Lana Del Rey. Those three little words first entered my life during an episode of Saturday Night Live on Jan. 14. Daniel Radcliffe was hosting and my streams were blowing up about this chick, who was supposedly awesome. I was interested, mostly because when friends and followers as disparate as friends’ moms, former office acquaintances, and that guy I used to have a crush on are all a-twitter about the same thing, that’s generally a sign it’s something to check out.
First, I was mortified. Not for myself, but for this beautiful girl who made an absolute fool of herself by not being able to hit a single note in her own song. It was painful to watch, but it was mesmerizing. I didn’t like the song, and I’m still undecided on her deep, affected voice, but her presence is undeniable. That girl, quite simply, is a star.
Soon after what I’m sure will be referred to as the “SNL incident,” things got crazy. She was spoofed on SNL in last weekend’s episode (Feb. 4), and not only were videos from her new album posted all over, remixes made, photos and memes created, and an entire header of a favorite blog taken over by her face for over a week, but even the Wall Street Journal published an article by Liz Phair on what she called the “Lana Del Rey Phenomenon.” It was getting out of hand and it became very clear that one of three things was happening: Either Lana is a psychic vampire holding the world captive, hypnotized by trendiness, or, hipsters have finally done the unthinkable and created something so awful and bizarre that in a few short weeks, LDR has become more of a household meme than Charlie of finger-biting fame, or, she’s a robot.
She started out as indie singer/songwriter Lizzie Grant. And, in the most American kind of re-invention, renamed herself, got a new aesthetic and hair color and may or may not have undergone pout-enhancement surgery. But the difference between LDR’s reinvention, and say, Gaga’s or Marilyn’s is, as Megan Garber at the Atlantic aptly put it, “Lana…is different from her counterparts in one particular way: She found her current fame, such as it is, on YouTube. She is not a celebrity so much as she is an Internet celebrity. And, as an Internet celebrity, Lana-née-Lizzie is not just a product; she is a possession. She is, in a very real sense, ours. We, the Internet — we buzzing democracy of views and virality — created her.”
Well, fuck yeah!
The most important thing that sets LDR apart, that thing which is so difficult to put a finger on, is she’s not manufactured by the “industry” or the “culture” like most other mediocre pop stars. She is a totally democratic creation. She’s the end result of virtual incubation, becoming all the best things we love and hate about the internet. And because she’s actually quite bland (especially her lyrics), she can become whatever we want her to be, open to being stuck with any label.
From Phair’s assertion that LDR is an “anarca-feminist” (that’s just in your head, Liz), to The New York Times Magazine’s depiction of a lost little girl living on her boyfriend’s couch coming to terms with superfame (we know you’re just trying to explain it to old people), to Slate’s incomprehensible comparison of LDR to Gwen Stefani (wtf?), it’s clear we have all been using Lana as our own mirror. We created what we want to see in a new internet pop star, the good and the bad, and poof! there she is, with some tigers and a fast car and tiny shorts. It’s also the explanation for why so many people blindly hate her.
What makes her truly special, though, isn’t what will surely be a mountain of critics insisting they’ve finally uncovered the truth about who and what she is, it’s that she can never be all of these things at once, and she’s actually none of them. She’s the internet’s newest toy, and she’s anything to anyone anywhere. She’s everything and nothing.
And, wow, what a fun novelty. I can’t wait to see what happens next.