Okay, kids. I’ve been putting it off and re-editing and drafting and queueing and un-queueing a post about this for weeks now, but I need to stop waffling about it, since we need to talk about Lana Del Rey and Kreayshawn, and how I don’t hate them, and how I think the intensity and specificity of everyone else’s disdain for them is sort of shitty, and how self-righteous and unquestioning we’ve all been about that hatred. We’ve talked about both of these ladies to death, but it seems that very few people (in my admittedly over-stocked Googlereader, at least) have even so much as glanced at the intensity of the public reaction to both of them and really questioned why they irritate us so much.
There’s one disclaimer to be made here, first — it’s true that there are a lot of conversations to be had about Kreayshawn and race (and to some extent about Del Rey and nostalgia and class.) I want to make it clear that I’m not in any way refuting these, as a lot of those conversations are totally valid and necessary and you should read them or write them too and I think they are super important and want you to tell me about them too. This conversation, if it’s possible to do this, is slightly outside of those dialogues, a concurrent frame through which I think these two singers can be viewed. This is about ladyhate and the curious extent to which of these pretty lady pop singer internet sensations have become our most reviled cultural icons this year, our favorite objects of hate and disgust.
This isn’t criticizing thought-provoking conversation about potential social issues in pop culture, or any of the nuanced dialogues about femininity and race and queerness and class that they may have provoked — plenty of those have been super rad, and super necessary. This is about the personal attacks and the particular brand of lady-directed-snark we’ve been seeing all over with regards to both of these girls, lots of which are lacking in deeper analysis. This is about how despite the fact that Kreayshawn and Lana Del Rey have little in common other than having a YouTube account, we the feminist music-snob internet have reacted to them with the same variety of sneers and upturned noses.
It seems to me that one of our main issues with both Kreayshawn and Del Rey is, of course, the issue of authenticity (which again is in many ways related to those greater conversations about race, class, and appropriation, but we’re looking at this from the lady-problems angle for the time being.) Is Del Rey as slutty and heartbroken and dangerous as she seems? Are those lips real? Is Kreayshawn as badass as she claims? Is she as talented and cool and sassy as she’s telling us she is? The arguments against both of them regarding inauthenticity — that they aren’t really as poor/talented/sassy/sad/marginalized/pretty/gay/straight/slutty/whatever as they initially lead us to think — is a tired one, but I can’t not indulge here. The concept of an entirely self-constructed persona and aesthetic, for both you and I as well as for public figures and entertainers, is incomprehensibly naive and almost ludicrously inaccurate.
Even the most indie of your hallowed indie bands, your most authentic self-indulgent earnest white dude indie rock, even they have marketing. On one level, they draw from the influences of their friends, neighbors, and musicians they admire. They do not exist in a vacuum, and the illusion of such independent authenticity is itself a construct. Beyond that, it’s often a direct product of a marketing team and a publicist pushing those ideas, and pushing them hard. I know. I have worked on those campaigns. I would also argue that in our tumblrized era, where our internet personas are constructed largely of collected, curated, and reappropriated memes (I use this word here in both the social sciences way and the daily internet way), adept pastiche has replaced twee indie authenticity as the ultimate in cool. And there’s no question that both Kreayshawn and Del Rey have got that down pat. (This is another article entirely that I’m still only halfway done with too, and a topic on which there’s already a growing conversation. PS, there’s also a NYTimes article from the summer about like, tumblr and authenticity or something that I wanted to link here too, if anyone finds it I’ll give you five bucks.)
But the point here is not the authenticity itself, but that these authenticity debates seem especially heated when it comes to ladies, especially ladies who have the nerve to be attractive but somehow unavailable. Kreayshawn and Del Rey are, in a way, the anti-Zooey-Deschanel: pretty, but self-possessed, inexorable, and a little dangerous. They do not fall to pieces, wide-eyed, over kittens and butterflies. In Del Rey’s case, the vapid stares and posturing send mixed messages rather than conveying solely easy access. In Kreayshawn’s case, an irrepressible attitude and oft-questioned sexuality creates a similar discomfort and frustration. Are they taking advantage of us, or can we take advantage of them? Both ladies flaunt what they’ve got — whether what they’ve got is learned, created, stolen, inherent, natural, constructed, or feigned — and use it to take advantage of us for our attention, money, and affection. In one (valid) conversation, we would call some of that appropriation. In another parallel one, we might recognize it as “doing what the boys do, like, all the goddamn time.”
Del Rey’s “authenticity” has been discussed ad nauseam by bloggers at this point, and it’s worth nothing that even those who agree that the authenticity shrine is outdated and largely irrelevant can hardly refrain from some self-defensive snark. None of us want to be the fool who had a crush on that bitch when it turns out that her lips are fake and that someone else financed her and that there was a producer on the record and that those photoshoots cost four digits and that all her sex appeal was just a joke. (Isn’t it awful when we finally see the popular girl without makeup/after she gets pushed in the pool/after she gets made a fool of? Thank god we never were dumb enough to fall for her and that stupid shiny hair!) Her authenticity as an artist or musician is tied up inextricably with her authenticity as a beautiful woman.
Which is of course tied up in another obvious problem: the necessary performativity of sex appeal in the feminine, and the fact that feminine sex appeal is essentially defined by performativity, artifice, and decoration. Personally, I’m fine with Del Rey’s big hair, pouty face, winged eyeliner, lipgloss, and staged nostalgia-sexy photos: I do the same thing on a lesser level every day when I tame the wild-haired bleary-eyed stubble-legged beast who wakes up in my bed into the groomed, coiffed, red-lipped vanilla-scented thing I am when I show up to the office by 10. This is all part of an elaborate joke I’m playing on you where you think my eyes are actually this big and my skin this even, where you think I just roll out of bed dressed this nice. (It’s also related to the nasty e-mails I occasionally get where people try to tell me I’m not queer because I look like this, or tell me that I’m a bitch for “leading guys on” with how I look or dress.) It’s a joke, kids: I’m actually human under all this, and so is Lizzy Grant when she’s not being Lana Del Rey for the camera or microphone. If we’re going to get mad about it — which we can, and I love when we do, because it’s crappy that all ladies, performers are not, are expected to get this jazzed up about mascara and curling irons — let’s just remember that it’s a little more productive to roil against the societal structures enforcing those mandatory norms rather than snarking personally against the ladies who have the privilege of participation coming easily.
The same goes for something about Kreayshawn: the posturing, the attitude, the toughness, the “hey, I don’t give a shit, I don’t need boys or fancy clothes, my friends and I are badass bitches who are doing our own thing and I think we are awesome and look at all these dudes I have following me around because I am so awesome but I don’t want anything to do with them, whatever man, my girls and I are fantastic” thing? We need to know if that’s real, and in some ways, we do everything we can to cut her down to see how well she stands up in the face of bullying. On some level, ladies, it seems that perhaps we sneer and comment and snark and write long academic articles on how hard she sucks and send naked photos of her around and point out that she looks like Casey Anthony precisely because she seems so confident, so assured of and indifferent to her own sex appeal, so blithely unaware or indifferent to anything she might do wrong, so ready to roll her eyes at us or shrug her shoulders, and so unwilling to throw herself at boys’ feet. And we are totally not cool with that. But again — I sort of do this every day too. Oft-criticized overblown narcissism questionable cultural references and all, in some contexts I don’t mind hearing this lady talk about the fact that she thinks she’s rad as shit. I tell myself that kind of thing every morning just to get myself out of the house. I need little “I am a girl and I RULE” self pep-talks on a daily basis, too. Even when there’s problems with it — we all need to do that a little more, and we need to criticize girls less when they do it, because, again, dudes do it all the time and we’re all oh, whatever, totally normal.
Kreayshawn wrote a catchy song, made a flashy video, and got a record deal after 15 minutes of YouTube fame. Lana Del Rey made a few sexy looking music videos, has a killer voice, and hired a stylist/hair stylist/makeup artist/new manager to re-brand her image as something more performative, glamorous, entertaining, whatever. This is worth this much directed hate? This is worth an obsession with Del Rey’s “before she looked like this” photos or with underage nude photos of Kreayshawn to the internet? We can note that these are startlingly similar tactics, and ones we all probably experienced or witnessed in junior high school. This pretty girl, look, she wasn’t always this pretty, you could totally nail this bland bitch. This sassy girl, look, she’s slutty too, look at all that attitude gone when she’s just tits n ass! This pretty girl, she isn’t competition for us, because she’s not actually pretty! This sassy girl, she isn’t actually competition either, she’s just another dumb slut! Phew! I was worried for a minute there.
Why do we do this so easily, and so often, and furthermore, why do we even feel good about it when we back it up with a few arbitrary words from the Feminist-Internet-Approved-Vocabulary-of-Acceptable-Blog-Posts? Why is it suddenly cool to say that we don’t care about some specific pop singers with a more deliberate indifference than we use for whatever other e-hyped artists Tumblr flipped out about this year like, I don’t know, Blood Orange or the new Justice album? Why do we never seem to stop and note that wait, maybe part of this nasty reaction I’m having has to do with something else — something else nasty reserved for especially ladies who make us somehow uncomfortable, who fit partially but maybe not entirely into stereotypes we more easily understand? Why don’t we talk about this, too?