Rachel del Valle | Behind the grungy glam of Lana Del Rey
Duly Noted | Her retro look isn’t the only old-fashioned thing about her
January 30, 2012, 1:14 am·
Rachel del Valle
Everyone’s buzzing about her. Her album, Born to Die, which was leaked online last week, officially drops today. She was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” on the basis of two YouTube videos. She’s landed a modeling contract. She’s 25 years old. She’s Lana del Rey.
The Lolita-like singer is weirdly intriguing. She presents herself as one-dimensional but that image — the smoky voice, penciled eyebrows and gaudy gold hoops — has garnered her millions of fans. The purportedly self-produced video to her song “Video Games,” which was uploaded on YouTube this summer, has since garnered her over 20 million views, a record deal and a lot of hype.
Del Rey is facing backlash, mainly because her live performances — namely those on SNL two weeks ago — don’t match up with her studio recordings. But as Ashlee Simpson showed us in 2004, it’s not impossible to bounce back from a poor showing on SNL. If anything, the badness of Del Rey’s performance has only added to her mystique.
There’s something about her that irritates me. And it’s not just the whole hipster in me hating anything-that-gets-popular. It’s the way her persona is so full of eyelash batting and breathiness. Her nervousness, the way she uses the word “beautiful” to describe her music — all of it seems contrived.
But her hair isn’t the only part of her that’s a throwback. Del Rey’s rise to fame is old-fashioned in its own way, too.
She was born as Lizzy Grant, the daughter of a successful real estate developer in upstate New York. She claims to have spent time in both a Connecticut boarding school and a New Jersey trailer park. A couple years ago, she released an album under her given name, which was shelved after two months on iTunes. Then she became Lana Del Rey and things started looking up.
This sort of ingenue packaging is nothing new. Take Marilyn Monroe, for example, a brunette born Norma Jeane Baker. A couple bottles of peroxide and swipes of mascara later and she became the iconic blonde of the 20th century.
Pop stars like Katy Perry, born Katheryn Hudson, Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta) and Nicki Minaj (Onika Maraj) have similar stories of name changing and label styling. But the relatively unique look and sound of each of these stars lacks the kind of hazy sexiness Del Rey aims for. Perry and Minaj flirt with the retro styling of Bettie Page bangs and bustiers — but appeal more to empowerment than objectification.
It’s no secret that flaunting sex appeal is a prerequisite for being a pop star. But there’s a fine line between owning your attractiveness and being eclipsed by it. Del Rey is more defined by her appearance than she should be.
Maybe it’s because her music videos play like a live action Urban Outfitters catalog. “Video Games” features grainy footage of streets, flowers and skateboarders, spliced with shots of Del Rey standing in front of a wall, pouting her lips.
The Billboard Magazine cover story on Del Rey earlier this month questions just how organic her popularity is. Her premature icon status arose from what Billboard calls a “gone-viral marketing method.”
Interscope signed a record deal with her after “Video Games” went viral and footed the bill for her subsequent videos and album. The video for “Born to Die” opens with Del Rey topless, leaning against a tattooed guy. It ends with her blood-covered and dead in his arms.
It’s troublesome that women can still be molded into sex kittens in order to sell an album or tickets to a movie. Maybe I’m naive, but I had the impression that there was more autonomy in shaping your identity as a celebrity than ever before. Del Rey’s corporately-engineered rise to fame smacks against all that.
She’s a self-proclaimed “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Which makes me wonder — does she know who Nancy Sinatra is? I can’t imagine Del Rey telling anyone that she’s going to “walk all over” them with her boots. Maybe her producers would say something like that, but her disposition is too docile for that kind of aggression.
Despite her girliness, there’s no girl power in her music or her persona.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Duly Noted appears every Monday.