In July 2010, law professor Jeffrey Rosen published a piece in The New York Times Magazine called “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” In it, he discusses the phrase “Gone to Texas,” which originated in America during the 19th century frontier times when debtors or the disenfranchised would leave town in pursuit of a new life in the still unsettled region of Texas. Those dissidents would usually put a sign on their home that said, “Gone to Texas” or “G.T.T.”, implying, essentially: “I’m starting over as someone else –- leave me alone!” Rosen argues that this kind of liberation was crucial to the American spirit, representing the ways in which this new society is not beholden to the sins of their own forbearers or their misbegotten youth. Rosen goes on to argue that this kind of a liberation is relatively impossible in the digital age. No one can just “go to Texas” anymore, and in his words, “the worst thing you’ve done is also the first thing that everyone knows about you.”
One year ago today, a doe-eyed ingénue called Lana Del Rey put up a self-released song titled “Video Games” on the Internet and shortly thereafter became one of the most highly public and polarizing figures in popular culture. The blogosphere seized. Who is she? Is she actually a talented vocalist? Has she had some “work” done? Then there was the ire provoked when LDR was “exposed” as actually not “Lana Del Rey” at all. Soon the word came forward about her previous singing career under her given name “Lizzy Grant.” Intimations of a wealthy father and connections to major figures in the music industry caused members of the critical community to become increasingly suspect. Was this a truly gifted artist attempting a Bowie-like reinvention, or was it all an elaborate ploy by an insidious music industry working too cynically to make her be the next big thing?
It can certainly be argued that Lizzy Grant’s transformation into Lana Del Rey was her attempt to “go to Texas.” Innumerable rock icons of the past 50 years have taken stage names. It seems pernicious in the extreme for Del Rey to be so excoriated for this highly common gesture. LDR’s team has not only played the industry game well, but also has played it as it has always been played, from Dylan to Bowie to Costello to The Clash and beyond. The outliers in this story are the sea of tastemakers, critics, and commenters who elected to generate incredible buzz on her behalf and then made a 180-degree turn when it appeared that perhaps they bet on the wrong pretty pony.
It all seems so long ago now, doesn’t it? Lest we all forget the actual events, here is a blow-by-blow account of The Year That Was — of how we came to know, love and revile (and perhaps love again) Lana Del Rey.
6/29/2011 – Lana Del Rey releases “Video Games” digitally “on the Internet.”
6/30/2011 – UK-based Stranger Records, a label founded at least in part by New York-based global consultant Peter Jenkins, releases an announcement that they have signed LDR. At this time, Stranger has only one other piece of news on their website, dated 3 days prior. They encourage visitors to their website to check out LDR’s video for her single, “Video Games.” The video is taken down shortly thereafter.
7/15/2011 – MTV Style blog assumes an emphatic pro-Del Rey posture, articulated in the unforgettable words, “ZOMG she is so important.”
8/3/2011 – Pitchfork names “Video Games” Best New Track, calls it a “stirring debut single.”
8/31/2011 – The Portland Mercury reports that LDR’s original iteration of “Video Games” included copyrighted footage taken by musician/artist Ryland Bouchard that needed to be removed and re-edited.
9/9/2011 – Video for “Blue Jeans” hits the Internet. The Huffington Post favorably claims that the video is added evidence to LDR “making a good case to be our next deep-voiced, soul darling.” The Huffington Post commenters say that she doesn’t hold a candle to Amy Winehouse, Adele, Rebecca Black, though some of them like her voice and the song. Much attention is paid to her lips.
9/12/2011 – Indie blogger Carles profiles LDR for Hipster Runoff, asking, “Is Lana Del Rey the next overrated, marginally talented totally hot female in indie?” The following day, he “exposes” her former identity as Lizzy Grant and shares photos of her “canoodling with industry insiders.”
9/13/2011 – Stereogum calls LDR one of the best new bands of 2011.
9/14/2011 – LDR plays secret show in Brooklyn as the “Queen of Coney Island” in preparation for upcoming sold-out tour dates. Brooklyn Vegan included a critique of Lana Del Rey by Amy Klein of Titus Andronicus in their reporting on the event, quoting Klein as saying that Del Rey (and America) is “narcissistic and self-obsessed.” BV commenters mostly used their commenting oxygen to trash Klein. The original critique has since been removed from Amy Klein’s blog.
10/12/2011 – As part of her sold-out British junket, LDR performs a generally well-received version of “Video Games” on popular UK music program Live With Jools Holland.
10/24/2011 – LDR wins Q Next Big Thing award at Q awards.
10/28/2011 – Interscope Records announces that they have signed LDR.
11/7/2011 – LDR performs “Born To Die,” the title track from her forthcoming LP, in Paris. An overwhelming 84% of readers of the Pretty Much Amazing blog find this to be “great” to “amazing”; 5% registered that this was just “OK”; while 11% say that “Born To Die” was “Not for [Them].”
12/7/20011 – UK’s New Musical Express names “Video Games” their No. 1 single of the year.
12/14/2011 – LDR releases video for “Born To Die.”
12/19/2011 – The Guardian publishes “The Best Song of 2011? It had to be by Lana Del Rey,” providing a trenchant defense and prosecution of “Video Games” and LDR’s unlikely trajectory. Guardian commenters are similarly ambivalent.
12/22/2011 – Del Rey releases video for “Off To The Races.”
12/26/2011 – Titus Andronicus’s Patrick Stickles covers “Video Games.”
1/4/2012 – LDR signs modeling contract with Next Model Management. Even this news triggers the standard ambivalence in response. Comments from the Telegraph‘s fashion blog include: “She’s so gorgeous, I’m not surprised,” “She’ll be dropped just as quickly…” and “hmm.”
1/5/2012 – Two tracks from Born To Die — “National Anthem” and “This Is What Makes Us Girls” –- are leaked on the Internet.
1/14/2012 – LDR appears on Saturday Night Live, gives roughly same performance as she had on Jools Holland in October. This time, it is deemed a catastrophe of earth-shattering proportions, moving a gob-smacked media complex to pandemonium. She captures the imaginations of Juliette Lewis, who (in a since-deleted tweet) likened her performance to that of a “12-year-old in their bedroom… pretending to sing and perform.” Eliza Dushku also calls her a “wack-a-doodle” based on this performance.
1/15/2012 – Astonished NBC anchorman Brian Williams emails Gawker’s Nick Denton, says LDR “had one of the worst outings in SNL history” and questions the Internet hype machine.
1/31/2012 – Born To Die LP released, after having received a review of “bad … really bad” from Stereogum and a 5.5/10 review from Pitchfork, Spin is only slightly more generous, giving it a 6 out of 10 rating and saying that “This record is not godawful. Nor is it great. But it’s better than we deserve.” Meanwhile, over in the UK, The Guardian gives it 4 out of 5 stars.
2/2/2012 – Del Rey performs “Video Games” on Late Night With David Letterman.
2/4/2012 – Shape-shifting chanteuse Liz Phair defends LDR in the Wall Street Journal, saying “Lana Del Rey is exactly what I was hoping to inspire when I took on the male rock establishment almost twenty years ago with my debut record, Exile In Guyville.”
2/8/2012 – In an article called “Lana Del Rey, Internet Meme” The Atlantic calls her “the digital version of the electrified Dylan.”
2/12/2012 – Kristen Wiig stands up for LDR on Saturday Night Live during a “Weekend Update” segment. Addressing the backlash against Del Rey, Wiig (as Lana Del Rey) tells Seth Meyers, “These critics are absolutely right. The music stage on Saturday Night Live is hallowed ground, and I failed to reach the high bar set by past guests like Bubba Sparxxx, The Baha Men and Shaggy. In this age of dangerous school bullying, you have sent an important message: If you think someone is weird you should criticize them as much as possible.”
2/13/2012 – LDR takes one more run up the mountain with another live performance of “Video Games” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
2/20/2012 – Del Rey shows up singing a hook on Smiler’s “Spender,” from his upcoming LP, All I Know.
3/19/2012 – Del Rey releases another video for “Blue Jeans.”
3/23/2012 – LDR appears as a guest on American Idol and performs “Video Games.” Reaction is mainly positive – The Hollywood Reporter calls the performance “on point.” The Huffington Post considers her the “anti-Idol.” HuffPo commenters generally think she’s pretty, but otherwise terrible.
4/2/2012 – The announcement is made that A$AP Rocky and LDR are working together. Their first collaboration is to be featured on the KickDrums’ Follow The Leader mixtape.
4/3/2012 – Follow The Leader is released without “Ridin,’” LDR and A$AP Rocky’s track. The Kickdrums tweet that the track got “too big too fast” and that A$AP wants the track for his own record. The song ultimately gets released on June 28, 2012.
4/21/2012 – Lana Del Rey uploads new video for song “Carmen” to YouTube.
4/29/2012 – Del Rey appears on The Voice UK and sings “Blue Jeans.”
5/14/2012 – A Del Rey inspired handbag is released by Mulberry. Priced to move at $1250, Rolling Stone ranks it “among our favorite new ladylike accessories for spring.”
5/21/2012 – An old Keds commercial starring LDR looking her very Lizzy Grant best turns up on the Internet. She quotes Francis Ford Coppola in it, saying, “If you sit down to write at the same time every day, the muse always knows where you are.”
5/28/2012 – Bobby Womack releases new record produced by Damon Albarn and Richard Russell called The Bravest Man In The Universe, featuring Del Rey on the track “Dayglo Reflection.”
5/29/2012 – An instrumental version of “Blue Jeans” is licensed in a luxurious-looking ad for Nespresso.
5/31/2012 – Heretofore unofficially released LDR recording, “May Jailer: Sirens” is unearthed. It’s unclear whether this is really her, but it’s a convincing fake at a minimum.
6/3/2012 – Del Rey performs at L.A.’s El Ray theatre and debuts a brand new song, “Body Electric,” which is apiece with her other bummer jams. Rolling Stone commenters either love it (“She was absolutely incredible during this show!”) or hate it (“Just horrible. Simplistic, emotions less, [sic] forgettable.”).
6/26/2012 – Lana Del Rey releases trailer for her new video “National Anthem.”
6/27/2012 – LDR releases full-length version of “National Anthem,” which features A$AP Rocky playing JFK (Del Rey portrays Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe). MTV calls the video “controversial,” while the Huffington Post enthuses about Del Rey’s “flawless” portrayal of these historic icons, despite the song being called “transcendently dumb.” Well, Lana Del Rey, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.
It’s been a weird 12 months. So what was your best/worst memory of The Year Of Lana Del Rey? What had you forgotten? What did we forget?