There’s nothing that defines my mental state during this post Peace Corps unemployment better than my lingering fascination with the Lana Del Rey Saturday Night Live appearance. If you haven’t seen it yet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zrvD-o8cII), you’re in for a treat. First, some back story:
-Lana Del Rey is a 25 year old white woman. Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, she changed her name to Lana Del Rey as she made her push into white celebrity-hood because the name reminded her of “the glamour of the seaside,” and “sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue.” Not, apparently, because it sounds misleadingly ethnic. She has been described as a “self-styled Nancy Sinatra.”
-I am a 27 year old white man. I recently returned from the Philippines where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. More recently, I’ve been floundering in a soul-draining unemployment in Denver. I credit the paragraph above for helping me realize that to say my name, one has to attempt to swallow the tip of their tongue. I have never been described as a “self-styled” anything, but I was involved in a plan recently to make custom Nancy Kerrigan tank tops.
Lana Del Rey generated a considerable amount of buzz with the release of her first E.P., but not enough, many have claimed, to warrant an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Now, I watched this live with my roommates and there’s no doubt that it’s polarizing. She’s weird. Before the episode aired, Del Rey had very little experience performing live, which explains a lot about the performance. She clearly has no idea what to do with her left hand (especially between seconds 45 through 60); she alternates between petting an imaginary cat and cupping imaginary balls. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it turned out that Lana Del Rey was actually a puppet created by Craig Schwartz in homage to the original Stepford Wives. It’s not just her body language. When she sings, she seems to throw in combination of letters and sounds that just don’t exist in our language (“do” becomes “dtoo”), and there are moments when she channels some combination of Nico and Eeyore. If her voice was an octave or two deeper, it would sound like she was doing an impression of a mobster forced to sing Karaoke in a sequel to Analyze This that doesn’t exist yet. On top of everything else, this song which both sounds and looks sad, is about video games. At one point she says “You open up a beer, take it over here, and play a video game.” People don’t expect music that sounds old this to acknowledge that it’s new. It may not sound like it, but this song was written by a young girl who has a thing for a young guy who likes to play video games. Lyrically, she’s not that far off from Rebecca Black.
So, clearly this appearance got my attention, but it’s the reaction it induced from the public that has been really fascinating. People haaaaate her. It was called the worst performance in SNL history. Here are a couple of the reactions people had immediately following the performance:
-Perez Hilton: ‘Just watched SNL. Not only was Lana Del Rey vocally WAY off, but watching her utter lack of stage presence was cringe-worthy.’
-Juliette Lewis: ‘’Wow watching this “singer” on SNL is like watching a 12 year old in their bedroom when they’re pretending to sing and perform.’
Matt Dentler: ‘Lana Del Rey definitely missed a few notes on “Video Games.” Might be awhile until SNL books such a newbie.’
Harsh criticism from some of America’s brightest minds. Within a few days there was a rumor that she had canceled her upcoming tour so she could practice more, and “get some distance from the SNL appearance.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been away from America and its strange strange media for a while, or maybe it’s because I’m unemployed and I’m looking for distractions, but it’s crazy to me that people have been so…I don’t know, mean. It was so bad that Daniel Radcliffe’s support of her performance became news worthy (well, if you’re looking hard enough). As they point out in the SNL parody a week after her appearance, it’s absurd to think that appearing on the show is an honor reserved for music’s elite. Yeah Paul McCartney and Frank Zappa have played on SNL, but so have Unkle Kracker and the Baha Men. What makes Lana Del Rey unacceptable is that she’s weird, and more than that, it’s a kind of weird that people don’t know what to do with. It’s actually a bit reminiscent of the reaction people had to the Sinead O’Connor appearance (aside from the political/religious significance, the baldness, and the musical ability).
Now a confession: I am completely aware that none of this is that interesting. Most people who watched her performance thought A) it was really bad or B) it’s not that bad and people should calm down. I’ve sat in five different coffee shops watching this video and thinking about what it means. This is the behavior of a completely vagrant mind looking for anything to concentrate on that isn’t on Craigslist. It’s amazing how little one can accomplish when they’re trying to avoid thinking about their life. I spent thirty consecutive minutes today thinking about how genuinely I appreciate coffee each day, followed by an additional thirty thinking about how sad I got after finishing coffee. Yesterday, I considered writing the Words With Friends people and imploring them to raise the value of the letter V (I stand by this. Without an E to supplement it, you feel utterly shackled to the V). Maybe, I’m Lana Del Rey target’s audience. Maybe she was throwing me a bone, saying “Here you go trav, watch me slowly turn in a circle, like a nearly-alive edible plastic bride floating above a shimmering wedding cake, waiting for a groom who will never show up. I’ll rhyme ‘you’ with ‘do’ and ‘knew’ and ‘two’ and then ‘you’ and ‘do’ all over again. I’ll first make you wonder if I’m on something, and then make you consider whether or not you’re on something. I’ll take the knocks from the media, I don’t mind. You share a room with another 27 year old man, you have a degree from an arts school, your credit card debt is almost exactly what the Peace Corps paid you all of last year, and you spent the morning trying to figure out how you could have seen the first half of Valentine’s Day ten times, without ever seeing the ending. ‘It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you.’”