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An Attempt at Real Empathy: Lana Del Rey on SNL

By Conrad Amenta | 15 January 2012

It’s tempting to pile on Lana Del Rey for her pre-album, SNL debut last night, rightly described, with some measure of glee, as a bomb. We’re all skeptical of the singer’s authenticity. Del Rey seems very polished, so much so that some doubt her basic entitlement to the status of singer or artist. I’m not a fan—I think her hyper-sexualized cutesy doe act is a little too close to pedophilic for comfort—and I said as much during our year-end awards. Until the day she releases a solid record, or at least more material than there is analysis of her existing three songs, I’m mostly disinterested. But it’s only fair that if I hate the hype when things are going Del Rey’s way, I should hate it just as much when somewhere she’s probably got her head buried under a pillow, wondering, miserably, if her career is over before it began.

It’s the breathless, and less-than-substantial, analysis of what makes her music great that alienates me. The equally breathless but also pitiless criticism now being heaped on her comes from the same place, and should be equally alienating. Hype is the megaphone for our basest tendencies. We can’t just “like” something. It needs to be the most meaningful experience ever. Likewise, we can’t dislike something. It must be destroyed.

To say we’re not in it for the long haul with these artists is an understatement; they are disposable, commercial commodities for our enjoyment, and the moment the smallest human error besmirches their perfect hype we feel entirely justified moving on to the next singer-songwriter with a copy of Final Cut Pro and GarageBand. In a way they did it to themselves. In another, more accurate way, we’re happy to do it to them.

Maybe this is a reverse-Snarking Lot, an attempt at real empathy. Maybe yet another article about how hype sucks is redundant. But the only person who is never accountable in the hype equation is the listener, the consumer, the person who can say “This is all for me, to do with as I will.” With social media, the reaction to Del Rey’s performance has grown from curiosity to schadenfreude. I don’t like Lana Del Rey’s music very much. But today, for Lana Del Rey the person rather than Lana Del Rey the product, I feel pretty bad.