Lana Del Rey and the new era of porno pop

She initially called herself the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” But Lana Del Rey is nothing more than Ke$ha with a better record collection.

Photograph: Nicole NodlandLana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey is a phony. So what? You won’t find birth certificates for “Iggy Pop” and “Lady Gaga,” either. Her name is a femme-fatale pseudonym tailored to fit her Jessica-Rabbit-on-barbiturates sound. In early 2010, Lizzy Grant released a debut album under her own name. Don’t go looking for it. The evidence of “Lizzy Grant” music has been scrubbed from the Internet. But photos of Lizzy Grant still float around. Before she became Lana Del Rey, the boarding school graduate wore her hair blond and her lips a few sizes smaller. Today, Lana Del Rey twists her fluffed hotel pillows of a mouth into a seductive snarl. Lizzy Grant smiled!

Del Rey’s rise is an echo of Katy Perry. Both had failed and buried early albums, and a subsequent rebirth under an alias. Both hollered for attention via shameless titilation. Perry kissed a girl; Del Rey stripped for a boyfriend immersed in his Xbox. None of this is what makes Lana Del Rey a terribly depressing pop sensation. The fact that the 25-year-old sings as if she just woke up from a nap on the floor of a motel bathroom makes her overhyped, sure, but not despicable. No, what makes her virulent success such a bummer is how Del Rey plays into the pathetic fantasies of the male music geek—and how well it has worked.

Sex in pop is nothing new. Pop is arousal. The large majority of radio hits have been songs about fucking, from Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” orgasms to Rihanna’s S&M celebrations and dirty pleas to “suck my cockiness.” Smash singles like, say, Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$)” are soft porno. The songs on Lana Del Rey’s upcoming Born to Die, on the other hand, take the listener across the barrier of the steamed-up lens, to some sad and fluorescent bedroom in the Valley, where moist hundreds are being passed to barely legal runaways.

Del Rey lets us know, repeatedly, that she is submissive and damaged. As cock-teasy as Rihanna or Katy Perry can get, there is at least the potential to spin their phallocentric seduction as girl power. No such luck with “Video Games,” which is glazed with the ickiness of a casting couch. In the song, Del Rey pops open beers for her gamer boyfriend. She chants, “It’s you, it’s all for you / Everything I do.” She has no identity outside of those who objectify her. She puts on his favorite perfume, paws for his joystick and promises to “take his body downtown.” She repeats the same line in “National Anthem,” then drools, “Holding me for ransom… Money is the reason we exist… Keep me safe in his belltower.” Depressed yet?

What is it that makes girls girls in “This Is What Makes Us Girls”? Drinking Pabst and cherry schnapps, until you end up “table dancin’ at the local dive.” The track is celebratory, natch. Then there’s “Born to Die,” in which Del Rey notes, “You like your girls insane,” subsequently offering, “Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain.” That last lyric has been changed to “kiss you” for the album, in a savvy bait and switch.

The singer’s meteoric rise will best be remembered as a brilliantly plotted marketing campaign. Step one: Lure the music critics, not the radio. Sucker the tastemakers with a moody torch song, “Video Games.” Step two: Shoot video in which she is topless. Step three: After the praise floods in from Pitchfork and The New York Times, release the inane bubblegum of her other material. What initially seemed like brazenness now smells like calculated desperation.

Of course, the critical backlash is arriving in unison with Born to Die. But it hardly matters. The hoodwink is complete. Del Rey no longer needs critics’ approval. She belongs to America now.

Born to Die is released January 31.

Comments

1 comments
Mr P

Fuck you. She's a legend.