The road to music stardom is littered with savage traps. At any moment, the toast of the charts might be stymied by The Difficult Second Album or sunk by The Politician’s Endorsement. The most savage of all traps, though, the torpedo to all credibility, is The Sell-Out.
This is what happens when a musician, usually of an indie bent, betrays his or her “roots” and gets into bed with big business. Witness Lana Del Rey, the sultry singer who emerged last summer, seemingly straight from a 1950s B-movie, with a lo-fi, fuzzy video on the internet. This week she was photographed draped glossily across the bonnet of a sports car she had been paid to promote at the Paris Motor Show.
She caressed the scarlet bodywork with nails painted to match. And then she performed her new song, also the soundtrack to the commercial, with the chorus, “I drive fast, wind in my hair/I push you to the limits/’Cause I just don’t care” for assembled VIPs. How crass, how uncool, how dare she? In fact, Del Rey’s move from underground sensation to extrovert sell-out is not quite as simple as that. When she first appeared she was fêted as an undiscovered siren making music in her hipster attic. As the YouTube hits racked up, the truth emerged. Had she been another manufactured industry poppet all along? By that time, she had already hoodwinked millions into liking her music so it didn’t matter.
And that’s the point. It doesn’t seem to matter. No one has stopped dancing to “Lust for Life” because Iggy Pop peddles life insurance in his dotage. The Smiths still evoke delicious melancholy more than images of John Lewis Christmas jumpers. Bob Dylan, who shills everything from Starbucks to Victoria’s Secret, remains the most sacred of musical cows.
The music endures even if the musicians lose their sheen. Most stars set out on the road to Sell-Out the moment they sign their record deal, which is, after all, getting into bed with big business to sell their songs. Del Rey has just made the journey a little faster, a little more unashamedly, than most.
* Have you read it yet? You must have bought it? Or at the very least put it on your Amazon list? It’s been a quiet little launch campaign but JK Rowling’s new novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, was finally published this week. And as it crept coyly onto the shelves it brought with it an all-too familiar pang of anxiety. It’s 50 Shades of Grey all over again. Here is another bumper (512 pages!) book, I don’t particularly want to read but now feel compelled to read in order to have an opinion on it.
I made the mistake with 50 Shades of not reading it. The ensuing wall-to-wall chatter was like being penned in the corner chair at a book club I never meant to go into the first place, with no way of reaching the door. There is, it turns out, nothing more boring than hearing other people talk about a book you haven’t read yourself. All the hullabaloo is great news for the publishing industry, of course, but it was far more pleasurable when one could simply choose to read a book because it sounded good, rather than because it was big news.
But this is the new era: the must-read has been replaced by the must-I read? and it’s high time I started on my Rowling homework. Twitter: @alicevjones