Lana Del Rey is a fake. Or at least, that's the insult most commonly hurled at the pop songstress. Her hair color isn't natural, her sad-girl act is just that: an act. But Lana Del Rey has made being a fake work. Nothing proves this more than her most recent single.
On Monday, Del Rey released "High By the Beach," the second single from her upcoming album Honeymoon. It's about, well, getting high on the beach. But it's also about a co-dependent, messy relationship much like the one that Del Rey has with pop music.
After crooning All I wanna do is get high by the beach, get high by the beach, get high four times, Lana Del Rey drops a gem for her most devoted fans: At the beginning of the third verse, she sings "Lights camera acción / I'll do it on my own/ Don't need your money, money/ To get me what I want."
It's a lyric stolen from another artist, Lizzy Grant, who performed the song "Put Me in a Movie," in 2010.
Lizzy Grant has a smaller vocal range, and she often sounds like she's stretching to her limits to hit the notes in her own song. She's a soprano. Del Rey is an alto. Lizzy Grant has smaller lips, and blonde hair. But Lizzy and Lana are the same person.
Lana Del Rey was born Elizabeth Grant, the daughter of a multi-million dollar internet entrepreneur. She studied metaphysics at Fordham University. In 2007, she signed to indie-record label 5 Points, and released an EP with them titled Kill Kill.
In every sense, she flopped. She was a timid singer. Her songs were too wispy and mostly unrelatable. On stage, she was a disaster.
Six months later, she managed to produce a debut album titled Lana Del Rey, a name that would eventually become her stage persona. And then she deleted everything about her existence. With the help of a new manager, she bought the rights to Lana Del Rey and swept it under the rug (an expensive and kind of insane choice).
And then, like a phoenix from a burning fire of a career, Lana Del Rey birthed herself directly into popularity. Her hair became brown, her lips puffed up. She didn't become more confident, per se, but she learned to turn that awkward girl into one that was a swaying embodiment of sad-girl feelings.
In "High By the Beach" Del Rey sings, "Everyone can start again/ Not through love but through revenge/Through the fire, we're born again."
In 2011, six months after her reinvention, she released "Video Games," a video inspired by old-Hollywood with blooming rose imagery and references to the 1960s.
In the interview she lies. She says that she'd been performing in Brooklyn since she was 17, and that "no one in the industry cared at all. I haven't changed a thing since then and yet things seem to be turning around for me. Perhaps the angels decided to shine on me for a little while."
That illusion of authenticity, of course, crumbled quickly. Music blogs realized that she wasn't quite who she said she was, and then she made an absolutely terrible appearance on Saturday Night Live where she seemed much more Lizzy Grant than Lana Del Rey.
By the time she dropped Born to Die, critics were ready to slaughter it. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times wrote that "The only real option is to wash off that face paint, mess up that hair and try again in a few years. There are so many more names out there for the choosing." Early supporters, Pitchfork gave the album a 5.5 out of 10.
It didn't matter. Regardless of criticism that said she was "fake" and "created," Born to Die hit no 2 on the Billboard albums chart and sold more than 3 million copies. In forums, many of her fans still say that Born to Die was her best album despite the fact that her next two albums also sold well.
Lana Del Rey manufactured an environment that would launch her to fame. Had she given a perfectly nice performance on SNL, no one would have talked about it. And Lana Del Rey knew that.
Lana Del Rey makes it obvious: pop music isn't "pure." Maybe no art is. Music, no matter what genre or level of talent, is trying to sell us something.
Taylor Swift sells us good girl power. Lady Gaga sells us weird. Amy Winehouse sold us moody. Madonna and Britney Spears sell us sex.
Lana, though, Lana sells us fake. And she does it well.
For the first single on her upcoming album, "Honeymoon," instead of releasing a beautiful, high-quality, professionally-produced lyric video, Del Rey just had the lyrics on a floral print sitting still on the screen. It looks like a fan video, but it's not. She faked a fan video.
The concept seems simple, but it's a meta-commentary on how pop music exists on the internet and where the line between official and unofficial meets. It's art. In the "High By the Beach" clip, Del Rey's hair flutters within a still image. Is it real? Is it fake? The viewer is forced to stare and question.
That's what makes Lana Del Rey such an interesting artist to watch. By pulling down the plaster and the paint of pop music, she shows us the bare bones that make up pop culture. She constructs hit after hit, and we pay her in our listens and clicks to keep on doing it.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.