Watching the internet freak out about Lana Del Rey is a lot like watching that “30 Rock” episode on feminism: things get confusing, complicated and contradictory pretty quickly. And in the end, it seems like everyone kind of comes out worse for the wear.
The singer—birth name Elizabeth Grant—whose debut album as Lana Del Rey was preceded by an unusual amount of press and a highly dissed and dissected Saturday Night Live performance (the fact that anyone is outraged by being confronted with mediocrity when tuning in to SNL is kind of amazing to me), has shot to a sort of instant and infamous stardom. “Born to Die” was released last week to heavy criticism but high sales, and already the musician has been animated in Taiwan, analyzed as a Lynchian character, and made into an internet meme (an honor previously bestowed upon the likes of both Aretha Franklin and Princess Beatrice’s respective hats). And while Grant seems resigned to the criticism, I can’t help but feel a little more curious as to what the internet anger is all about, and whether or not it would be happening if Lana Del Rey were a man.
Because, to me, being Lana Del Rey seems to be a lot about what it means to be female in America. At every turn, Grant is met with some form of a double bind. We make a marked point of always commenting on her appearance, building up the idea that her beauty is of vital importance to her worth, only to get moralistic about the idea that she may have had plastic surgery to improve her looks. We call her out for manufacturing a new image after her attempts to find success as Lizzy Grant (aka herself) failed, and yet we only pay attention to her and her music once she has transformed into her current “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra” manifestation.We accuse her of being all smoke and mirrors, but act incredibly put upon when she has the audacity to be genuinely anxious and awkward onstage. And while I can recognize that Grant has made her own decisions in this game, I can’t imagine a move she could make at this point that wouldn’t garner criticism from some sector.
Which is not to say I’ve been transformed into Lana Del Rey’s biggest fan, nor that I disagree with the argument that there are more talented or deserving musicians out there that should be seen and heard as much as Grant (oh the meritocracy kool-aid: so delicious, so plentiful, and so likely to end in stand-offs and suicides). But I’m just not sure the value of Grant as a musician would be such a central issue were she male. And while I won’t be spending my money to witness Lana Del Rey perform awkwardly in person (I live in Portland, the awkwardness here is free), I will gladly accept her into the female musicians club if it means putting more highly visible images towards the normalization of women in music.