Here’s an exercise in pop culture research. Gather together a focus group of 15-30-year-old females. Ask them to raise their hands if they have an opinion on a certain sultry, vampish singer/songwriter with bee-stung lips. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single one who hasn’t dedicated some time to extensive adoration or snarky comments on the self-proclaimed ‘Gangster Nancy Sinatra’. Lana Del Rey, born Lizzie Grant, has captivated the public sphere since she entered the airwaves and burst onto youtube with videos reminiscent of an instagram party.
With varying degrees of intensity and preference, Del Rey’s not only a muse for feminine performance, but for online lady-hate. With hair that flows in long, mermaid-like waves and eyes plucked straight from an advertisement for lash enhancements, she’s the perfect target for pop-culture obsession and blogosphere flaming. Whether you love her or loathe her, Del Rey has an otherness which has seen her transform from small-town singer and self-identifying jump-rope queen, to international starlet and magazine cover star. Perhaps even more interestingly, she’s been catapulted to pedestal pin-up girl status for lesbians. She’s the eye candy jackpot for any girl with a tumblr, but it’s Del Rey’s sapphic fan club that’s become enchanted with a feverish lust. What is it, exactly, about Del Rey that captivates queer ladies?
Long before she posed for a photo kissing her sister (who is funnily enough a dead ringer for Jennifer Lawrence), Lizzie Grant’s stage persona Lana Del Rey sparked a blogosphere dialogue within feminist music-snob circles, not to mention providing visual material for Lana-on-girl fan-fiction. And then acting as Jaime King’s heart-broken girlfriend in the sepia wet dream video for ‘Summertime Sadness’ cemented her Megan Fox-style lesbo-celebrity status. But is she really as sexually fluid as she seems?
Del Rey fits the bill as a yummy, cherry-scented thing. She’s got sensuality up to her eyeballs, a series of videos that are as dreamy as they are melancholy, and lyrics which polarise for their lovelorn content and anti-feminist symbolism (if you haven’t heard ‘Put Me in a Movie’, have a listen below. Then we’ll talk gender theory). Lana’s femininity and air of fragility is perceived by all, both straight and gay, as her MO. It’s a performance, no doubt, and who doesn’t love the theatre?
Of all the things Lana’s fan base knows for sure, it’s that she’s not really, well, real. But when it comes to selecting the flavour of the week, month or year, integrity is trivial. People love her for her seemingly DIY aesthetic, even if she’s been accused by haters of Trojan-horsing her way into the charts via a blanketed Interscope Records deal.
Speaking with a circle of lady-loving Lana fans, the consensus seemed to be in favour of her appearance, collagen or no. “She’s fucking hot!”; “She has the most perfect features!”; “She’s so perfect!” Etc, etc ad nauseum. All replies about Del Rey’s appeal revolved around her physical traits, all suffixed with exclamation points. But what about that smokey, smoldering voice? Those lovelorn lyrics? “I wouldn’t say she’s a musical genius, [but] her voice is amazing,” one girl states.
She’s certainly an attractive girl, but what of authenticity? She sings of being bad, with a partner in crime “by her heavenly side”, “running from the cops in black bikini tops”, and “skippin’ heart beats with the boys downtown”. Regardless of whether it is a put-on, the smoke and mirrors has us mesmerized, and Del Rey’s fan base seems to care an awful lot about her, maybe even more so than her “little Bambi eyes”.
For many of her Sapphic supporters, it’s her vulnerability that keeps them hooked. “She sings about being bad and dangerous, but she has a real air of sweetness and fragility about her,” was a rather interesting response from a friend. For a person with an image that’s built upon manufacturing, Del Rey’s mystique and tenderness certainly overcomes any Pitchfork condemnation
The argument for and against authenticity is a tired one. Ditto for girl-on-girl imagery as a marketing tool. You need only look to the examples of Tatu and that Britney and Madonna MTV pash for examples of publicity fueled by lesbian sensuality. It gets attention, it subverts the norm, and it’s the ultimate cool with its rebellion against conservatism.
Though she might be subverting the social norms on that front, her lyrical content is a bit more backward. She’s been called an anti-feminist, and to quote Evan Rytlewski from The AV Club
, “a one-note vixen who’s so solely self-defined by her feminine allure that sexual rejection undermines her reason for being.” The thing with Del Rey though, is that no one seems to care.
Whether she’s selling records, selling clothing
or jumping off bridges in the midst of forsaken gloom, leaving her girlfriend to mourn her demise, Del Rey has her target market hooked. Maybe she’ll make a video game or an updated version of chess and that will sell just as well as her records, and then naysayers can condemn the authenticity of board games created by non-chess players. Lana Del Rey – check mate.