hair-do, the Internet has been unable to uncover what exactly turned her into a hypnotically sad sybarite. As Tricia Romano of The Daily Beast pointed out, “the Internet, which can suck all the intrigue and mystery out of a celebrity by showing every last thing about her, has oddly helped Del Rey in the same way that it’s hurt her.” Though everyone has a theory, no one – and I say this with utmost conviction as I’m quite certain I’ve read all the articles ever about her – has been able to accurately pin down how exactly a girl from Lake Placid became one of pop culture’s most compelling personas. Perhaps it’s as simple as misery loving company, present included.