Lana Del Rey is almost nothing like you’d expect her to be. Let us explain.
In just under six months, Del Rey has gone from being a virtual unknown to landing a highly coveted gig as the musical guest on this weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live, an opportunity that some artists work their entire careers for and never achieve. The booking of this artist, best known for her uniquely sexy voice and a cinematic style of music she describes as “Summertime sadness,” totally makes sense, though. While it’s true that she hasn’t even released her album yet —Born To Die streets on January 31— Lana has already experienced a career’s worth of buzz (and, subsequently, backlash) in indie blogosphere circles, mostly stemming from questions regarding her quote-unquote “authenticity.” This, in combination with the mysterious persona she projects in her videos and her somewhat defiant performance at the Bowery Ballroom back in December, led us to believe that she might come off as being cryptic and guarded during her interview here at VH1 HQ in New York City yesterday. The Lana Del Rey we met, though, was anything but: During the 45 minutes or so we spent with her, she was happy, effusive, relatable and totally forthcoming about the rocket ride that she’s been on for the last half of the year.
“You wanna hear a little story?” We’ve been talking to Del Rey for a few minutes about her self-made, self-edited, collage-style music videos for “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans”, the treatments of which propelled the indie chanteuse from obscurity into the spotlight, but that were also initially met with puzzlement by clueless suits at record labels (“For a long time, nobody thought that anything fit together. I brought things into different labels and to different people and they all thought it was really f***ing weird. They thought that the videos didn’t have a strong narrative and that they were creepy.”). We raise the issue of Paz De La Huerta, an actress who, depending on your vantage point in life, is either a hot mess or your spirit animal. Footage of a clearly overserved Paz made its way into Del Rey’s cut of “Video Games,” an intriguing creative decision that lends a zeitgeist-y and almost Lynchian-circa-Mulholland Drive feel to the video, underscoring the overlap in the Venn diagram of Hollywood where glamour, darkness and tragedy meet. So, we posed, did Lana ever hear from Paz herself?
“I was singing in Paris a couple months ago for Thanksgiving,” Lana regales with a slightly mischievous glint in her eye. “There’s this girl in the audience and she’s gorgeous. I can kind of only see her silhouette, she’s getting, like, her t*ts out. I’m like, ‘God, that’s unusual.’ So I go offstage [after singing 'Video Games'], I go upstairs, and my manager’s like, ‘You’ll never believe it, but Paz De La Huerta was getting her t*ts out to the song!’ I was like, ‘My vision is complete. My life is f***ing made.’ And so I’ve been at peace ever since that moment.”
Regarding her statement about being “at peace,” sure, she was being slightly facetious in her response, but during the course of our time with her yesterday, we didn’t see any behavior to belie her off-the-cuff statement. She strolled into our offices here in Times Square looking as gorgeous as you’d expect, but definitely not glammed up to the nines by a squadron of stylists or anything. She was dressed casually in a pair of jeans, brown flats and a black leather jacket, and not looking even the slightest bit nervous about her big moment on SNL this weekend OR the least bit bummed that she was inexplicably snubbed by the organizers of the Coachella festival when the lineups for the 2012 shows were announced earlier this week.
“I’m probably not the best candidate for f***ing Coachella, you know?”, she self-deprecatingly confessed. “I stand there and sing. I’m not that exciting.” A smile slowly creeps across her face as she admits that, “That’s probably why they weren’t like dying to have me on stage,” and then she breaks out in laughter. As we told her in the moment (and as you’ll see in the video above), Coachella, it’s your loss.
Speaking of her live performances, it’s clear that one of the things she’s concentrating on is working on getting more comfortable on stage. Most artists get to hone their craft over months and years of playing in front of small audiences, but not the artist known as Lana Del Rey. It’s not exactly a secret that before she adopted the moniker Lana Del Rey, she performed for audiences in and around New York City as Lizzy Grant —you can even find her since-shelved “debut” album, produced by David Kahne, on file-sharing services if you’re halfway decent at typing words into Google— but ever since her first official concert as Lana Del Rey back in September, the eyes of the knives-out indie blogosphere have been on her. Amrit Singh of the popular indie rock blog Stereogum noted that her show at Williamsburg’s Glasslands was performed in front of “a crowd of folded arms,” and took a snarky shot across her bow when he flatly described said show thusly: “She chewed a lot of gum.”
That slam didn’t dissuade curious concertgoers from snapping up tickets to her December show at the Bowery Ballroom, a concert which sold out in minutes. We were in attendance that night, and can comfortably report that Del Rey possesses the ability to transfix her audience, but even she admits that it wasn’t her finest hour as a performer.
“To be honest, I wish it had gone a little differently at the Bowery,” she explains. “I’ve played a lot of shows in Europe and they were all amazing, to my surprise, ’cause I could hear myself really well. But at The Bowery, as soon as [my band] started playing, I felt the drums and the bass reverberating up into my microphone. So when I started to sing, all I could hear was bass and drums. So that really freaked me out, because I couldn’t hear myself.”
However, rather than crawl in a hole and pity herself, Del Rey persevered and ventured back to Europe to work on her stage game. She performed on a number of major European television programs (“The only thing you ever think about on live TV is ‘Don’t f*** up’”), played a number of well-received gigs across the pond, and became a darling of the rabid UK music press (she’s currently on the cover of Q Magazine). Her single “Video Games” climbed into the UK Top 10 Singles chart, and now she’s prepared to launch her album here Stateside with a flurry of television appearances. She told us that she’d also be heading out on the road later this year, where she’s planning a couple of festival appearances, followed by a small US club tour in the fall.
However, at this point, the question on everyone’s lips is whether or not America will warm to Lana Del Rey’s slightly left-of-center musical sensibilities. Her record label, Interscope, is certainly making a big bet on her, booking her on Saturday Night Live and shelling out for a big budget video for her current single, “Born To Die” (which, btw, has been streamed over 10 million times on YouTube). The song, like “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans”, has that a very cinematic, widescreen kind of sound, featuring sweeping, lush instrumentals paired with huge, hip hop beats courtesy of producer Emile Haynie. However, even Del Rey herself admits that “It’s not like a hit song or anything. It’s not like an uptempo or traditional pop song, but it’s my favorite [on the album].” In other words, she’s not overly concerned with chasing chart glory at the expense of her artistic vision.
It’s exactly this kind of self-awareness that bodes well for Lana Del Rey, both as a person and as an artist, in the long term. She seems innately comfortable in her own skin, supremely confident in her musical vision, and not the least bit caught up in the tornado of hype that’s been swirling around her for months. “I’m not a star, I’m not famous,” she professed early on during her conversation with us yesterday, one that ended with a vigorous discussion of her love for reality TV (Mob Wives and the Real Housewives Of New Jersey are favorites) and why she wouldn’t even dream of ceding control of her social media presence (“Obviously I run my own Facebook and Twitter accounts, that’d be f***ing weird if I didn’t!”). While she may not be a “star” yet, one thing is certain: By the time Daniel Radcliffe says his goodbyes from NBC’s Studio 8H this Saturday night, hundreds of thousands of curious SNL viewers will certainly be heading to Google to find out more about her.