When Elizabeth Grant, a singer from New York, uploaded a melancholy music video on YouTube last August she set in place a remarkable series of events that would catapult her from relative obscurity into international stardom. The track, "Video Games", instantly touched a nerve, clocking up thousands of hits in the first few hours and spreading virally. Two million people saw it in the first few weeks. Celebrities from Fearne Cotton, to Jessica Alba and The Kooks' Luke Pritchard accelerated the speed of its appeal. A debut UK tour was announced, sold out, and was then postponed while bigger venues were found. All of this on the strength of a beautifully arranged but lone song, which has to date amassed more than 20 million views online.
But now the meteoric rise has provoked a furious debate: is Lana Del Rey really to be taken at face value, "a gangster Nancy Sinatra", as she styled herself, who had emerged fully formed into the digital limelight; or was is she merely the alluring front of a songwriting-marketing machine?
It has become the focus of study. Armies of bloggers have rummaged around the internet claiming that the New York native was anything but the bohemian artist that got lucky online. Indeed, the 25-year-old had previously been signed to a record label, she originates from a wealthy family, she is the daughter of a former advertising executive, and her father played no small part in marketing her first album.
The backlash picked up steam after the quality of Del Rey's recent performance on America's Saturday Night Live was attacked by fans and critics. Now comes the toughest test.
Her new album, Born To Die, is released tomorrow – and will prove, once and for all, whether "Video Games" was a one-hit digital wonder or the start of something special. Whether, in other words, we should believe the hype.
With this in mind The Independent on Sunday looks back on a few of the most hyped artists in living memory – oh, yes, and recalls another artist with an album out tomorrow who needs little advance publicity.
The sell: "The Spice Girl Clones"
What happened: The girl-band jungle is red in tooth and claw (and nail extension). One moment Girl Thing's label, BMG, was launching the five Brits at the Eiffel Tower as "Spice Girls, the next generation", and crow-barring them on to the cover of Smash Hits. The next, after two underperforming singles, they were toast, their album axed, with nothing to show for the £1.5m lavished on them.
Their debut single, "Last One Standing", only reached No 8 and the subsequent howler was enough to scrap the album release.
Where are they now? Some members opted for careers in television while others moved to Scandinavia in search of fame.
The sell: "The MySpace Joni Mitchell"
What happened: Sandi Thom, a 24-year-old Scot, moved to London and chanced upon the idea of webcasting her songs from a "piss-stained basement" in Tooting. Tens of thousands logged on and tuned in, Sony signed her and "I wish I was a Punk Rocker" became the sound of the summer. Ah, bliss it was to be alive in that digital dawn ... until an army of bloggers started chipping away at Sandi Thom's backstory and started saying unkind things about big PR agencies and shadowy media strategies. The backlash was not pretty: the next single reached No 22 and a third didn't chart at all.
Where is she now? Thom moved to America last year and released her fourth album.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik
The sell: "We'll be right back after a few words from our sponsors."
What happened: In 1985, EMI pumped £4m into a new band that combined guitars and the latest sampling technology, and flogged advertising space between album tracks. Their name was cod-Russian ("Burn, burn, satellite!"). But a subsequent tour was marred by poor ticket sales and violence, and Sputnik headed to earth with a bang.
Where are they now? Frontman Martin Degville started to play live as Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronic and is re-recording the first two albums.
The sell: "The Brit Madonna"
What happened: Lead singer Wendy James was a self-publicist without equal: she graced the cover of The Face magazine wearing just a pair of diamanté nipple studs, and wondered aloud: "Imagine the controversy when I'm more famous than Madonna." A couple of punk-lite singles, "Baby, I Don't Care" and "I Want Your Love", went Top Five in the UK, but the Vamp split in 1992 and James went solo. We still await that controversy, Wendy.
Where are they now? After spells abroad, James has recently released a new album, aptly entitled: I Came Here to Blow Minds.
The sell: "The Oxbridge Duran Duran"
What happened: When Simon Le Bon and Co started selling yacht-loads of records, every label wanted a New Romantic act on the roster. A bunch of suitably dressed Oxbridge graduates were wise to this. A bidding war erupted, and CBS signed the band for £150,000. Only one hitch: they had not one song of substance. Drummer Dave Larcombe said: "We did everything right. It was just the music that let us down."
Where are they now? Some members defected to The Bible while others disappeared into the wilderness.
The sell: "The San Francisco Beatles"
What happened: Columbia thought it had struck gold – Moby Grape had Haight-Ashbury cred by the reefer-load, but wrote catchy pop songs. What could go wrong?
Well ... five singles were released at once, but at the launch party several band members were busted for marijuana possession. Harder drugs, creative differences and mental health problems then brought the band to its knees.
Where are they now? Moby Grape still perform occasionally with core members Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley and Peter Lewis.
The Sex Pistols
The sell: "Three-chord rock for a three-day week"
What happened: "Actually we're not into music," said Steve Jones after an early gig, "we're into chaos." Thus the Sex Pistols, with the nous of manager Malcolm McLaren, re-arranged the popular culture of mid-Seventies Britain. Three singles, an album, and a live-TV ruck with Bill Grundy made sure even your granny knew who they were.
Where are they now? Aside from frontman Jonny Rotten, the surviving members have lain low largely as session musicians in London. Talks of a Sex Pistols reunion have been largely thwarted.
The Spice Girls
The sell: "Girl Power"
What happened: Impresario Simon Fuller and his five charges thought they could break the boy-band strangle- hold – and the release in July 1996 of the Spice Girls' first single, "Wannabe", proved them quite right. For a dizzying couple of years, the Girls' peppy music, cutely defined personalities and sort-of feminist slogan (Girl Power!) defied cynicism, and, let's be honest, took over the world. Not even their break-up four years later and their less-than-thrilling solo careers can quite dim their fizzy memory.
Where are they now? All five carved out lucrative careers and will remind us of that when they reunite for the Diamond Jubilee.
The sell: "Britpop is dead! Long live Britpop!"
What happened: Britpop wasn't looking too clever by 1998, and the media settled on ex-style journalist Cliff Jones and his rockers as the next big thing. They were the first band to play Top of the Pops without a record to its name. Their debut single "To Earth with Love" wasn't the saviour of British rock. Two albums later, Gay Dad were back in the closet. According to Jones: "We got shot out of the cannon. Then things started to get out of control, and as rapidly as we went up we came down again."
Where are they now? Frontman Cliff Jones is a music journalist and lectures at the Bristol Institute of Modern Music and Bath Spa University.
The sell: "The Great White Hope of Hip-Hop, bro"
What happened: Robert van Winkle burst on the scene with a flat-top as sharp as his cheekbones, and trousers as baggy as his lyrics: "Will it ever stop? I don't know. Turn off the lights and I'll glow," he promised in the only song that most recall, "Ice Ice Baby". For a while, Van Winkle ripped: the fastest-selling hip-hop album of all time and a relationship with Madonna. A decade later, with the rapper in rehab after a suicide attempt, Eminem picked up the mantle that Van Winkle thought was his.
Where are they now? Spotted over the Christmas season in Kent playing Captain Hook in a local production of Peter Pan.
... and one who stood the test of time
The sell: "Poetry rocks"
What happened: Cohen is releasing Old Ideas, his 12th studio album since 1967, in a career that is the antithesis of hype. The 77-year-old Canadian only turned to music after a disappointing writing career in the early Sixties. Songs such as "Bird on a Wire", "Suzanne" and "Famous Blue Raincoat" epitomised the dry delivery of his lyrics and their sparse settings to music. He has continued to record on his own terms, despite a five-year Buddhist retreat, bankruptcy and a penchant for awful synthesisers.
Where is he now? Cohen lives in Montreal, and is happily recording and touring.