Something, something Lana del Rey

Published at the Toronto Standard

Lana del Rey is a calculated train wreck. She’s a pretty, malleable white girl geared to set off your most primal sensors of beauty and youth and tragedy – you want to be her; you don’t want to end up like her – and this by-design art, plus her yet-to-be-proven musicality, made her hapless SNL appearance inevitable. She dejectedly shuffles right, sighs tunelessly into the mic, and moves back toward the centre exuding more resolute tepidness. Repeat. It was astonishingly bad. But unlike much of the grouchy “told ya so” chorus that’s eagerly predicted an implosion since the revelation of LDR’s dramatic facial transformation, I don’t think this expected crash means she’s going to go away. Never forget Lindsay Lohan: we loll luxuriantly in the shot nerves and tears of a hot mess.

In the absence of any real body of work (ed note: what about her face? SORRY), Lana’s aesthetics – the blouse-y reservation, Lolita pout, twangy tragic bellow, dubious and problematic ‘ghetto’ allusions, virginal crown of roses – have been unfairly presented as her main narrative, the why of her appeal. It’s shitty because contra to the many interviews presenting her as a stumbling amateur, my inner optimist slants toward her being a very nice person (I mean, she volunteers!) and a half-decent musician who’s waited for a moment. But thanks to the aggressive churn of fame, that moment – the very being of a Lana fan – is coded, commoditized with exacting cultural relevance as the currency. I mean, if it were really about the music, we wouldn’t have let Fiona Apple go so easily, right?

We’ve long devolved into a culture that’s too willing (or maybe the opposite, too complacent) to accept dubious art. Lana’s defenders pithily point out that her shifty, unpolished performances and appearances are part of her appeal: blasé naivete as art. That’s apologist, acquiescent bullshit. If being bored, untrained, willingly unwilling while peddling statement-less drivel is art (ed note: DAMIEN HIRST), then maybe we should all stop caring, fini. At least Gaga makes a triumphant, breast-beating spectacle out of her thievery corporation. What Cold Specks lacks in interviewing prowess, she makes up for in feeling performance. The Weeknd epitomizes bored, reluctant pop star but somehow transmits transcendent vulnerability via nervousness during his very rare performances. A lot of reluctant pop stars have come, gone and stuck around. Courtney Love is the patron saint of crash and burn, and she (at least at one time) meant something by it. All that our easy acceptance of LDR’s deliberate dispassion signals is that we, the live audience, have given up.