Lana Del Rey is famous because she’s pretty.
The 24-year-old singer (whose real name is Lizzy Grant) looks like a waifish Brigitte Bardot and dresses in an alluring mixture of vintage and contemporary styles—think “urban hipster meets Old Hollywood”—that looks both elegant and cool. If she wandered through the streets of Milan or Paris, she would almost certainly be photographed for the Sartorialist. So far, Del Rey has only two songs—“Video Games” and “Blue Jeans.” Officially released this week, “Video Games” is already in iTunes’ top 10 most downloaded songs. But, to reiterate, she just has two of them. The only reason why you may have heard either—the only reason why they’ve been viewed more than 3.2 million times on YouTube and why everyone from the Village Voice to GQ has tracked Del Rey’s fledgling music career—is because she looks like a model. Given everything we know about the music industry, this might be the most unsurprising thing you read today.
But it’s a shame that the focus has been on her looks because Del Rey can definitely sing. She has a sultry voice that can purr out lyrics like “I’m in his favorite sundress / Watching me get undressed” and then suddenly switch to a coy, childlike coo that dares you to think bad thoughts about her. Both “Video Games” (a languid ballad about hanging out with a guy she loves) and “Blue Jeans” (a slightly less languid ballad about being left by the guy she loves) have a very specific aesthetic; they come across as the musical equivalent of a magazine fashion spread. They fit right in with all those faux vintage photo apps and lo-fi pop songs that are popular right now. True, Del Rey’s references to James Dean and “old bars” aren’t accidental, but what makes her less genuine than any other musical act? Do you think Katy Perry was born looking like a cupcake?
(PHOTOS: Hollywood in the 1950s and 60s)
Del Rey can record a decent song, but she still needs to know how to perform live. Does she have stage presence? Can she put on a good show? Does she have any idea what she’s doing? What does she look like when she’s not pouting? Del Rey recently appeared on British television show Later With Jools Holland (one of the few live performances she’s given so far) and seemed very unsure of herself. You’d probably feel that way too if strangers kept arguing about whether or not your lips were real. So far, the only conclusion I can draw from her performances is that she’s unpolished. Maybe that can be her thing; Cat Power is famous for her terrible stage fright. (Which make for fascinating train wreck concerts.)
Yes, a pretty face can help you land a record deal. Two good songs and an hipster-fied Instagram-styled video will get you talked about on the Internet. But eventually you have to put out an album. According to Del Rey’s representatives, that’s going to happen in January.