The women of the Bay Area music scene are breaking rules and defying expectations. Lass Out Loud is a new column exploring their lives and work.
For an artist who often seems like she's taken one too many valiums, Internet sensation Lana Del Rey elicits a weird range of emotions. First came the embrace by Pitchfork. Then came the backlash. Then came the backlash to the backlash. At this point the Lana Del Rey sensation just feels like whiplash.
Del Rey will be performing and signing records at Amoeba Music at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9. For the second installment of Lass Out Loud, with Del Rey's visit to San Francisco looming large, we asked some local music-minded women to weigh in on the main arguments about Lana Del Rey.
1. Lana Del Rey got plastic surgery, feigned an indie aesthetic when Interscope had her back all along, and she's using a fake name
In simple terms, who cares?
"I'm so tired of the snob-blogs dictating music," says Tricycle Records cofounder Julie Schuchard, 38. "First Pitchfork sings her praises, then they diss her. Leave this poor girl and her lips alone."
The problem isn't that Del Rey has done anything more hypocritical than other pop stars on the market. The uproar stems from the fact that unlike mainstream consumers, who assume inauthenticity from their icons, indie audiences somewhat naively assume the opposite. Yet no one really cares that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta changed her name to "Lady Gaga" or that Britney Spears can't really sing. So why the hubbub over Del Rey's (plausibly congenital) lips, "Lizzy Grant" de-baptism, and inconsistent vocal performances?
"Listening to the media talk about her feels like watching the scene in Cinderella where her stepsisters rip apart her ballroom dress," says bartender Lauren Kroner, 24. "It's sad to watch, but then again, isn't it just a vapid princess dream? She needs to ditch the dress-up if she wants to be, or is capable of being, a real artist."
2. Lana Del Rey is anti-feminist
"It's not simply that she's artifice like any other pop star, but what her artifice draws on," says architecture student Hallie Chen, 26. "There is a particular visual language that her 'Lolita lost in the ghetto' look attempts to deploy that is saturated in a nostalgia for disempowerment. Lolita? The fictional little girl who was the object of sexual abuse by two separate pedophiles? That's what you're going for? Everybody uses sex to sell, but she is electing to be viewed in this voyeuristic manner, like the subject of amateur pornography, where the ambiguity of her agency is something she is capitalizing on."
For many female listeners there is something fundamentally disturbing about Del Rey's image. But in all fairness, the world's treatment of that image has been equally troubling in its sexist scrutiny. If the "she was asking for it" defense has been antiquated in sexual politics, it surely should have run its course in music criticism.
3. Lana Del Rey can't sing, her songs are over-produced, and she's a bad performer
"Until she started lip-syncing, I thought she was just this unappealing model they hired for the video who was pouting too much," 26-year-old comedian Emily Heller recalls. "When I watched SNL, I got this weird feeling. Kind of indescribable, like something was amiss. Then I realized what it was: She sucked! It's not just that she's boring. It's that her disdain and disregard for the audience is palpable and offensive."
"I view her as any other new artist," says Magik*Magik Orchestra founder Minna Choi, 30. "If they have at least one amazing song that gets to repeat status, they're all good in my book, no matter how constructed their brand is."
"SNL was Lana Del Rey's chance to show us who she really is as an artist," says vocal coach Heather Pierce, 36. "Unfortunately all she proved is that she needs a vocal coach."
"I'm not saying she's the next Grammy-winning artist," says Refinery29 editorial assistant Angela Tafoya, 25. "But at the end of the day it's pop music and there's no need to dissect it much further."