I have just become aware of Lana Del Rey and the Lana Del Rey backlash.
I have the advantage of knowing nothing about her and only listening to two of her songs. And I can understand how the persona of a performer, or the marketing of their “story,” can be annoying as hell.
But we tend to place too high a value on the idea of “authenticity.”
If I started to list the number of musicians and actors who changed their names along the way or made up details about their life story (Bob Dylan springs to mind), we could be here all day. The idea that musicians were supposed to write their own songs or play an instrument has only existed since the Sixties, and the exceptions that could be listed here would also be extensive (e.g., Frank Sinatra). In the age of Auto-Tune, it even seems a little naïve to insist on a pop singer’s ability to actually sing.
My point is that America has a long history of consuming popular culture that is inauthentic in some way, however you choose to define that. We don’t like to feel manipulated by marketing, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that marketing and product are always connected. Some great works of art have been mercilessly marketed to us. Some things are tossed out in the marketplace and they kinda stink.
It often seems like it’s the fringes that insist on “authenticity.” Such outlets seem to say, “I reject the evils of pop culture peddled by corporate America, in favor of the sweet charms of this rough-hewn authentic piece of art, which I have purchased from this family-owned independent outlet (a subdivision of a corporation).”
I refer you to this 2007 blog post from Matt Delmont or this post from me, both of which touch on authenticity in indie music. You could also look at this post and this one, from a 2006 discussion of Indian music.
Let me quote from myself:
Whether it’s film, music or food, I’m always frustrated by one thing being celebrated for being authentic, while another thing is attacked for its lack of authenticity. Just because Rapper A means what he says, while Singer B is in it for the money; Rapper A is from the wrong side of the tracks and Singer B is from Beverly Hills; even though Rapper A attacks capitalism and racism, while Singer B’s songs are about going to the mall — none of this matters, in my book, if Rapper A is turgid and stale, while Singer B is bubbly and fresh.
Or, from a column I wrote that also touched on autobiographical works and politics, I could name names:
…we assume that the more “authentic” view is the better one. Rapper Vanilla Ice was unmasked as a mere wannabe gangsta, while 50 Cent survived getting shot nine times. Compare the lyrics of their respective hit singles “Ice Ice Baby” and “Candy Shop” and then try to figure out which is the more thoughtful lyric.
In time, I may very well become irritated by Lana Del Rey and specifically annoyed by attempts to shape her image in a calculated way. But I won’t reject her on the charge of failing to be authentic.