Time marches on, and it slows for no (wo)man. Lana Del Rey’s disastrous SNL performance is now a decade old. I think it’s time to reflect upon this time in pop-culture.
I’m sure most of us know the story, but it bears repeating. In her first few years of stardom, Lana Del Rey rubbed many people the wrong way. Her persona was too cultivated. Her lips were fake. Her breakout hit, “Video Games”, was too funereal and sentimental and weird. Lana was depressed. She was pathetically sexy. She was sexily pathetic. She was the froth atop a delicate soda float.
Now, the paragraph above is awfully written. It is incredibly self-indulgent and annoying. But this is what all the thinkpieces surrounding Lana were like in 2011/2012. Something about this woman and her music stirred people up. It also made them write like garbage.
In truth, her emergence on the scene was like that of a novel coronavirus. The media insisted she came out of nowhere, but she had actually been hanging around for a while. Yes, Lana signed to Interscope in late 2011 and quickly blew up. But at that point, she had been writing and recording songs for at least 6 years. Critics, though, would ignore her past efforts and assert that Lana’s stardom was artificial. Her own career choices were attributed to anybody but her.
Despite all the vitriol, Lana’s music captivated people. It was solid enough to withstand levels of criticism that would’ve tanked lesser artists. As a teen in 2011, I can testify that we were fascinated by “Video Games” and Lana’s mysterious persona. We were thirsty for more. We were dying to understand what lived at the heart of all this retro-icy-vivid music. “Feed us, mother”, we said.
Toward the end of 2011, Lana’s label announced that her album Born to Die was coming out soon. Amazing! Exciting! “Feed me, mother”, I said.
I was so excited when I heard she was booked on SNL. Did I watch it live? I did not. I was probably avoiding homework and scrolling Tumblr, reblogging pictures of girls with light blue hair. However, I have re-re-re-rewatched this performance so many times that I feel I was in the live audience that night. A part of me certainly was.
Picture this: Lana takes the SNL stage. She looks dreamy, in a white mermaid dress with her hair in Hollywood waves. Harry Potter is there. He, as the evening’s host, tells the audience her name. We, as the audience, give a polite little clap. A few of us say that weird “wooooo” that people in crowds emit when they decide clapping just won’t suffice.
She begins “Video Games”. She sings the line “you open up a beer”. Hmm.
She sings the line “take your body downtown”. Hmmmmmm.
Okay, she’s spinning around. That’s fun.
Why is her voice doing that?
The room is holding its collective breath. Is it a horrible performance? Is it nerves? Is it a collection of substances? Is it the sound system? I, in the Dream Audience, look around me. Harry Potter is next to me. The song ends.
Lana sings another song that night – “Blue Jeans”. I won’t try to summarize the performance. It’s iconic/it’s hilarious/it’s not funny at all, you guys are just mean/she does look great, though. You can watch it on your own here.
The next day, reporters and schmucks on Twitter had lots to say about the performance. Honestly, they weren’t very nice. Lana was the laughing-stock of the internet. Everything about her performance was slammed. All her critics jeered and felt vindicated – see? Old Hag Lizzy was So Bad. She was literally called the “worst SNL performer in history”. The publication Vulture was particularly rude, mocking Lana’s “timid falsetto” and “lip snarl”. The author, Amanda Dobbins, snarks, “how many moody pirouettes can one woman do over the course of four minutes?”.
Perez Hilton, a man who deserves no introduction, tweeted that “the OVERWHELMING consensus is that Lana was horrible on SNL”.
Gawker published a piece which called Lana “a perpetually pouty Instagrammed pout monster” and claimed she “stunk up the joint”.
Having watched Lana sing these two songs, I wonder if any of this criticism was fair. Was her performance really so horrid? I don’t think so. It was just really weird. Her singing was weird. She was nervous. And, if you’re visibly nervous on the internet, everyone will clown on you. Especially if you’re Lana Del Rey and it’s 2012.
A decade has passed since that fateful SNL performance, and I want to know what you all think. Was the performance really that bad? Do you think it hurt her cred with American critics and indieheads?
And, to expand these thoughts – what about Lana did people hate so much in 2011/2012? Why was she singled out more than other female artists introduced around that time?
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