Was Lana Del Rey's 'Saturday Night Live' performance a career killer?
For Interscope Records, which will release Lana Del Rey’s major label debut on Jan. 31, the good news is there’s lots and lots of discussion about Del Rey clogging the internet today following her performance on “Saturday Night Live” last night.
The bad news is most of it is horrible.
If you already knew who Lana Del Rey was, chances are pretty good last night’s performances did nothing to make you want to investigate her further. If you had never heard of her before last night, there was little in her awkward, uncomfortable appearance that is likely to make you seek out the album, the perhaps unfortunately titled "Born To Die," when it drops.
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Either way, Interscope got the conversation among the mainstream started. And maybe in these sensationalistic times that is all that matters.
So how did we get here? “Saturday Night Live’s” booking mandate seems to operate in three modes: grab the biggest artist of the moment or nab a veteran act that will appeal to the show’s older demos or, less often, try to take an artist who is lighting up the internet and whom the hipsters/tastemakers have already chewed on and introduce them to the mainstream.
Last night was Del Rey’s turn. While 99% of America has no idea who she is, during the last two years, she’s already been run through the hipsters’ meat grinder and they’ve largest dismissed her. Except for the few who love a tale of reinvention, most indie rock writers who were on to her when she still went by her birth name Lizzy Grant have vilified Del Rey and branded her a creation, who based upon last night’s look, is part Jessica Rabbit, part Veronica Lake, part Kate Bush (that’s the good part) and, to the haters, all parts artifice.
For her first song on “SNL,” Del Rey performed “Video Games,” her best known song, and one that British newspaper The Guardian crowned top tune of 2011. According to Billboard, who joined the hype and put Del Rey on its cover this week, "Video Games" has sold 20,000 copies in the U.S., and spent three weeks atop the Billboard Hot Singles Sale chart.
Del Rey is all languid, slow-motion moves anyway, but last night those moves were reduced to parody, as her right hand grasped the microphone like it was a life preserver, while her left hand alternately ran through her impossibly thick hair, parted in the middle (which looked like a bad wig), stroked her hip, or hung limply by her side. There was no connection to the audience or her band members whatsoever as a clearly nervous, fluttery Del Rey slowly swayed and occasionally turned in a circle. It was possible to believe, almost, the whole thing was Kristen Wiig doing an impersonation of a hipster/indie rock fan’s dream. And I say this as someone who likes the song and put it on my list of top 20 songs of 2011.
On her second song, “Blue Jeans,” Del Rey's body language was even worse. At one point, she actually reached across her torso with her left hang to hug her right waist as if shielding herself from a coming body blow. The critics’ slings and arrows perhaps? Del Rey is all about cool remove and reserve, but combine that with an artist who looks terrified and it’s not a good career strategy.
As far as her voice, she sounded okay after a shaky start on “Video Games,” but “Blue Jean,” was all husky, mannered singing (other than few lilting lovely notes), that was at times as painful to listen to as it was to watch.
The last time an artist was on “Saturday Night Live” before her U.S. major label debut dropped was Jessie J last year. However, she was already a solid pop star in the U.K. and had more than a few shows under her belt.
So was this a career-killing performance? Well, it didn’t help. This will now be part of her story, which already has plenty of blemishes and ammo for those who don’t like her. Interscope will have to work overtime now to figure out how to turn this into something that makes fans feel sympathy for Del Rey instead of scorn. But she will go down, for now, as the poster girl for “too much too soon.” Interscope should have turned this opportunity down (or not pressed for it in the first place, I don’t know the back story) and run Del Ray through several more live shows instead of throwing her in the deep end. Then again, if this is her live persona and this is all she’s got, Interscope has a bigger problem on its hands than a bad "SNL" performance.
If you’re thinking like I am, why was it okay for another artist, one originally named Stephani Germanotta, to reinvent herself into a creation we now know as Lady Gaga? Perhaps because Lady Gaga hasn’t tried to wipe clean her past (Lizzy Grant's website was deleted when the Grant-to-Del Rey transformation began) and, most importantly, Lady Gaga can perform, sing, and entertain as if she was born to do this.
And in the end, all the hype, all the artifice and all the back story don’t matter a bit if you have the talent to make everyone forget about that. Instead, last night felt like an act was being forced down our throats long before we — and most importantly before she— were ready.
What did you think of Lana Del Rey’s “Saturday Night Live” performance?