by: Justin Ray
The debut album of budding artist Lana Del Rey is entitled “Born to Die,” and it just so happens that I would describe her debut on Saturday Night Live with the same phrase.
I’m not going to go into her history in great detail, because there already exists many articles that do just that. And if you are reading this, you probably know all about the initial controversy about her authenticity, her collagen-filled Daffy Duck lips and her overall perceived record label constructed image. Her controversy preceded a now infamous performance on SNL resulting backlash was so sharp even Janet Jackson probably said DAMN.
The point is: Lana Dey Rey had a lot of pressure on her to put on a performance that would legitimize all the hype built around her — and honestly, there was a LOT of hype. She has been written about on countless blogs, has been featured on MTV, Rolling Stone and Fader, and even landed on the noteworthy British program Jools Holland, having actually already charted reasonably well on U.K. charts. Also, Billboard magazine and Interview recently featured her on their covers.
Adding more pressure was the fact that she landed the gig of SNL before her album was released. I believe the last person to accomplish this feat before Lana was Jessie J, and if you know anything about Jessie J’s live performances, you could see why doing so may be warranted in some cases. Homegirl slays.
So, SNL decided to book the songstress for her first U.S. televised appearance, and the rest is online shit-talking history.
She trended on Twitter with countless people writing 140 character Z-snap style tweets. People said things like, “The funniest sketches on SNL were Lana Del Rey’s performances.” People likened her to Rebecca Black. Someone even said, “Lana Del Rey is my least favorite Kristen Wiig character.”
However, the backlash was unfair. Yes, she was visibly nervous, and yes, she sounded like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to sound like Fiona Apple or Gwen Stefani, but the bigger issue is the fact that she was myopically allowed to perform on the notoriously hard venue as her first performance. Plus, she is obviously still getting used to singing with her new lips.
I think all in all, people are responding to the media pushing her so hard and her failure to live up to the hype — and, to that extent, people were legitimate in their criticisms. With all of her mentions in the mainstream media, it felt like she was famous before she was liked.
She also comes to the industry at a time when music is being put in the background. The music industry right now is filled with artists who had talent (and many who don’t) but needed personas to get recognition. It’s sad, but the squeaky wheel gets the fame. Consequently, people are skeptical of her sudden ascension into prevalence. Not only that but she has arrived after Adele dominated this year, and she is a hard act to follow.
Most especially, Lana Del Rey shouldn’t have performed on SNL as her first U.S. television appearance. Her rise to fame was inappropriately lightning fast for such a big honor. Hell, it took Gaga four top ten hits, a multi-platinum album, appearances on every possible media source you can imagine and a hairbow before appearing on SNL.
She is slated to perform on Letterman and Ellen in the coming weeks  and either of those venues would have been better as a debut. If she would have bombed there, it would have been less catastrophic.
Another point is that her music is very subtle: she just isn’t made to be a stadium singer. Even a good performance would have been sort of underwhelming.
Aside from the hype, her music is actually pretty interesting, understated and very unique. The large arrangement on the song “Born to Die” combined with her nonchalant, Nancy Sinatra vocals fashion a very seductive track. Her voodoo aesthetic on “You Can Be the Boss” is sexy in a refreshing way. And whether you hate LDR or not, you know that “Video Games” is a good song.
Furthermore, her liner notes say that she co-writes her songs, and although I can’t say if that’s just lip service or not, I’m inclined to believe she does play a large role. When she was a singer/songwriter before she became famous, her songs had a similar flavor.
So now, the question is: what will become of LDR? Will she be able to recover from the harsh criticism from the very forum that made her famous? My guess is that she will be able to move albums at least. One can’t deny she has a fan base. Along with the posts that tore her a new singing hole, there were also posts that either oddly praised her performance or recognized she wasn’t on her game but still enjoyed her music. Along with that, following her performance on SNL, her EP went to number two on ITunes.
Perhaps the controversy she caused even before SNL made ardent fans dedicated to the cause of her music, fans that could withstand a very public terrible performance. But then again…isn’t that the definition of successful media hype?
Either way, something tells me the poor white girl will be okay. She appears to be an artist only good for her albums and not her performances, but people like her. Maybe after a few more public appearances she’ll even put on a performance that will captivate audiences. Only time can tell.
Justin Ray is a graduate student at New York University and intern for Billboard magazine. He has also been published by Design Bureau magazine. Other than writing, his main joy is partying. Formerly a workaholic in undergrad, when he got to NYU he put down the Hemingway and picked up the Tanqueray. You can see some of his design work at jray05.carbonmade.com/ or you can follow him on Twitter @jray05.
 Should she decide to come out of the cave she’s been hiding in since the performance, one probably more clandestine than Osama’s was. Too soon?