YouTube and the modern road to stardom

Lana Del Rey is the latest, and fastest yet, internet sensation. But Elisa Bray wonders what's real in the social-media revolution

If the name Lana Del Rey means nothing to you today, chances are it will by next week. The 24-year-old singer/ songwriter is perched on the threshold of becoming a Top 10 star with her debut single. It all hinges on "Video Games", the video and song that the New Yorker – otherwise known as Lizzy Grant – posted on YouTube in August and which led her to sell out a gig in half an hour, with no releases and no publicity. A debut UK tour was in such demand that it was scrapped for bigger venues two months later, with Madame JoJos in London replaced by the Scala. The video clocked up more than two million hits in one month, and Del Rey is the most blogged artist this past week. By the time her album hits the shelves (it's set for release in January), she will doubtless be a household name.

Del Rey is an internet sensation, sensationally fast even by the standards set by those online wonders before her, which include Kate Nash, Lily Allen, Arctic Monkeys and Sandi Thom. She has channelled her look; sultry, retro femme fatale with smoky eyes (she gave herself the tag "a gangster Nancy Sinatra"), and the video itself cuts between the doe-eyed beauty gazing at the screen (her own webcam shots) and striking clips of video and news footage resembling a Lynchian collage. But it's the song itself, evoking love's broken dreams as someone who's been through it, that has won her an army of fans and has been hailed the song of the year by critics, carried by a voice that has drawn comparisons to Nancy Sinatra, Stevie Nicks and Loretta Lynn. It has had celebrities raving across Twitter, from Jessica Alba ("im kind of obsessed, she sounds like Stevie Nicks"), to Fearne Cotton ("I adore this"), while The Kooks' Luke Pritchard tweeted the video alongside the words "nothing more".

One fan wrote, "I am obsessed with 'Video Games' by Lana Del Rey to the extent that I've had to give up my job and seek counselling". It's a song that has had so much appeal and buzz across the music scene that it has been remixed variously by hip artists Joy Orbison and Jamie Woon, and covered on Radio 1's Live Lounge by indie band Bombay Bicycle Club.

As if aware that she seemed too good to be true, last week Del Rey posted a video of herself performing live in a bare room with just a microphone and a guitarist for accompaniment. Live at The Premises proved that she can sing very well indeed, only affirmed by her debut television appearance on Jools Holland's show, albeit slightly nervous, backed by grand piano and string quartet. After her Jools Holland performance, she was among the most discussed subjects on Twitter.

The power of social-media community sites, by which like-minded fans have been discovering and sharing songs, has been proven ever since Arctic Monkeys burst on to the music scene with the fastest-selling debut album, thanks to a huge online following on MySpace built up before they signed to Domino. Since then, bands and their record labels have been using social media platforms and internet strategies within their overall marketing/promotion plans. These days it's as much about how many Facebook "likes" (Del Rey has 65,000) and how many YouTube viewings an act has, as where their chart positioning is.

A new band's goal is to attract fans with charisma and music via social networking sites, selling their act as a package, which leads to a loyal fanbase and, ideally, success with sales in the future. With the focus shifting from MySpace to Facebook, bands use the latter as a shop-front, with YouTube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp as the go-to sites for hearing the music, while Twitter and Tumblr all help with the word-of-mouth success. It may be one of the worst songs, but "Friday" made Rebecca Black the most talked-about act in America earlier this year, when she posted it on YouTube.

Sarah Richardson, senior digital marketing and online PR at Anorak, who has worked in music digital marketing since the days the department she was working at within Sony Music was referred to as "Futures", says: "I've seen an insane amount of progression. For starters, artists these days are forced for the most part to be much more hands-on and creative with their approach to developing a fanbase. You'll see far more in the way of digital content these days; live footage, free downloads, behind-the-scenes videos, viral clips, remixes. Social networking has also changed things tenfold. Twitter allows artists to engage with their fans in a way that has completely changed the landscape."

Online is also where A&Rs increasingly go to find new talent. "I definitely use social networking to find new artists now, much more than traditional routes", says Anthony Shaw, who used to manage Muse and is managing director of Best Before Records Limited, and recently discovered his latest signing – a new Norwegian band called 22 – via the internet. "I never would have come across them without the help of the internet, for sure. I was checking out another band called Arcane Roots and, while on their MySpace, I came across 22 and their video. I instantly fell in love. Upon hearing more tracks, I went to Norway, saw them play three tracks live and offered them a deal on the spot."

There is another side to the internet, however. While it gives artists the platforms to launch their careers, it is also a treasure trove for dissenters wanting to dig up old facts about a burgeoning star. Few might know of Katy Perry's beginnings as a singer signed to a Christian label, but you can readily find such information online – and buy the album on Amazon. Lana Del Rey was once singing less bewitching songs. A couple, such as "Kinda Outta Luck", can still be found online, although the debut album itself, produced by David Kahne, was scrapped and has been mysteriously deleted. That she has been repackaged, and enhanced (the suspiciously plump lips remain under scrutiny), sheds new light on the authenticity of the artist. Still, we can thank the power of social networking for bringing to our attention what might well be the best song of the year.

Big in cyberspace: Four new acts (and ONE OLD ONE) who launched on the net


Still at school in Lymington, the precociously talented 15-year-old Jasmine Van den Bogaerde winningly picked Bon Iver's 'Skinny Love' for her first cover and it has garnered more than 6.5 million views on YouTube since April. As a schoolgirl, she has never toured, so all the buzz has been generated online. In the last three months she has averaged more than 80,000 views a day of her soulful piano renditions of songs including Cherry Ghost's 'People Help the People', Ed Sheeran's 'The A Team', becoming the second-most-viewed UK artist on YouTube, while her giveaway of her original track 'Without a Word (Demo)' has been downloaded 10,000 times. The daughter of a concert pianist, she was signed to Atlantic in March, and her first album featuring her interpretations of songs by Bon Iver, Phoenix, The National, The Postal Service and The xx is out on 7 November.

The Weeknd

He's still unsigned, but the 21-year-old Canadian R&B artist was commanding £15,000 fees for shows before he had even played in America. Furthermore, he managed to get everyone in a tizzy over the EP he released on his own website this summer. His success is, in part, thanks to a certain producer friend named Drake who shouted about his music to his own fans via networking sites. The Weeknd performs his first UK dates at the end of this year.


Croatian duo Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser posted a self-made video of their compelling, frenzied cello-only version of Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' on YouTube and within two months the video had more than 5.5 million views, they had performed on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show', and received a phone call from Elton John inviting them to join his European tour – all before their debut album on Sony was released late July. The Royal Academy of Music graduates' classical twist on pop and rock has seen them reworking Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', Guns & Roses's 'Welcome To The Jungle', Kings Of Leon's 'Use Somebody' and Muse's 'The Resistance'.

Rizzle Kicks

As children of the internet generation, at just 17 Brighton rap duo Harley Alexander-Sule and Jordan Stephens (left) took on the internet as complete unknowns. They began with a blog site Your Daily Kicks, while simultaneously getting their MySpace up to scratch, using YouTube, Twitter and Bandcamp, where they posted a home-made mixtape. On their YouTube channel they created a number of lo-fi videos for their early bootleg remixes. Their DIY approach saw them doing all the things online that a marketing team would do. With 12 million YouTube hits and a Top 10 single, 'Down the Trumpets', and now19 years old, their online activity has paid off. Their debut album 'Stereo Typical' is out this month on Island, and to keep up their online presence, there are videos.

Lily Allen

The singer-songwriter found fame on MySpace where she found herself with more friends than anyone else in Britain. Allen had posted a selection of her demos that she recorded in 2005 on the internet, attracting thousands of listeners, and a rush release of 'LDN', on limited edition seven-inch vinyl, ensued.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn