“What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.”
– Sir Francis Bacon, On Truth
What do we talk about, when we talk about Lana Del Rey? We seem to focus on her sumptuous lips, her ‘50s aesthetic, her glamorous posturing and authenticity… Yes, authenticity invariably comes up whenever the sultry songstress is deconstructed. At this point it is almost superfluous to write anything about Lana Del Rey. So much has been said about the 25-year old singer – a frankly ridiculous amount of newsprint has been dedicated to vicious diatribes determined to expose Lana as a ‘phony.’ But adopting an alternate persona in today’s music industry is not a new thing; it’s about as old as the industry itself.
One of the greatest songwriters of all time (Rolling Stone thinks he is the greatest) essentially cultivated an entirely fake identity. On Bob Dylan, the great Joni Mitchel once said: “Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist…his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”
So why do we have no problem accepting Dylan’s Woody Guthrie-inspired sham? And why do we all seem to take Lana Del Rey’s reinvention as a personal insult? Talent does seem to have a lot to do with it. Or lack thereof…
When Bob Dylan sings, he breathes an authentic air of truth over lyrical content that may not be entirely truthful. The question then becomes not ‘is this truth?’ but instead, ‘whose truth is this?’ Because of Dylan’s poetic mastery and general ‘rawness,’ it becomes unimportant that his persona is not genuine; we’re just experiencing Bob Dylan’s subjective reality. We don’t look at Dylan and think, ‘Robert Zimmerman, you lying Middle Class wannabe.’ Changing your name and drawing inspiration from the past is no crime. Justifying his name change, Dylan remarked: “You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”
By now we all are aware of Lana Del Rey’s (birth name: Elizabeth Grant) ‘real’ story. She was not raised in a trailer park by hippies, she does not write most of her music, and her lips are most certainly not real (come on, nobody was buying it).
The truth? Her father is an Internet millionaire, who ensured that his progeny had the assistance of the best managers and producers in the business.
In short: Lizzy Grant hit the New York open-mic scene in the early noughties. She failed. So Daddy stepped in and did a little makeover work. Grant moved to London, and began performing under the moniker Lana Del Rey (a fusion of Hollywood glamour star Lana Turner, and the midsized family car, the Ford Del Rey).
The thing about reinventions is, they sometimes work. Sex sells. And the smoky Lana Del Rey experienced a success unbeknownst to the ‘honest’ Lizzy Grant. Styled after Melissa George in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Del Rey oozed old-Hollywood charm. Guys wanted her; girls wanted to be her. She seemed to emerge, aesthetically-whole and fully-formed, into a post-feminist society; her ‘50s ‘House Wife’ codependence caused discomfort in an age where Beyoncé and Adele preach female empowerment. When Lana declares: “You went out every night/ And baby that’s alright/ I told you that no matter what you did/ I’d be by your side” – we can’t help but cringe.
The release of Lana’s debut recording Born To Die, confirmed everyone’s suspicion that despite the artfully poignant clip for “Video Games” and the smoldering torch-song that is “Blue Jeans,” her gimmick was limited; her talent even more so.
And so we find ourselves back to the initial question: Is authenticity important?
If the artist makes it clear that they are using an alter ego to try out a new sound (see: Sasha Fierce or Ziggy Stardust), or using a supplementary persona to create an artistic aesthetic (see: Katy Perry’s Candy Land pinup girl or Kesha’s drunk glitter-queen) the audience is happy to suspend their disbelief and supports the change. But when an artist makes every effort to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, and manufacture an authenticity, we’re uninterested in being spoon-fed their bullshit.
If we found out that Biggie never sold drugs, or that Jay-Z came from wealth, we wouldn’t take them seriously. Genuine tales of hardship and poverty are what make the two hip-hop heavyweights so intriguing. Same goes for Lana Del Rey. We embraced her unique brand of nostalgia when we believed that she was a Lynchian harlot from humble beginnings. But when it turned out her ‘authenticity’ was just another aspect of her career that was constructed by a multinational corporate label, the interest and hype surrounding Del Rey was severely tarnished.
The reason we are so angered by Lana Del Rey’s deception is that we so wanted to believe such an artist could exist: aesthetically perfect and soulfully sincere. So easily were we won over by her charm, that we didn’t spend the time to look past her elaborate façade. We were fooled. Like the devious Pontius Pilate, we asked for the truth, and didn’t wait long enough for a reply.