Turning Lana Del Rey into flesh and blood

February 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

Loving Lana Del Rey comes with baggage. When the Internet celebrity (real name Lizzie Grant) leapt off YouTube and MP3 downloads and into the brick and mortar venues of show business, her meteoric rise was scorned across the Internet. Her wobbly televised performance on Saturday Night Live, the bee stung collagen lips, her persona as an embodiment of doomed romance and an album that has underwhelmed many critics had many people shouting fraud and hype.

Grant, the daughter of a millionaire father, has been catapulted into the radiance of being a global mega star on the basis of the thinnest of CVs with her reinvention as a siren of doomed love and misspent youth. Her ‘gangsta Nancy Sinatra’ creation, Lana Del Rey, arrived shimmering like a digital mirage on the strength of three songs and three corresponding YouTube videos – Video Games, Blue Jeans and Born to Die.

So what’s a girl to do when the transition from Internet debutante to physical world star hits a rocky patch?

One answer is to hold the course and trust in the adage that all publicity is good publicity. The blowback from critical music fans and former fans has been directly proportional to the Internet multiplier effect that has introduced her to millions more new admirers and haters. As a corollary of that, the soaring expectations of an exponentially growing network of fans can easily outpace any artist’s ability to meet those expectations – especially if many of those fans claim a sense of ownership from having discovered the foundling star before her status went super nova.

The road to fame and reputation in show business has many casualties. It is when careful industry-crafted illusions get smashed to smithereens by the obvious intrusion of the kinds of visible levers and pulleys that go on backstage to project the polished image. Milli Vanilli, after winning Best New Artist Grammy in 1990, was ruined by a lip-synching debacle while performing and the English pop star Betty Boo’s early career in the 1990s similarly ran aground while Britney Spears has also endured slings and arrows for not being able to hold a tune in a live show.

This was the precipice that Lana Del Rey flirted with when she was introduced to millions of Saturday Night Live viewers, many seeing her perform for the first time. At least we know she wasn’t lip synching because she sang flat in a few places and generally looked awkward in the limelight of one of America’s biggest talent showcases.

It is a small wonder that the polarised ripples of American social media chatter stemming from that off key but strangely compelling performance has perversely served to help slingshot the name of Lana Del Rey into near Earth orbit. To quote Lady Gaga, meet the fame monster.

What is really interesting about Lana Del Rey is that she is a fiction and YouTube is her birthplace. It is all very redolent of a future for popular culture as portrayed by the Canadian science fiction writer, William Gibson. In his novel Idoru, he introduces a character, Rei Toei, which is a cyberspace dwelling artificial intelligence that embodies itself as a popular female singer who learns to interact and engage with her human fans. She is essentially a cypher or a digital projection of her fans’ desires and imagination.

While there’s no disputing that Lizzie Grant, the woman behind Lana Del Rey is flesh and blood, what is so intriguing is the idea that her star creation and alter ego really began life as a handful of videos on the Internet and then went through a shaky metamorphosis into real world celebrity, one that goes on concert tours and meets fans in person.

The emergent Lana Del Rey fascinates beyond the fact that her album Born to Die has defied the critics and become a hit download in 14 countries. She fascinates not just because there is evident talent behind the hype. She fascinates not just because Video Games is an extraordinary song that lingers long after its final notes fade. Lana Del Rey fascinates because she could well be America’s first popular music celebrity born of YouTube who has translated Internet fame into flesh and blood analogue world success, despite being since abandoned by many of those who made her an Internet star in the first place.


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