Back in August (forever, in Internet time), a U.K.-based American singer named Lizzy Grant posted a video of her first single under the old-Hollywood moniker, Lana Del Rey.
The track, Video Games, backed a moody visual montage of the sultry singer alongside retro footage of palm-fronded L.A. boulevards and images of sepia-toned summertime nostalgia.
It was a haunting lament of unrequited love and sexual rejection, Del Rey cast as the forlorn beauty cruelly thrown over by an inattentive, off-screen male. Think Liz Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, except in this case Marlon Brando isn't secretly gay; he's just addicted to his Xbox.
Anyway, people liked it. Millions of page views have ensued, and the single has charted across Europe. Del Rey's first London show in November sold out in under a half-hour.
Her small North American tour was expanded to a big North American tour, and the next thing you know she was being featured in Vogue, Rolling Stone, and on the cover of Britain's Wonderland magazine (in see-through lace pants).
Lucky for Del Rey, her backstory is as charming as her visage: Grew up in a small town, left school at 18 to go to New York, wrote a lot of "little songs," gigged around with her guitar, struggled to makes ends meet. Ended up living in a trailer park, drowning sorrows in a nearby motel's whisky bar. Eventually cobbled together a homemade video and ... Ka-Pow! A star was born, fully formed, false eyelashes and all.
Sounds like just another flavour-of-the-month indie breakout, yes? Internet street cred leads to premature online success, etc. Yes, Del Rey doesn't even have an album out yet ( Born to Die is due out at the end of January) but an artist going viral out of the gates is nothing new.
The difference in this case: While the world waits, and the hype builds, the questions about her backstory have begun to mount, culminating in a backlash that's threatening to bring down the It Girl before she's even had a chance to "break" in the official sense.
Turns out that prior to becoming Lana, Lizzy had a "mainstream" EP out, called Kill Kill, which has subsequently been disappeared from cyberspace after she was scooped up by big-name label Interscope. This was followed by a myriad of accusations (most of which spewed from the sweaty, envy-stricken indie blogosphere) concerning Del Rey's authenticity as an artist or lack thereof.
She's had her face reconstructed, said the haters, and she doesn't write her own songs. Her daddy's rich and she never actually lived in a trailer park (a 2008 video interview you can dig up on YouTube would seem to refute this).
But the most damning accusations being levelled against her are artistic: that she is a manufactured confection – prodded, packaged and preprogrammed by a group of clever producers rather than being a self-determined artist who invented her own look, style and songs.
It's sort of quaint, more than a quarter of a century after the rise of postmodernism, to hear earnest cries of "Sellout!" If the music is good, after all, who really cares where it came from? Del Rey's projection of artifice, her swollen kisser and blank daisy eyes, can all be seen as part and parcel of her performance – that of a mildly disturbed, sexually aroused live doll, or as some commentators have described it, "Lolita in the hood."
Daniel Nall, an independent music manager in London who is close to some of the players behind the Del Rey project, said that hers was a case of an indie artist getting "flipped and upstreamed from a minor to major label very early on." This, he explained, "resulted in a perception among the credible music press that she was presenting herself as something she wasn't."
This early perception, he says, stands in stark contrast to more mainstream artists, such as Adele, Katy Perry or even Lady Gaga, who have always been packaged as big-label, rather than a "discovery" for indie-oriented fans to find on their own. Nall thinks Del Rey's got true star quality.
But some industry insiders, who've seen her live recently, disagree. "This really is the prototype for Hype 2.0," CBC Radio's Jian Ghomeshi told me this week by e-mail. After months of monitoring the buzz, Ghomeshi, who's also an active music manager and former artist/producer in addition to being a radio host, checked out Del Rey's live show at the Mod Club in Toronto last week.
He left disappointed – both by her stage presence and her uneven vocals (a sentiment echoed by many concert reviews posted on music sites). "The important part about artifice is that there needs to be content beneath the buzz," was his verdict. "In this case, there is going to need to be much more growth for that to happen."
Just how can an artist find "room to grow" when she's already selling out major venues, wearing see-through lace pants on the cover of a magazine, and enduring a full-scale backlash before her first album has even come out? It'll be interesting to find out.
In the meantime, says Ghomeshi, the delovely Miss Del Rey is only being done a disservice by the premature hysteria that surrounds her. "It all looks," he says, "like the dark side of hype to me."
If that doesn't give the poor girl a good reason to pout, what does?