Lana del Rey is hated in a seemingly inexplicable level. Her lips, hair and persona have been criticised as fake. She is, according to her critics, an over-hyped and under-talented manufactured bimbo. However, is she more manufactured than Lady Gaga or Madonna? It could argue that in order to answer this question, one has to define authenticity. Another approach though is to define the level of awareness that the audience has in relation to the barriers between the “real” person and the “constructed” artistic persona.
What most likely has made people develop a great dislike towards Lana Del Rey is their great marketing awareness that was unheard of a few years ago. In reality, they had the opportunity to follow her in ever step of her transformation. From the blond bob of Lizzy Grant A.K.A. Lana Del Rey (her first CD) to the pumped lips and the Born to Die era, all the evidence of her evolution is online for the internet community to see. Before YouTube and Google Images, her previous self would have been part of an archive of rare photos well hidden in the bottom of a draw. Not so anymore.
Today, the barriers that separated the then and the now are falling, shaking up the illusion of a constructed persona. This makes marketing and sustainable brand awareness harder. Lana cannot impose her nostalgia-full image when people know that she neither poor (as suggested in Blue Jeans) or working class (as manifested by her rich entrepreneur father). And the case of Vampire Week manifests, what audience hates more than posers is rich hipster kids.
With the success of “Video Games”, Lana’s exposure became a double-edge sword: she was an overnight sensation, but drew as much criticism to herself, as praise. The abysmal Saturday Night Live performance didn’t help either. Nor did the comparison of the song “Video Games” with Eleni Vitali’s song “Dromoi Pou Agapisa” (which to my untrained music ears sounds like an exaggerated accusation).
Having listened to her album several times, I attest that it is a wonderful work of art that quickly sucks you into a fascinating world. It is tight, with interesting production and good choice of songs. Video Games is breathtaking. Blue Jeans is a sexy little Americana tune. Born to Die is a classic. Dark Paradise is hypnotic, especially the first two verses with the twisted, dark lyrics. Diet Mount Dew confirms what we had been suspecting all along: she is a sucker for passionate love stories with bad boys. Lolita is a cheerleader anthem. Lucky Ones has a heartbreaking sweetness to it. Million Dollar Man has Lana’s signature sexy vocals and broken hearts. This is What Makes Us Girls is a nostalgia-filled teenage drama. And it goes on.
It doesn’t really matter if Lana has a great vocal range. She can be sexy and playful, often to the verge of sounding like a sexpot. Yet she can deliver an old-school fragility and majestic romanticism. She sounds like a fun girlfriend – as long as you don’t break her heart, cause her broken-heart lyrics will not be as girly as Taylor Swift’s or as internalized as Adele’s. They are going to be dark, emotional and suicidal.
From an ontological perspective, Lana Del Rey is two people: the being that consists of her true identity (which could be named Lizzy Grant) and the persona of Lana which is constantly changing and evolving according to Lizzy’s desires and the audience’s interpretations. At the end of the day, Lizzy/Lana is just applying the branding rules and tries to associate herself with certain characteristics, in the same way that a company is associating their new shampoo with cleanliness and pleasant smell. She intends to profit from the capitalization of her name and control of the level of her exposure in order to protect her persona, maximize current value and establish the basis for longevity.
If her branding strategic is a hit, she shall wait and see. In the meantime, we shall enjoy the music.