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.