Had you mentioned the name Lana Del Rey to somebody four years ago, they would have likely had an extreme opinion on her. More to the point, odds are their opinion would be less about her music, and more about her image and/or aura and/or the way she markets herself. The erstwhile Lizzie Grant had transformed herself into a whole new woman with a whole new persona, and it drove people to the extremes in terms of opinions. The self-styled “gangster Nancy Sinatra” really got under some people’s skin, and no matter what side you were on, she became a phenomenon. Now, four years later, it seems like, finally, Lana Del Rey can just be a musician, and not a cultural third rail.
The Del Rey phenomenon really began with Born to Die, her second studio album, which came out in 2012. If you don’t believe that she was divisive, just know that there is a Wikipedia section for the album titled “Impact and controversy.” The album hit big, going platinum and spawning a few hits, including her debut single “Video Games.” The music was interesting and hard to classify. She had, and continues to have, a very good voice. However, unsurprisingly, critical reaction was mixed. This was somewhat fair, as the album didn’t fully feel realized, but it certainly has its moments.
All of this, however, was overshadowed by the controversy and the discussion of Del Rey’s image. People were much more interested in litigating Del Rey’s authenticity, as opposed to her music. Del Rey had the misfortune of recording music under a different name than her own and being very particular about her aesthetic. To be fair to her naysayers, Del Rey herself clearly didn’t care solely about the music. She had a vision for her overarching place in pop music, and it involved a lot of retro style and Instagram filters. Some people find this tedious, and that’s valid. What was less valid were the accusations of authenticity.
Rumors and conspiracies abounded. Lana Del Rey wasn’t just a persona, or a stage name, for Lizzie Grant. No, she was a fraud, a marketing creation designed to trick people into buying music. Her family was buying her influence in the record business. In short, Lana Del Rey was inauthentic and, thus, was unworthy of her success.
A desire for authenticity in pop music, while an opinion one is technically allowed to have, is a tedious, inane opinion, at least if you are vehement about it. Just because the accoutrement of Del Rey’s ascendance was more apparent doesn’t mean she is all that different than from the vast majority of musicians. Were you mad at the Spice Girls too? Lana Del Rey essentially did the same thing Father John Misty did, but with a great deal more flak. There is one pretty glaring difference between those two that probably has something to do with it.
This should not be about people’s silly complaints about Del Rey’s authenticity, though. This is about how, finally, it seems like the seas have parted and we can talk about Lana without those social anchors around our necks. Born to Die introduced the world, by and large, to Del Rey, and suddenly she was prominent and popular, and the criticism rained down. In 2013, Del Rey released her follow up Ultraviolence. There was a lot of chatter leading up to it, and more discussion of Del Rey’s whole persona, and then the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and got a much more positive critical response. Perhaps this is because people had already screamed themselves hoarse over Born to Die, and didn’t have it in them to get as mad about this album. Or maybe people genuinely felt like Ultraviolence was an improvement in Del Rey’s execution, or they had grown accustomed to her schtick.
Then, last year, Del Rey released Honeymoon. It was more of what you’d expect from her, right down to her album cover. What happened? Honestly, not a whole lot. It would probably be an exaggeration to say that Honeymoon flew under the radar, but only by a smidge. The album sold pretty well, and it got good reviews, but it didn’t quite feel like an event to audiences, save for her faithful fans. While most people might see that as a negative, it’s subtly a blessing. Del Rey and her quality hasn’t changed, but the world’s reaction to her has.
It would seem that, now, Del Rey can simply make music. She can release records and be judged based on their contents. Her persona is no longer keeping people away from paying attention to what she is doing on her albums. Her voice and vision are wholly unique to her. If she cares to, Del Rey could even dial down her aesthetic a bit.
Lana Del Rey is no longer at the center of any debates. She’s yet another musician among many others using a stage name. She’s just Lana Del Rey: artist.