Monday, February 13, 2012

The Notorious L.D.R


I know, I know, if you are anything like me you have read so many articles on Lana del Rey in the last six months that even the sight of her initials makes your eyeballs bleed a little. I'm not sure what it is that forces me to keep clicking through on links to blog posts and articles. I guess I'm searching for something I haven't found yet in the commentary on the singer-turned-cultural-object. I'm sick of the pointless debates about her authenticity, her stage name, her uncomfortable SNL performance. She is a pop star, obviously she is inauthentic, it is the nature of the beast. Name changes and stage personas are hardly news. From Norma Jean Baker to Stefani Germanotta, performers (and specifically female performers?) have been making active choices about how they present themselves to the public for a long time. While perhaps we should question this as a trend we need to stop behaving as if Lizzy Grant murdered our first born. And enough of this whining about her usurping indie culture. A) 'Indie' isn't a member's club - there is no governing body, you can't just exclude people you don't like. Anyone and everyone is entitled to interact with culture however they choose. B) 'Indie' is practically premised on usurping historical and minority cultures. Do 'they' (this mythical governing body) not recognise that the current nostalgia bent is totally reliant on purloining and exploiting existing cultural references? LDR is just an inevitable stage in the life cycle of indie trends: latch onto obscure object/style/image/sound, smugly bask in your sense of exclusivity, watch its effect ripple towards the mainstream, disown it as tragic and uncool when it eventually becomes popular, repeat. Interestingly this process happened in fast forward to the woman herself. Feted, popular and disowned within about a year.


You may be thinking that I'm about to entreat you to focus on the music. But I'm not. I think Video Games is a good song, I think Born to Die is a bad song, Her live performances are inconsistent and her album is violently over-produced. I like the husky voice and moments of pseudo-adolescent clarity but find the majority of her lyrics painfully vapid. It all averages out to a kind of blah for me. What I do find interesting is her image. Everyday we make conscious and unconscious decisions about how we present ourselves and del Rey is making decisions that, in my opinion, warrant closer scrutiny. I know that she has a stylist but he is a relatively new addition and her style was established by her first youtube video. Maybe there was a previous stylist, maybe her look was masterminded by record execs, I'm going to give del Rey the basic credit but really I don't think it matters - ultimately the visual concept was condoned by all of the above. And it is a look that LDR herself characterises as 'Lolita lost in the hoods'. Seriously, that phrase makes me want to vomit. It is just so coy, eugh! It is simultaneously meaningless and manipulative, thoughtless and cynically considered. It is like soundbite politics; a single phrase designed to convey that she is fragile and childlike, she believes in fairy tales, but she is urban and sexual too. Oh look, the best of both worlds, woman as powerless child and woman as sexual object. Grrreat. But you can't label yourself as fragile and childlike - it is infuriatingly fake as well as obviously self-defeating. Awareness of your own image and attempts to manipulate it are incompatible with childlike innocence.


And since when did childlike/sexual become not only a socially legitimate combination but a desirable one? Since when did 'Lolita' become aspirational? It is a fascinating book but hardly one to embody. I know it has been going on for a while but I think it is getting worse. I find the Japanese Lolita girl look, where devotees enthusiastically style themselves as Victorian baby-dolls, a bit weird but at least they are doing it for themselves. They aren't dressing for men, they aren't dressing for sexual attention, it is bizarrely asexual. At least, I assume so, I don't know enough about the trend or Japanese sexual mores to comment authoritatively. I don't think I have the strength to research it right now. The word 'lolita' is blocked by Google SafeSearch and I'm going to accept that even though it is ridiculous that you can't even search for the book (or in fact this post). But Western interpretations of the Lolita 'trend' are actively sexual. Lana screams sex, not in the sense that I find her sexy but in the way that she loudly broadcasts sexual clich├ęs. She is all pouting lips and come hither eyes and breathy whispered secrets and gratuitous car make-out sessions in the Born to Die video. But this is juxtaposed with childish affectations - flower crowns and cartoon t-shirts and plastic sunglasses. And these these aspects of her persona are enmeshed. It isn't that she sometimes presents herself as childlike and sometimes as sexy, they are always presented together and we are encouraged to view them as one.


(Don't even get me started on the right handed picture...)

And yes, I assert every woman's right to be contradictory. Every human's right. No one is defined by a single characteristic and it would be foolish to say that they are. And I believe that people should wear whatever they feel happy and confident in. I don't want to tell her how to dress but I do wish that she/fashion was a bit more thoughtful sometimes. Because, whether LDR started it or whether she simply rode an existing wave and in so doing became the face of it, sexy-child is in fashion and that is ridiculous and irresponsible. Fashion is transient and silly sometimes and there are more important things in the world but it isn't meaningless. It is all around us every day and it has a very visual impact. It/del Rey can't just go around fetishising and sexualising childhood and thinking it is ok. It is dangerous and it is not doing women or children any good. This annoys me in a similar way to Margaret Thatcher being 'on trend'. It is stupid and thoughtless and fashion should be better than this. It is embarrassing for me as someone who openly admits to being a fashion lover. There is just no consideration for the history or the consequences. Be better, people.

All this has been going around my head for a while. I think it helps to put it on paper. What do you think of Lana del Rey? Lover, hater, apathetic? In other news, I quite enjoy LDR when she is doing her trailer trash thing. Politically analyse that, please.

Chuck x

13 comments:

  1. I want to give you a big hug for this post, darling! A huge huge hug and a kiss because this is the best and most honest post about LDR I've ever read, it is, in my opinion, is million times better than all that overindulgent sweetness that's been poured over us lately (so much so that it gives me indigestion now).
    I don't mind her, but I don't like her. I do not believe she is a good singer (saying this as somebody who had 8 years of classical trainning as a singer, just chose not to do anything about it - can you imagine me signing operas? :D ) and she knows that sex sells, so she is out there selling it in a visual and whisper forms because it's basic, it's easy for the public to get.
    One thing I am pretty sure about is that she isn't going to be one of those artists who remain in a history of pop/rock music as a history-worthy, so I prefer not to waste my time on her.
    Again, massive thank you for this post.
    xxx

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  2. Amazing post, you took so much time on it! Well, I like LDR a lot but I never thought about it as pure commercialism and it's true what you're saying it seems very commercialist. I do love the way she looks and that it's appearing everywhere (even Vogue, in such a short time? Even Lady Gaga didn't make that and I think she's better than LDR). Love your blog, always something great to find and read!

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  3. Great post, I hate that sort of sound bite that makes people sound intelligent (in their eyes obvs). Nothing more to add. I quite liked Video Games but then I heard it about 1303957 times a day on the radio so I don't. x

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  4. What a great post. I find the whole thing really fascinating. I've actually just read a whole lot of blog posts/articles about her this morning, and have just started listening to the album to see what all the fuss is about. I think there probably is a lack, not of authenticity exactly, but of backstory, maybe. She seems to have just plucked everything out of the air (like you say, she rode an existing wave) - her image, her death fixation etc - rather than coming to it organically, which does feel a bit inauthentic. Of course, as you also mentioned, she is a popstar...

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  5. Fabulous post, you write so well.

    I guess I'm ambivalent towards her. I never really gave it much thought.

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  6. Great images :) loving your blogx

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  7. she's the best!!

    www.aroundlucia.com
    www.aroundlucia.com

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  8. really cool post! i totally get you-- and you wrote your point so well!

    i've never even heard of her; and well, i guess that's because i'm not interested in the mainstream/runway fashion world, but i do know how important it is for enterprises as big as this to take responsibility! especially today, on Valentine's Day, i find it so important to love yourself, and your own body, and to feel that bliss of valuing YOU, you know? this whole model thing somehow always turns into a hate-thing. poor clothes, they get a bad rep because of how the models are portrayed!

    anyways, thanks for posting : )

    xx

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  9. Great post!! :)

    xx

    www.sickbytrend.com

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  10. I'm with you in that I can't seem to stop reading every article online about her. I like her voice and think she has potential, but it mostly sounds very over-produced to me. It's funny you should mention the "Lolita" aspect, because I've been doing research lately on the "sexy baby" phenomenon that has (disgustingly) wormed its way in to the media as of late. So gross! Excellent post and very well written. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Great post! I've been reading about her a lot lately, too. I heard all of the hype -- and the backlash to the hype -- before I had actually listened to her music, so I feel that any view I have of her is somewhat biased. That being said, I found the Video Games video to be thoroughly captivating. Not so much with the rest of her music. I do find it interesting to see the reaction to her 'created' persona. When have celebrities ever been truly authentic? Are we that naive? I suppose people may have seen Video Games when it was just a viral YouTube video and formed opinions about who they feel Lana Del Ray was and should be, only to feel 'cheated' when it turned out that she was Lizzy Grant. I don't know. Whatever it is, she seems to have an innate ability to garner attention and polarize her audience -- so I expect her to be around for quite a while.

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  12. Fantastically written. Wish I could comment more but I just wanted to give you kudos! <3

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