Overexposed: Lana Del Rey, Saturday Night Live, and How Indie Music Hype Cannibalizes Its Young
Lana Del Rey has been built up over the last few months as the great white hope for music in 2012, a songwriter with the creativity to push herself in a unique direction while crafting music with hooks that are timeless and unforgettable. She's "the gangster Nancy Sinatra," a sultry musical minx who pouts her lips and controls the world.
Two weeks before her album Born To Die was set to release, she became the second artist to appear as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live who had not yet actually issued an album. She was a YouTube sensation, a modern example of where internet marketing can get you.
Hours after her performance, however, the ground was shaking beneath her career as a backlash mounted and the internet which built her up began rabidly tearing her down.
To get a better idea of what happened, it's worth taking a look at a sketch which had aired earlier in the episode of SNL called "You Can Do Anything." Vanessa Bayer and Bill Hader are hosts of a talk show touting the modern generation of YouTube sensations. "Now, thanks to technology, and everyone being huge pussies about everything, it doesn't matter if you have skills or training or … experience, you can do it!" Hader says, describing a trio of inept performers who all feel they're more famous than they truly are.
The rise of Lana Del Rey mirrors that sketch in a way which makes it seem oddly prescient in regard to what was coming when the singer would soon take the stage to perform her biggest hit to date, "Video Games." She'd worked under her birth name, Lizzie Grant, for years and even got a recording deal with an independent label, but when "Video Games" became a hit on YouTube, she soon found herself signed to Interscope Records, which gave her the ability to fully eliminate the Lizzie Grant background details and fully become Lana Del Rey. Then the press run began, building her up relentlessly as the next big thing in music, when really her only experience had been in the studio.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you're good at making videos, in an arena where you can tweak things until they're exactly the version of your inner thoughts you want to release to the world, that's perfectly reasonable. So is recording music in a studio, where a good singer can sound confident and assured, never having to step outside her comfort zone.
But on a live stage – particularly SNL's live stage, appearing before millions on an iconic television show where image and sound don't always blissfully mix – there's not always a guarantee that you'll get it right. One take, in front of a live audience, can make or break your carefully crafted public image. In the space of ninety minutes, a carefully built world where Lana Del Rey could be considered one of 2012's surest things becomes one where the two-week wait to actually hear her debut album becomes a gauntlet she'll have to run, hoping that she can survive the backlash and emerge at the other end unscathed.