In August last year a mysterious video appeared on YouTube for a song called Video Games. It went viral and has been viewed more than 42 million times to date.
It featured grainy footage of LA scenes - the bungalows at the infamous Chateau Marmont hotel, teenagers fooling around in a pool, and Boardwalk Empire actor Paz de la Huerta stumbling around in a drunken haze while paparazzi snap away.
Linking these shots was the singer, a girl with doe eyes, Brigitte Bardot hair and lips for which the term bee-stung was invented. She crooned smokily over moody piano and swelling strings about being obsessed with a bad boy who likes bad girls.
Her name was Lana Del Rey. You didn't need a very big shovel to dig up the fact that Del Rey started her career as Lizzy Grant, a New York singer-songwriter playing unremarkable folk-pop in small bars and at open-mic nights, wearing T-shirts, jeans and short blonde hair. And regular-looking lips. Lizzy Grant released an EP and an album that didn't make much of a ripple, let alone a splash. Then she transformed into Del Rey and that all changed.
Sure enough, after the initial curiosity and acclaim, anonymous haters were incensed and the blogosphere became a hornet's nest. They criticised her for changing her name, her musical style, her personality and her presentation. Of course, no one in the history of pop music had the temerity to do any of these things before. Apart from David Bowie. And Bob Dylan. And Elton John. And the Ramones. And Alice Cooper. And Lady Gaga. And every hip-hop artist in the history and future of the genre.
In a matter of a few months, even before she had released her debut album, Grant had already been through the deified-then-crucified story arc. A big reason for this was the fact that her rise was a direct result of that YouTube video. She who is born by the internet dies by the internet. Even the media started referring to her as a meme rather than an artist. In The New York Times, Jon Caramanica opened his story with the line ''It's already difficult to remember Lana Del Rey, but let's try'', as if her career were already over and he was writing about her as a pop-cultural artefact.
Del Rey's appearance on Saturday Night Live on January 14 didn't help. Her stilted performance was variously described as ''hesitant [and] uncertain'' (The Guardian) and ''like a child singing her grandmother's favourite songs, dressed in her grandmother's clothes'' (The New York Times). Even actor Juliette Lewis weighed in, tweeting ''Watching this 'singer' is like watching a 12-year-old in their bedroom when they're pretending to sing and perform'', which was pretty rich coming from a woman who fronted a band called Juliette & the Licks and acted exactly like a 12-year-old in her bedroom pretending to sing and perform.
At this point, Del Rey appears to thrive on the criticism. The publicity certainly hasn't hurt. Originally, she was meant to come to Australia in February and play in Sydney at the Oxford Art Factory. Even if she had packed the place, she would have played to 500 people. That tour was postponed due to the explosion of interest in her. Five months later, she's not only doing two sold-out nights at the Enmore Theatre (total audience 4000) but she's also on the bill at Splendour (festival population 17,500, see highlights below).
With foresight like that we should be asking her for stock tips when she arrives.
Del Rey doesn't even need to do publicity. Repeated requests to her tour publicist were met with responses such as ''Sorry it's frustrating, but we've been declined every interview opportunity, even if it is a cover story'' and ''Would you be keen on an interview with [the] Smashing Pumpkins instead?''
But the reality is there probably wouldn't be much point talking to her anyway. The interview would not be with Lana Del Rey, but with Lizzy Grant. In the interviews she has done, she's not particularly illuminating on the subject of her alter ego. Del Rey is full of mystery and drama. Grant seems to be a blank canvas who says innocuous things such as ''I like what I do. I like how I sing. I'm just a little bit freaky.''
It works in her favour not to speak. From Greta Garbo to J.D. Salinger to Prince, the silent treatment has worked wonders for those who want to do their thing but be left alone rather than have to explain every detail of how they do their thing.
The less she says, the more she's talked about. And there's only one thing worse than being talked about. Everyone from Vanilla Ice to Baby Spice can tell you what that is. For now, at least, Lana Del Rey definitely doesn't have that problem.
-Sydney Morning Herald
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