Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

Abu Dhabi F1: Why the backlash against Lana Del Rey made her stronger than ever

The US singer, who performs tonight as part of the After-Race Concert series, has been accused of inauthenticity – but is that not the very essence of creativity?

Singer Lana Del Rey makes her UAE concert debut tonight as part of the Abu Dhabi F1 racing weekend. Getty Image
Singer Lana Del Rey makes her UAE concert debut tonight as part of the Abu Dhabi F1 racing weekend. Getty Image

Before Lana Del Rey even steps foot on the du Arena stage tonight, it is important to note that she has already won.

The fact she is able to have a sky-rocketing career and adoring fan base is testament to an under-appreciated mental resilience that has kept her going despite the odds.

If it wasn’t for those reserves, she would have pulled the pin on her career a long time ago. And who would blame her? Over the space of a year, she went from being hailed as the next best thing to being derided by everyone from critics to celebrities for being an imposter.

And what was Del Rey’s high crime? She wanted to reinvent herself.

The period in question was 2012, when Del Rey – born Elizabeth Grant – announced herself to the world as a seductive chanteuse with smouldering torch song Born to Die.

Slick and with a Tarantino-esque level of appreciation for all things vintage, the song and vibe evoked an otherworldly existence where pain and pleasure are blurred and the insights that regret begets is more worthwhile than the happiness of romance.

The song was a viral sensation and by the time the follow-up single,Video Games, was released, Del Rey was the biggest cult pop act on the planet, dubbed the "gangster Nancy Sinatra.”

With that acclaim came extra scrutiny into a past that Del Rey attempted to erase – literally.

Born to wealthy parents in Manhattan, New York, Del Rey first got her start as a standard pop artist with a reportedly finished album under the name Lizzy Grant. The music and associated social media channels were scrubbed off the internet not long before she emerged in her new guise as Lana Del Rey. As the story goes, her whole brooding persona was cooked up in some boardroom and Del Rey was not so much the “bad girl” she sang about in Video Games.

The backlash was fierce: the music press slammed her for being unauthentic, while actress Juliette Lewis failed to see the irony in criticising her performance on Saturday Night Live as fake.

The hysteria surrounding Del Rey has to go down as one of the low points in popular culture.

Not only was this occurring while a slew of talent shows were constantly churning out singers and TV-orchestrated bands such as One Direction, but it also fails to appreciate pop music history.

The term “authenticity” in pop music is not so much an anathema but an inverse proposition. The most authentic impulse of a pop artist is to try new things. If we didn’t value this, then we would have been denied a whole range of legendary artists from David Bowie and Madonna to Lady Gaga and Cat Stevens.

And in today’s digital age, reinvention is not so much an opportunity to refresh creatively, but a vital aspect in surviving a landscape made even more cut-throat by the short attention spans of online music listeners. If you stay in the same lane for too long, then the so-called fans will eventually abandon you.

This is something that Taylor Swift understood. Over the space of decade she successfully moved from sweet country music crooner to adventurous singer-songwriter to pop queen, and who knows what next?

It is surely that knowledge that allowed Del Rey to keep her head down and push through the hate and release quality albums that forced the mob to re-assess their views.

That process has come to fruition this year with her sixth album, Norman (expletive) Rockwell! – which finds her blending more psychedelic rock with her signature dark balladry – not only receiving some of the best reviews of her career, but being nominated for the prestigious Album of the Year at next year’s Grammy Awards.

Therefore, the best advice to give concertgoers tonight is to enjoy the moment. Because the next time she hopefully returns, we don't know which version of Del Rey or Lizzie Grant we are going to get.

Lana Del Rey performs tonight at du Arena, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Doors open from 5pm. To attend the after-race concerts, you need to have a ticket for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Tickets are available online from Yas Marina Circuit.

Updated: November 30, 2019 04:35 PM

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