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Leave Lana Del Rey Alone
c is for cat
catvalente

So there’s this singer named Lana Del Rey*. She has this beautiful, sad music video that changes her song Video Games into some kind of awful, gorgeous love song to bygone America, and by bygone I mean my youth, the 80s and 90s. I happened to see it about two weeks ago and downloaded the song because damn, it’s just so full of atmosphere and unspoken sorrow and I dig that all the way.

Then, she went on Saturday Night Live. And sang–some say not very well, which would certainly be SHOCKING for SNL, where musical guests always bring their A game? I guess? I’ve always been profoundly bored by the musical segment of SNL, because even acts I love seem to be phoning it in and nobody rips up pictures of the Pope anymore.

Anyway–boy howdy, the internet has decided to shit on her with the fury of a million Rebecca Blacks.

And here’s where the asterisk come in. As far as I can tell, the anger–and it is anger, the indie music kids are screeching through their hipster veneer of not caring in utter hatred of this woman–is on account of three things. One: she comes from money. Two: she wasn’t very good on Saturday Night Live. Three: she changed her name; her birth name is Lizzy Grant.

Thing is, I look at all this and I wonder why she is deserving of such loathing–a woman who was clearly not ready for SNL, not because she isn’t a good singer, but because she’s clearly painfully nervous and terrified, as she seems to be in most of her live shows, and yo, I can understand that. I bet she’ll be less terrified now that the internet curses her name! (And you know who else isn’t ready for SNL? Like half of the SNL cast, and many of the nameless flop-haired mumbling guy bands they have on there.)

So, her dad is rich. Well, so is Norah Jones’ dad (born Geethali Shankar, btw), and half of the mainstream entertainment industry is the children of the wealthy and the famous, whether you, the internet, know it or not. We love to tell the stories of a poor child Madonna or the Beatles in Liverpool, but come on. You know damn well why Kate Hudson got her shot, and why Wilson Phillips got their shiny record deal so young. This does not mean Lana Del Rey is the devil. I would prefer that everyone start on a level playing field, too, but in our capitalist paradise it just ain’t so. And if you hate Lana Del Rey because of her father, you need to also hate every artist, actor, musician who comes from money–so you won’t be consuming very much entertainment, I tell you what. She has a team behind her. Oh no! No one else has that! No one in the history of SNL has gotten there by means other than their beatboxed bootstraps!

And the name thing. Jesus Christ. I cannot believe the vitriol over the fact that this woman changed her name to a stage name. Like this makes her an inauthentic succubus to be stabbed and set on fire.

Ok, I’m going to tell you a secret. Don’t tell anyone! Shhh!

Bowie isn’t David Bowie’s real name! Likewise Lady Gaga was born Stephanie Germanotti! Also Meatloaf, Sting, Bono, The Edge, Flea, Prince, Jay-Z, Vanilla Ice, Englebert Humperdinck, Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, Ice Cube, Billie Holliday, Queen Latifah, Marilyn Manson, Nico, Cat Power, and even little Dweezil Zappa (who was born Ian) changed their fucking names because that’s what rock stars do. (Oh and guess what? I changed my name too. Sometimes our names suck and we hate them.)

I’ve run into this idea that a pseudonym makes you inherently inauthentic before in my own line of work and it always baffles me. Because the list of famous writers who used pseudonyms is even longer than rock stars. Names are not a window into your true soul, people! (Oddly enough, unless you changed it to reflect your soul more accurately.) I write the same books as Catherynne Valente that I’d write as [birth name]. Names are not graven on one’s bones. Also, we all use handles online so GET OVER IT. Lana Del Rey is an objectively better name than Lizzie Grant, which makes me think of Amy Grant and yucky mid 90s veiled Christian pop. That snotty music bloggers insist on calling her Elizabeth Grant (not even Lizzie!) with this holier than thou tone is beyond gross and sad. You’ll notice they don’t call Bowie David Jones, or Bob Dylan Robert Zimmerman, or Nico Christa Paffgen. So why is it ok to sneeringly refer to an artist by her birth name which she has clearly disavowed? People have tried to do this to me and it results in absolute rage. It is infantilizing and condescending: you think you can define your own identity? Not while I’m around!

I keep coming back to Nico because she’s an interesting example–beloved by indiehounds, changed her name, an odd beauty (folks say Lana’s had plastic surgery which, whatever, it’s her body) and a breathy, non-conventional, untrained singing voice that is nevertheless lauded all over town. Lana, actually, kind of sounds like her. Honestly, I think half the shock over her voice is that everything is so autotuned now that real human voices sound terrible to most people. But Nico is an icon and Lana Del Rey could get run over by a truck and half the music blogs would cheer.

I have this feeling that if it were Lester Del Rey, nobody would care about any of these things. Not the name, not the parents, not the voice, not the looks. (Though even Jezebel has gotten in on the thrashing with glee–and it is glee that I see infusing all the rage. Delight in being able to shoot this woman down, in having power over her.) She inspires rage because she looks like an easy shot, and instead of an actual class war we’d rather just yell at Lana Del Rey on the internet. If being shitty on SNL were such a crime the jails would be full of comedians and singers. I don’t even remember Ashlee Simpson’s lip syncing debacle causing this much vitriol. What is it about her that makes the music commentariat see red? Is it because she looks like such a wounded lamb, like she might blow away at any moment, that she showed her nerves and fear in her face while she sang, fear we’d all feel singing in front of millions, so we see that blood and just go for it? This hipsterindie quest for authenticity means that it’s critics/blogs who are determining what is authentic. And then they tell the internet, and the internet dutifully sneers at anyone with a manager. But not being very good at instruments or singing is fine if you’re either super poppy (most people who are not omgindiecred will say Timberlake is pretty good these days even though he is crazy packaged for your consumption) or super underground/punk, and that raw sound everyone hates in Lana Del Rey is what they look for in pretty much anyone else.

I don’t know. I don’t know why this girl gets no mercy and no quarter. I liked her song. I liked her strange, off-kilter voice. She sounds like she means it. I thought her duck lips looked funny, but every mainstream girl in my generation seems to do the duck thing the minute a camera is trained on her, and half the boys too. I’m not going to go all Leave Lana Del Rey Alone on you–well, no, I guess I am. Unless you’re willing to jump down the neck of every singer who changed his name or came from a wealthy background.

She’s not the greatest singer of all time. Not by a long shot. But she’s not a punching bag, either.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


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I've never heard of Lana Del Rey - I'm not really much in touch with mainstream music. But I've seen the same phenomenon happen before - and you're right, it really does usually seem to be women who are singled out for special abuse. It's another variation of the vitriol that's sometimes directed against female bloggers. No matter how much we may like to think that society has become more egalitarian gender-wise (and it has in many respects - just not all), women who are perceived as stepping out of line, screwing up, or whatever offense still get singled out for a far more vicious response than would happen to a man under the same circumstances. :-(

I'd never heard facts one or three about her (nor did I hear about them until now). In fact, literally the only thing I knew about her was that she was the musical guest. And I hated the performance with a vengeance.

That said, I also don't think I ever felt any anger (noting that I'm pretty clearly not a part of the larger commentariat). I just thought it was an appalling performance, but like so many appalling performances, it was a fascinating train wreck. If I had a real problem with it, it's that it wasn't an entertaining train wreck, like, say, Kei$ha's performance a couple of years ago. It was more comparable to a less-polished Foster the People (who had the least engaging performance this year outside of Radiohead, who I hate to much to ever evaluate fairly), but given the similar lack of enthusiasm combined with the missed notes and what seemed like a lack of preparation, it's one that certainly deserves plenty of criticsm.

I definitely think Ashley Simpson got more publicity; I haven't seen much mainstream coverage of Lana Del Ray at all this week, and judging by blog and hipster commentary means about as much here as it did when we all thought Serenity was the Next big Movie.

All that said, I really would like to see a concert by Lester Del Rey. Zombies are in.

I don't know, I've suddenly seen commentary on this everywhere, and she was trending on Twitter which is what alerted me to the performance. I'm not saying bad performances shouldn't be called out (I don't think it was THAT bad) but it's gone way beyond that. People were actually nicer to Rebecca Black.

Hm. Poor use of a boy L name. My bad.

I agree with you that the sexist bullshittery needs to stop. Ditto the critique of a stage name, 'cause that's just dumb.

But I also think that critiquing her music and performance is legit. It's her job, one she gets paids big heaping wads of cash to do, and she went on record to talk about how she wasn't going to practice for SNL, and how music isn't really her priority-- yet she's going after A list gigs. Televised gigs, even. So, you know-- when there's a terrible stinker of a performance, it's totally legit to say so. As a performer who gets horrid stage fright, I can totally sympathize with how scary being up there can be, but if I blow off practice and then flub a major performance, I don't exactly expect people to treat me with kid gloves, you know?

It's totally legit to critique the performance, but it's gone way beyond that and far into personal foaming hatred. I hadn't heard the not practicing stuff.

Wow. I am as baffled as you are on this, especially by the name thing. People have this really weird idea that rock stars (or, more ridiculous, pop stars) somehow spring fully formed into the world destined for fame and none of them have made up names and they all write all their own songs and play all their own instruments and design and make their own outfits/videos/whatever and never collaborate with anyone ever. It's ridiculous.

I got into a debate with someone over whether or not Lady Gaga was a "real" musician, not because he didn't like her music but because "she didn't do it herself." After I told him I was pretty sure she wrote most of her own songs, very obviously sang quite well, and at the very least played a mean piano he responded with "Yeah but she doesn't produce it." Which almost no one does I have never heard anyone say this shit about a male performer. Except for The Monkees, which is ridiculous for a number of other reasons.

Yeah, it's true. Women are just never doing it right--and I don't even like Lady Gaga but come on, that's ridiculous, that she didn't produce it so it isn't hers. That's like saying a book isn't mine because someone else edited it.

I liked her song, too. I think the vitriol isn't just because of her name - it's because she's obviously crafting an image. But to get upset over that seems to me to be as mindblowingly stupid as getting upset over a name change, so.

Just to be clear as day, I didn't know anything about SNL or the resulting outcry. The vitriol I've seen was all in October or whenever I found her.

I thought she was pretty terrible, but hadn't heard of any outcry until reading this post. I do wonder if the fact that her stage name was chosen by management and lawyers and that her wealth came from a cybersquatter (two name two Wiki-available factoids, if not facts) had much to do with it. If "Lady Gaga" had explicitly been born of focus groups and audience testing—which it could have been, there's just another story about it that has gained currency—perhaps there would have been outcry. The hunt for authenticity, even with stage names and corporate backing, is still a major preoccupation of popular music.

Maybe that's my problem, that I think authenticity in entertainment is vastly overrated.

I liked her strange, off-kilter voice.

Never heard of her until now but that song is OK, anyway.

I'm getting weird deja vu from listening to Video Games. The problem with my brain is everything reminds me of something else.

Edited at 2012-01-20 07:04 pm (UTC)

As someone pretty ignorant of much of mainstream music, I had also never heard of Lana Del Ray before this performance. I first read about it in an article online (it might have been Jezebel), became curious, and watched both of the performances on hulu. I found I really didn't like the songs, and thought the performances were kinda painful to watch. When I was done, I felt better informed over what everyone was talking about, then went onto the next article on my RSS Feed. Apparently, the rest of the internet has yet to move on from all the bashing.

Recently, I've begun to notice how disturbingly these hate-fest just rise up on the internet. So someone had a bad performance on SNL? Or someone posted a crappy video on youtube lauding the merits of Friday? I'm not saying that people aren't allowed to express their disdain, but do we really need to spend so much time gleefully tearing apart the human disaster of the moment? It seems juvenile to me, and reminds me a bit too much of bullying.

Recently, I've begun to notice how disturbingly these hate-fest just rise up on the internet.

They do, though it isn't a recent phenomenon—I do think they spread farther/are more visible than they used to be, because we're all on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

There's probably some sort of sociological study to be done about why this poor schmuck ends up the target of the moment, while that poor schmuck who committed the same crime of not being perfect in public doesn't. It's probably not really random, but sometimes it seems to me like it is, and that's kind of disturbing to me.

I just looked up her performance. It wasn't that bad. Yeah, she moved around nervously, but that's completely understandable. I really liked her voice, too. WTF is wrong with people? My husband (who also rolled his eyes at all of the outrage) and I just played a little game of Name the Celebrity's Birth Name. We got one rock star who was born with an appropriate rock star moniker: Mick Jagger, with an honorable mention going to Sebastian Bach (who was born Sebastian Bierk). People are so ridiculously stupid that it makes my head hurt.

I'd add Nick Cave to the list!

This is one of those cases that I am CERTAIN I've heard this song, but don't recall how. I don't see you made any links, so maybe it was off Reddit.

It's a mob mentality. A year from now, the same people would be hailing her.


I got it off of Tiger Beatdown.

...that I may someday put together the essay on "hipster authenticity" that has been rattling around the backbrain area for a few months now.

Even though there'll be research, and research implies facts and therefore fakery.

I'm really here just to say, holy cow, Englebert Humperdinck was preferred over Arnold George Dorsey? Golly, have times changed.

(I don't have anything intelligent to say about this poor girl who's being vilified for things which sound like they're not of her making. I do believe that we should get to choose our own names - and that if we want to have Stage Names, that should be perfectly fucking acceptable. Haven't these people ever heard of a nom de plume? Cripes.)

Stasia

Thank you for this. Seems like everyone is angry these days. I liked Ke$ha's performance on SNL but that was the last one that I really thought "damn, that's amazing".

On the other hand, I must blame you for sticking Florence + The Machine in my head. Like you, I loved that song the first time I heard it and I loved it the next 3-4 times. Sadly, it was in my head and playing on auto-repeat when I realized that it was full of stomach churning cliches like "it's always darkest before the dawn"

Well yes, some of the lines are cliched. But I give pop music a pass on that unless it hurts me by being ALL cliche, and there are enough good lines there to make me ignore that one.

Also, both Kate Bush and the (renamed) David Bowie came from money. I'm certain many others did, too.


The internet is the land of dogpiles.

I'd not heard of Lana Del Rey before now either (and I'm amused by your invocation of Lester Del Rey, which wasn't his original name either - a fact he successfully hid until after his death. But your mentioning her obvious stage nervousness reminds me of the one time I've seen Madonna (who frequently has to point out that that is the first name she was born with) on TV: she looked petrified! Or would have, if she hadn't been shaking like a leaf. I don't know what that was about, or if it was typical of her, but she was already a famous star at the time. I felt sorry for her.

I thought Ke$ha looked shockingly nervous on her SNL performance as well.

I actually thought her performance on SNL was pretty good. It was flawed, but almost every musical performance on SNL is flawed by the weird acoustics there. They've never solved that problem. I liked the performance enough to look her up online that same night and find out more about her. It was easy as there isn't a whole lot, but what's out there made it easy to summarize her as a wealthy artsy girl with uber connections, which is probably true and all, but it really shouldn't matter as much as the music itself. She was a breath of fresh air compared to the world of autotune we live in now. I hope she can recover from the hate being hurled and make a comeback of some sort. I'm baffled by how so many people could have picked her out of a whole lot of people who are worse singers but come from the same background to hate on. It's made me wonder if there is more behind the scenes reasons to hate her, but if there are, none of them are being brought up, and it's only the rich-girl gets-what-she-wants-and-overtly-crafts-a-different-identity reasons being employed as reasons to hate. I like her music so far. I'll listen to the album when it releases in a week or so. I hope it's as good as the few songs that are out there already.

I'm looking forward to the album a lot. I do think the prevalence of autotune even with indie bands makes us recoil from an unaltered voice if it doesn't have pitch perfect training, but I like that kind of voice. And you know, a lot of male singers are rich but no one screams at them about it, or even cares to know. I feel like this is kind of a weird tentacle of the Occupy movement, where because she has money we can tear her apart, rather than doing the hard work of the movement.

and thats what its really all about

jettcat

2012-01-20 07:45 pm (UTC)

The furor has nothing to do with her name, its because she's a crap record company construct.
No talent, just polish and posture. Put together by media folks with no care for the fact she's simply not good. Having said record company buy the artist a spot on SNL, because thats what they do...

Frosting on a shit cake.

Re: and thats what its really all about

catvalente

2012-01-20 08:11 pm (UTC)

Except the argument is that she has no polish.

I remember when the Pogues did a St. Patty's show on SNL, this was yeeeeeears back, but everyone essentially cheered them because they managed to finish their set without Ian McShane vomiting on himself or falling off the stage. Barely.

I didnt watch SNL saturday, so I didnt see her perform.

Some performers are best listened to in recordings, others have fantastic live shows. I dont see how some artists are worth their fanbase, but I dont go out and beat them up, I just dont buy their music.

I find a lot of the new stuff coming out is just cheap rehashes of earlier rehashes. Not much originality going on there. Or overprocessed repetative inane lipsynced ... well...

Names? Geez... if you eliminated every performer, artist, star, actor, whatever that wasnt appearing under their own name, there would be a very very small pool left.

To within a small margin of error, all professional musicians come from comfortable backgrounds. This is because there's a lot of craft learning to do which means you have to start as a child, which means your parents have to be able to afford the lessons and equipment and time and space for you to do that. There are a few singers who are exceptions, and a very few instrumental musicians (mostly punk, but even there most of the punk rockers hid their comfortable middle class backgrounds).

For authentic music, find your local folk club, or possibly even your local open mic. Of course, most authentic music is rubbish. But some of it is amazing. We were down the pub the other week and an old lad who's a regular at the pub but not the open mic or folk club asked for a spot, and did a fantastic version of a music hall song that none of us knew.

Lana Del Rey has been very upfront about having been totally remanufactured by her record company, and she's having to follow up a monster international hit. So that's quite a hard place to be.

I don't have a TV, don't pay attention to pop music (except when I'm at the laundromat and have no choice but to listen to what they're blasting over the radio) so I had no idea who this Lana Del Rey person was/is. I only paid attention because of Daniel Radcliffe. When people started snarking on her for her performance, I checked out her youtube video, liked the song a lot, bought it off iTunes and have been enjoying if for the past few days.

They say there's no such thing as bad publicity... HAR.

Isn't that one of those Indian martial arts weapons - kind of a flail with spiked sword blades?

Seriously, artists have a godammed RIGHT to go by whatever names suits, especially writers who don't want their nearest and dearest to be defined by what they write.

Having actually watched the SNL clip, I also wonder if some of the ire is generated by the perceived failure to deliver the glitzy polished *sound* that the glitzy polished *staging* seemed to promise. Like, if you're going to manufacture a pop star for us, please follow through on all levels.

She has this beautiful, sad music video that changes her song Video Games into some kind of awful, gorgeous love song to bygone America,

Indeed - I've heard the song before, but had never seen the video. It's haunting and wonderful.

As for the rest, yet more evidence that blatant misogyny remains socially acceptable.

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