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  • Lana Del Rey: A One Year Retrospective
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Lana Del Rey

In July 2010, law professor Jeffrey Rosen published a piece in The New York Times Magazine called “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” In it, he discusses the phrase “Gone to Texas,” which originated in America during the 19th century frontier times when debtors or the disenfranchised would leave town in pursuit of a new life in the still unsettled region of Texas. Those dissidents would usually put a sign on their home that said, “Gone to Texas” or “G.T.T.”, implying, essentially: “I’m starting over as someone else –- leave me alone!” Rosen argues that this kind of liberation was crucial to the American spirit, representing the ways in which this new society is not beholden to the sins of their own forbearers or their misbegotten youth. Rosen goes on to argue that this kind of a liberation is relatively impossible in the digital age. No one can just “go to Texas” anymore, and in his words, “the worst thing you’ve done is also the first thing that everyone knows about you.”

One year ago today, a doe-eyed ingénue called Lana Del Rey put up a self-released song titled “Video Games” on the Internet and shortly thereafter became one of the most highly public and polarizing figures in popular culture. The blogosphere seized. Who is she? Is she actually a talented vocalist? Has she had some “work” done? Then there was the ire provoked when LDR was “exposed” as actually not “Lana Del Rey” at all. Soon the word came forward about her previous singing career under her given name “Lizzy Grant.” Intimations of a wealthy father and connections to major figures in the music industry caused members of the critical community to become increasingly suspect. Was this a truly gifted artist attempting a Bowie-like reinvention, or was it all an elaborate ploy by an insidious music industry working too cynically to make her be the next big thing?

It can certainly be argued that Lizzy Grant’s transformation into Lana Del Rey was her attempt to “go to Texas.” Innumerable rock icons of the past 50 years have taken stage names. It seems pernicious in the extreme for Del Rey to be so excoriated for this highly common gesture. LDR’s team has not only played the industry game well, but also has played it as it has always been played, from Dylan to Bowie to Costello to The Clash and beyond. The outliers in this story are the sea of tastemakers, critics, and commenters who elected to generate incredible buzz on her behalf and then made a 180-degree turn when it appeared that perhaps they bet on the wrong pretty pony.

It all seems so long ago now, doesn’t it? Lest we all forget the actual events, here is a blow-by-blow account of The Year That Was — of how we came to know, love and revile (and perhaps love again) Lana Del Rey.

6/29/2011 – Lana Del Rey releases “Video Games” digitally “on the Internet.”

6/30/2011 – UK-based Stranger Records, a label founded at least in part by New York-based global consultant Peter Jenkins, releases an announcement that they have signed LDR. At this time, Stranger has only one other piece of news on their website, dated 3 days prior. They encourage visitors to their website to check out LDR’s video for her single, “Video Games.” The video is taken down shortly thereafter.

7/15/2011 – MTV Style blog assumes an emphatic pro-Del Rey posture, articulated in the unforgettable words, “ZOMG she is so important.”

8/3/2011 – Pitchfork names “Video Games” Best New Track, calls it a “stirring debut single.”

8/19/2011 – Lana Del Rey uploads video for “Video Games” to her YouTube channel. Many YouTube commenters insist the original video was better (scroll to “10 months ago”).

8/31/2011 – The Portland Mercury reports that LDR’s original iteration of “Video Games” included copyrighted footage taken by musician/artist Ryland Bouchard that needed to be removed and re-edited.

9/9/2011 – Video for “Blue Jeans” hits the Internet. The Huffington Post favorably claims that the video is added evidence to LDR “making a good case to be our next deep-voiced, soul darling.” The Huffington Post commenters say that she doesn’t hold a candle to Amy Winehouse, Adele, Rebecca Black, though some of them like her voice and the song. Much attention is paid to her lips.

9/12/2011 – Indie blogger Carles profiles LDR for Hipster Runoff, asking, “Is Lana Del Rey the next overrated, marginally talented totally hot female in indie?” The following day, he “exposes” her former identity as Lizzy Grant and shares photos of her “canoodling with industry insiders.”

9/13/2011 – Stereogum calls LDR one of the best new bands of 2011.

9/14/2011 – LDR plays secret show in Brooklyn as the “Queen of Coney Island” in preparation for upcoming sold-out tour dates. Brooklyn Vegan included a critique of Lana Del Rey by Amy Klein of Titus Andronicus in their reporting on the event, quoting Klein as saying that Del Rey (and America) is “narcissistic and self-obsessed.” BV commenters mostly used their commenting oxygen to trash Klein. The original critique has since been removed from Amy Klein’s blog.

10/12/2011 – As part of her sold-out British junket, LDR performs a generally well-received version of “Video Games” on popular UK music program Live With Jools Holland.

10/24/2011 – LDR wins Q Next Big Thing award at Q awards.

10/28/2011 – Interscope Records announces that they have signed LDR.

11/7/2011 – LDR performs “Born To Die,” the title track from her forthcoming LP, in Paris. An overwhelming 84% of readers of the Pretty Much Amazing blog find this to be “great” to “amazing”; 5% registered that this was just “OK”; while 11% say that “Born To Die” was “Not for [Them].”

12/7/20011 – UK’s New Musical Express names “Video Games” their No. 1 single of the year.

12/14/2011 – LDR releases video for “Born To Die.”

12/19/2011 – The Guardian publishes “The Best Song of 2011? It had to be by Lana Del Rey,” providing a trenchant defense and prosecution of “Video Games” and LDR’s unlikely trajectory. Guardian commenters are similarly ambivalent.

12/22/2011 – Del Rey releases video for “Off To The Races.”

12/26/2011 – Titus Andronicus’s Patrick Stickles covers “Video Games.”

1/4/2012 – LDR signs modeling contract with Next Model Management. Even this news triggers the standard ambivalence in response. Comments from the Telegraph’s fashion blog include: “She’s so gorgeous, I’m not surprised,” “She’ll be dropped just as quickly…” and “hmm.”

1/5/2012 – Two tracks from Born To Die — “National Anthem” and “This Is What Makes Us Girls” –- are leaked on the Internet.

1/14/2012 – LDR appears on Saturday Night Live, gives roughly same performance as she had on Jools Holland in October. This time, it is deemed a catastrophe of earth-shattering proportions, moving a gob-smacked media complex to pandemonium. She captures the imaginations of Juliette Lewis, who (in a since-deleted tweet) likened her performance to that of a “12-year-old in their bedroom… pretending to sing and perform.” Eliza Dushku also calls her a “wack-a-doodle” based on this performance.

1/15/2012 – Astonished NBC anchorman Brian Williams emails Gawker’s Nick Denton, says LDR “had one of the worst outings in SNL history” and questions the Internet hype machine.

1/31/2012 – Born To Die LP released, after having received a review of “bad … really bad” from Stereogum and a 5.5/10 review from Pitchfork, Spin is only slightly more generous, giving it a 6 out of 10 rating and saying that “This record is not godawful. Nor is it great. But it’s better than we deserve.” Meanwhile, over in the UK, The Guardian gives it 4 out of 5 stars.

2/2/2012 – Del Rey performs “Video Games” on Late Night With David Letterman.

2/4/2012 – Shape-shifting chanteuse Liz Phair defends LDR in the Wall Street Journal, saying “Lana Del Rey is exactly what I was hoping to inspire when I took on the male rock establishment almost twenty years ago with my debut record, Exile In Guyville.”

2/8/2012 – In an article called “Lana Del Rey, Internet MemeThe Atlantic calls her “the digital version of the electrified Dylan.”

2/12/2012 – Kristen Wiig stands up for LDR on Saturday Night Live during a “Weekend Update” segment. Addressing the backlash against Del Rey, Wiig (as Lana Del Rey) tells Seth Meyers, “These critics are absolutely right. The music stage on Saturday Night Live is hallowed ground, and I failed to reach the high bar set by past guests like Bubba Sparxxx, The Baha Men and Shaggy. In this age of dangerous school bullying, you have sent an important message: If you think someone is weird you should criticize them as much as possible.”

2/13/2012 – LDR takes one more run up the mountain with another live performance of “Video Games” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

2/20/2012 – Del Rey shows up singing a hook on Smiler’s “Spender,” from his upcoming LP, All I Know.

3/19/2012 – Del Rey releases another video for “Blue Jeans.”

3/23/2012 – LDR appears as a guest on American Idol and performs “Video Games.” Reaction is mainly positive – The Hollywood Reporter calls the performance “on point.” The Huffington Post considers her the “anti-Idol.” HuffPo commenters generally think she’s pretty, but otherwise terrible.

4/2/2012 – The announcement is made that A$AP Rocky and LDR are working together. Their first collaboration is to be featured on the KickDrums’ Follow The Leader mixtape.

4/3/2012 – Follow The Leader is released without “Ridin,’” LDR and A$AP Rocky’s track. The Kickdrums tweet that the track got “too big too fast” and that A$AP wants the track for his own record. The song ultimately gets released on June 28, 2012.

4/6/2012 – Del Rey is seen exiting Chateau Marmont with Axl Rose. The Blogosphere is agog with rumors of their potential romance.

4/9/2012 – John Mayer covers “Video Games”. Entertainment Weekly calls the effort “spare and lovely without being laborious.”

4/21/2012 – Lana Del Rey uploads new video for song “Carmen” to YouTube.

4/22/2012 – LDR covers Kasabian; the band’s guitarist Serge Pizzorno says that her cover of their song “Goodbye Kiss” for BBC Radio’s Live Lounge is “fucking beautiful.”

4/29/2012 – Del Rey appears on The Voice UK and sings “Blue Jeans.”

5/14/2012 – A Del Rey inspired handbag is released by Mulberry. Priced to move at $1250, Rolling Stone ranks it “among our favorite new ladylike accessories for spring.”

5/21/2012 – An old Keds commercial starring LDR looking her very Lizzy Grant best turns up on the Internet. She quotes Francis Ford Coppola in it, saying, “If you sit down to write at the same time every day, the muse always knows where you are.”

5/28/2012 – Bobby Womack releases new record produced by Damon Albarn and Richard Russell called The Bravest Man In The Universe, featuring Del Rey on the track “Dayglo Reflection.”

5/29/2012 – An instrumental version of “Blue Jeans” is licensed in a luxurious-looking ad for Nespresso.

5/31/2012 – Heretofore unofficially released LDR recording, “May Jailer: Sirens” is unearthed. It’s unclear whether this is really her, but it’s a convincing fake at a minimum.

6/3/2012 – Del Rey performs at L.A.’s El Ray theatre and debuts a brand new song, “Body Electric,” which is apiece with her other bummer jams. Rolling Stone commenters either love it (“She was absolutely incredible during this show!”) or hate it (“Just horrible. Simplistic, emotions less, [sic] forgettable.”).

6/26/2012 – Lana Del Rey releases trailer for her new video “National Anthem.”

6/27/2012 – LDR releases full-length version of “National Anthem,” which features A$AP Rocky playing JFK (Del Rey portrays Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe). MTV calls the video “controversial,” while the Huffington Post enthuses about Del Rey’s “flawless” portrayal of these historic icons, despite the song being called “transcendently dumb.” Well, Lana Del Rey, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.

It’s been a weird 12 months. So what was your best/worst memory of The Year Of Lana Del Rey? What had you forgotten? What did we forget?

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Comments (62)
  1. You just couldn’t go a day without a Lana Del Ray post could ya?

  2. ‘It seems pernicious in the extreme for Del Rey to be so excoriated for this highly common gesture.’

    Yes.

    • I think the martyring of Lana Del Rey highlights the crazy implosion that can result for new artists in the modern age of music criticism — that is to say, the age of internet based music criticism.

      You’ve got so many big whig critics like Stereogum and Pitchfork and NME vying to be the FIRST to review new music, and they want (and in fact, need) so badly to make the RIGHT call and give the correct review that any premature assumptions blow up in the face of the artist, and not in the faces of the critics who should really be taking the blame for their misjudgement.

      This time last year, all of the major critics sang LDR’s praise before doing a complete about face once her album was released. Pitchfork, Rollingstone…three major songs (blue jeans, video games, born to die) were already released and they were all jumping on the LDR bandwagon. They built up so much hype that that Born To Die was doomed to fall short of those monumental expectations. But there was absolutely no temperance from the media and no willingness to step back and say, “hey, this album isn’t what we wanted it to be, but its still not terrible” that they chose to roast it because there was such fear of being wrong. Now, again, everyone’s looking like chumps because the once-vilified album is returning to the spotlight, and this time, its getting the positive attention that it may have deserved more of the first time around.

      I’m not saying that Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die is a perfect ten, but its fickle reception was demonstrative of total restraint from critics, who were afraid to really engage with the music because the stakes were so high. Instead, they chose to pontificate about the drama surrounding it (which, admittedly IS fun to write about, but which cannot, by itself, sustain her or their careers). I think everyone needs to calm down with the obsession over deciding what team they are on, and approach her music honestly and just like any other new artist. We get it, she’s hott; but don’t give her any more credit than is due. And we get it, some of her music is truly original and promising; so don’t hate her just because she is hotter than the typical indie songstress. I think we (collectively, the music community) need to get over the scandalous aspects of her critical reception and finally give her just that: an honest, critical reception. Stop the violence, y’all.

      Sorry this post is already annoying and long, but I write more about this here, for those who follow the argument:
      http://jasperasalways.wordpress.com/

  3. Just because an artist has an excessive and ubiquitous presence on the internet doesn’t mean they’re important. I enjoyed Lana del Rey’s music, but to think she’s some kind of phenomenon or a ‘big deal’ is naive. She had her fifteen minutes of fame, now she can maybe focus on the music – she’s obviously talented.

  4. In the wise words of Mr Shaun Corey Carter. This is all so LAAAAAAAAAME!

  5. Well at least we know where Stereogum gets it’s funding…

  6. “[Stereogum] elected to generate incredible buzz on her behalf and then made a 180-degree turn when it appeared that perhaps they bet on the wrong pretty pony.”

    Fixed.

    • Doesn’t a complete a 180-degree turn mean not reporting every story related to her that comes along? Because that still hasn’t seemed to have changed!

      • Yeah, but now each report comes with a snarky comment as well. Like when you’re friends on Facebook with someone you hate just so you can get angry at everything they post.

  7. “Eliza Dushku also calls her a “wack-a-doodle” based on this performance.”

    Wasn’t aware of this, glad I am now, not sure why.

  8. One year of retrospectives: A retrospective.

  9. you forgot to mention ” Feb 3rd, LDR seen sporting new Ferrari jacket.” :)

  10. You forgot to include when Lana Del Ray caused three consecutive smiley emoticons. :)

  11. Bobby Womack releases new record produced by Damon Albarn and Richard Russell called “Dayglo Reflection,” featuring Del Rey on the title track. ———- The album is called The Bravest Man in the Universe?

  12. What you wrote:

    One Year Of Lana Del Rey: A Retrospective

    What I read:

    Dear Diary, it has been one year since I first saw Lana and she is the most beautiful girl in the world. Even though I’ve never spoken to her, I think about her constantly and I’m totally convinced we’re going to get married one day. She is my soul mate! She’ll realize that I’m the one for her and that I love her so, so much, we’ll be 2gether 4eva. Love, Stereogum

    • Awww, LoveGum <3 <3 <3

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Mate, I read the entire piece and dress it up in any theory you want or retrospective aspirations, it just reads like another unnecessary story about a marginal talent. I’m old, I don’t have to worry about being cool anymore or comments of the week on Stereogum. I just find it a shame this appeared on the same day the an excellent piece on Dry turning 20 was published. If we’re talking about LDR in twenty years like we are about PJ Harvey, I will gladly submit to the truth of your comment.

  13. She’s a fascinating character in the music scene right now. Mostly because of how despised she is. At least I find that interesting; she’s done very little other than a little plastic surgery, a painfully average album, and a bad performance on SNL and people are always eager to rip her to sherds. It’s interesting.

  14. Nice blow by blow. Even in this information age it is sometimes hard to keep up with everything. You missed a few though. She did free concerts at record stores in LA, San Francisco and Seattle In Feb I think. After her 3 sold out LA shows in June she did 3 more in NY. For the last 2 weeks she has been at festivals in Europe. All of these were warmly and enthusiastically embraced by her fans.The National Anthem video came out and within 2 days it has a million and a half views and an overwhelming Like to Dislike ratio. (Wow LOL) I was at the last LA show and I loved it. I went because I am a fan. I am probably older than most but what i enjoyed about the show was being around other fans. The good news for Lana is she is here and has a fan base around the world. It doesn’t matter if she plays to 1,000 seat venues for the next 10 years. The bad news for any “critics” is, well she’s here and she’s not going anywhere. When Andy Warhol was asked by a reporter, “What’s art” he replied, “A man’s name” As I get older I find over analysis and judgement of any art form, music, painting, acting etc. can make my eyes roll and in the words of the young kids think”Whatever”. I like Lana, that’s all.

  15. This wasn’t necessary. Investing time in a Premature Evaluation of Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Megallan or perhaps a comment party over it’s leak (haven’t had one of those in awhile and it’s been out there for what? three or four days now?) would have been a better use of resources.

  16. For someone who is only “famous” because the internet decided to pay attention to her, I still think she receives far too much hate.

    She’s not doing anything different than a million other people, she just got noticed. And while that certainly makes her fair game for comments and reviews, I’m not sure she’s really ever been “judged” fairly.

    Personally, I found “Video Games” interesting enough to give her a couple more years to figure out how she’s going to deal/work with that notoriety.

  17. I will make sure to cite this article in my forthcoming Gladwell-esque tome, “Lana Del Reign: What One Singer’s Journey Tells Us About Fame, Fandom, and Facial Features in the Internet Age.”

  18. 2012 really is the end of the world…

  19. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  20. if anything, they purposely decided to ignore this
    as should everyone

  21. This was great. I cant wait for the two year retrospective.

  22. Seriously, shut up, dude.

  23. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  24. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  25. What really made me laugh was how many people kept saying that it was Hipster Runoff who “exposed” Lana Del Rey as Lizzy Grant. It pretty much showed that not a lot of people really reads the Pitchfork articles. They just look at the album art in the Best Music Section and the name, then download it and show it to their friends. It also pretty much showed that Hipster Runoff is nothing more than a glorified version of Perez Hilton’s site.

    What I like about this girl’s presence is that it pretty much made a dent on nearly every single modern day cultural “institution” that claims itself as an “authentic” Mecca of cultural commentary. And now that these institutions realized how much Lana’s arrival facilitated the unraveling of their shortcomings, they hate her. Lol.

    It’s like a bunch of high school boys who calls every girl they’ve slept with a slut just so no one would take them seriously should the girls decide to reveal their dick sizes.

  26. I don’t know what my goal is in saying the following, but I feel like I should anyway, since we’re sharing our Lana Del Rey stories…

    I work in a record store, and we played the Lana Del Rey album a lot when it came out. Almost without fail when we would put it on, someone would ask about it and buy it. These people were pretty much always older adults who likely had never heard of Lana Del Rey before that moment, and as such had no idea of her history and its accompanying drama.

    It’s interesting to see the difference in the way people talk about her online – where it is essentially impossible to talk about her without knowing all about the surrounding nonsense and difficult to separate it from the music – and in real life – where people can experience the songs without any actual context and form their opinions free from that bias. This is not to say that everybody who hears it likes it, but for me it’s at least an interesting study in the concept of separating the art from the artist.

  27. Also quick question:

    Are there normally this many smileys per comment thread, or is this some sort of “Lana Del Rey Effect” that we are all experiencing?

  28. I thought this article was going to be about a new compilation album celebrating her one year in music.

  29. What the last one-year of Lana Del Rey has shown more than anything is the incredible hypocrisy and hate that permeates sections of American society. It also revealed the amazing shallowness and poor quality of music journalism, both from so-called mainstream magazines, as well as internet blogs. The breathless reciting of tweets from Brian Williams (a person whose only talent seems to be ability to read off a teleprompter, a job that someday a trained monkey may be able to perform), and Juliette Lewis (the doyenne of B-list movie actresses) to bash her SNL performance (including in this article) revealed the depths of lazy journalism. It seemed that somehow Lana had managed to antagonize the so-called tastemakers (Pitchfork, Stereogum, Rolling Stone etc.) who spared no effort to trash her by dragging out the most ridiculous accusations, without doing the minimum research that any 5th grader would be able to do. Oooh, she changed her name, tsk, tsk, no matter that countless others had done the same without anyone batting an eye; ooh, she is a manufactured star backed by major labels, even though her entire life since she arrived in New York (her concerts, nearly every recorded track ~80, her videos, her pictures) are all laid out and easily available for anyone to see. But once this same cabal had decided that Lana was to be destroyed, then nothing was off the table. Born To Die is without question one of the most original, fresh, amazing album, yet all the so called professional reviewers posted mean, spiteful reviews the day of the release of the album, which in hindsight makes it clear that they had not even done the minimum courtesy of listening to the album (the best example being the Rolling Stone review where 80 percent of the review of the album talks about the SNL performance). But what was most distressing was the reaction of a section of the American public that goaded by the media, unleashed a river of hate directed against a person they knew nothing about just because I guess she seemed different. I guess this is the same section of our society that joined lynch mobs, where beating someone to pulp seem a sport, no matter how unfair or unjustified it might be. If nothing else Lana Del Rey is a mirror in which to look at ourselves and decide if that is what we aspire to be.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • I don’t know man, but I think you kinda answered your own question there. I’m not gonna sit here and call it the MOST “original, fresh, and amazing album,” but can you name anybody else who’s doing what you just described? Love it or hate it, it’s at least unique.

      • The album has a sweet velvety jazz quality, with sexy and sultry melodies and lyrics. The entire album has a retro sound, almost of another era but with really cool beats and some hip-hop sounds to match. There has not been anything like this for a long time, and definitely not this year, which is what I was referring to. Finally there is really no resemblance between her sound and Nancy Sinatra, neither “vocal affectations” or tone or style.

    • Thank you for this review…I’ve been meaning to write something similar for a long time to respond to trolls like “frank booth” but haven’t gotten around to it.

      What bothers me the most about the cannibalization of Lana Del Rey isn’t that people don’t like her music––that is fine––but the cruel attacks they resort to to put her down. Like all of us, she is a person with feelings, hopes, insecurities and so much more. It takes an enormous amount of courage, originality, daring, and fearlessness to engage in art at such a public, and widely publicized, level. We should seek to foster such qualities rather than destroy them.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

        • Although I would not have chosen those terms, I think what makes you seem like a “troll” is that you would use a catchy phrase “a pastiche of Nancy Sinatra vocal affectations” to slam her, knowing well (or not which makes it even worse) that there is nothing similar between Lana’s singing/songs and Nancy Sinatra. The connection to Nancy Sinatra came from Lana herself when she was comparing her looks, not her singing. In the same vein, one could consider your comments “cruel” as you would use something you knew was not true to criticize her, I guess to show your sophistication and witticism.

  30. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  31. it’s a shame that it went from being cool to like Lana Del Rey to being extremely uncool almost instantly. . . i still stand by her.

  32. I had completely forgotten that Liz Phair existed.

  33. I wonder whatever happened to having tastes? I don’t mean having “taste” like being superior, or something- just having tastes, like my tastes lean more toward The Runaways than Liz Phair. Perhaps more to the point- Mazzy Star isn’t exactly suited to my tastes, so why should I like stuff that’s like a less subtle Mazzy Star? Especially when sung by some rich guy’s model daughter? Now, you can read that as a slam or an attack on someone or something, but I’m just saying it’s not to my tastes. I’m sure Lana Del Ray has something of great merit for some people, just not me. Why the need to state absolutely that she’s great or terrible? I wonder if we aren’t slowly allowing music criticism to become Youtube and Twitter comments….

  34. A whole lot of writing to say a whole lot of nothing.

    Lana Del Rey is just an example of how our culture builds up people and then turns their back on them once they’ve had their fill. Everyone was in love with Lana Del Rey and now she’s a complete joke, a punchline being told by people who don’t seem to remember being proud of the fact they introduced her to people.

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