Why the diamond-loving hipster singer could have been Gatsby's girl.
Baz Luhrmann’s pimped out 3-D The Great Gatsby iteration is out May 10th. While we all gear up to either love or hate it with the ardent hearts our sophomore high school English teachers gave us, we’re also going to drown in some retrospective 1920s articles. One comment making the rounds right now is Carey Mulligan telling the world that Daisy Buchanan was like a Kardashian. But that parallel seems a little off to me. Yes, Daisy is a socialite, but have we forgotten that she’s not just a rich, stuffy woman at the the Plaza? She’s a flapper, properly defined as, "A young woman, especially one in the 1920s who showed disdain for conventional dress and behavior." Today's parallel isn't a franchise reality TV star with a sex tape, it’s a hipster.
With that in mind, there seems no better candidate for our contemporary Daisy Buchanan than Lana Del Rey. While I am sure hipsters would vote Lana Del Rey off the island, she still aesthetically embodies many of the unconventional, vintage-precious styles we see coming our way via Williamsburg and Portland—in her words, “the gangster Nancy Sinatra.” She typifies a normative and yet alternative chic today that Daisy liminally engaged in the 1920s, one that benefits from the wealth of mainstream culture and appearances, but also pushes to reject them to savor some bit of uniqueness. Daisy’s the type of girl who would excitedly be scandalized by a bit of gossip about a bootlegger, but wouldn’t dare marry one (ahem, Gatsby).
In the same way, Lana Del Rey’s name-dropping collaborations with artists like ASAP Rocky seem like vacations into a more mainstream, grittier rap culture, but it’s an act without repercussions to her persona. Her music is still be a contrived and theatrical display of appropriating all genres of music, taking from each what serves her without having to commit to any. This subversive detachment, sexual yet coy, characterizes social ladder-climbing hipsters like Daisy Buchanans.
Lana Del Rey and Daisy Buchanan came from the same home. Both Daisy and Lana’s had auspicious beginnings that prepared them for lives of chasing after luxury and maintaining their absurdly self-aware appearance. Daisy Fay, a Southern beauty from old wealth in Kentucky, believes in the foundation of money, of the tradition and privilege of richness and material things. Her brief affair with a young Gatsby posing as a wealthy military officer may have been the closest to real her life ever approached, but then she decided to marry Tom Buchanan to stay where the money was flowing. She reinvents herself into the quintessential socialite, and her love for Gatsby becomes just as much a pretense as the rest of her life.
Lizzy Grant became Lana Del Rey with the same formula. By leaning on the wealth of her millionaire father Robert Grant, relying on her looks, buying new lips, and taking on a persona. If personality and interest can’t propel a Daisy Buchanan, she buys the interest or acts as if she already has it. “I had a vision of making my life a work of art and was looking for people who also felt that way,” Lana said in an interview. This kind of reflective creation informs everything Daisy and Lana do, purposed, fixed, and strategical.
And what would an aspirational hipster without their things? Lana Del Rey’s music focuses largely on diamonds, cars, Coke, and clothes. Her preoccupation with nostalgia and Americana reek of the money she came from and the personality she seems bent on proving to us. You can almost hear Daisy purring out this National Anthem lyric to a party guest: “Money is the reason/ We exist./ Everybody knows it,/It's a fact. Kiss, kiss.” And then there’s Daisy who affirms, “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys.” She sobs into Gatsby’s silk shirts, marveling at the wealth and beauty. Opulence and appearance are paramount. Gatsby even comments that there is money is Daisy’s voice, and that’s why she is so appealing. Lana’s music and Darisy’s voice ring with the hope of prosperity, excitement, and a necessary status.
We learn, though Gatsby never does, that behind the elegant prop, the thrilling notion and beauty of this woman, is, well, nothing. Responding to her historically atrocious SNL performance, when critics were bawling her vocal performance and stiff shtick, Lana Del Rey missed the point. In fact, she didn’t care about the art part of the critique: "I thought I looked beautiful and sang fine." While Lana del Rey’s talent is disputable, and there are valid points in both camps, there is a mannequin quality to her character, a distance in her eyes, and a diffidence in her tone that doesn’t render a full person to her audience, just the image.
Daisy, as well, opts out of hobbies, responsibilities, and knowledge (denying her husband’s affair, denying her hit-and-run, denying her cousin’s vitriol). This child-like, yet feigned, naivete is a prescription for life, as Daisy tells her daughter, "that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." In this respect, Lana and Daisy have mastered the beautiful little fool performance well.
As much as I am not a fan of her, as grating as her self-enforced identity is, there is something completely transfixing about this beautiful, manicured, and not-that-untalented chanteuse. That’s because Lana Del Rey is more artifice than human, and artifices are generally fascinating. They are ideas of people. Their purpose is presentation, “blurring the lines between the real and the fake” (that’s a Lana lyric, by the way). Daisy, too, relies on performance. Daisy lives in a stage of mirrors while Lana Del Rey mugs in a PhotoBooth on MTV–when I go out, who will see me and who will I see? We lament their inauthenticity and cloying affectation, but really, the spectators are as much to blame for egging on the artifice. We, like Gatsby, are still somehow seduced by the image, and so the image continues to exist, to meddle in your affairs, smash your heart or your car, and harness over 39 million YouTube hits.
Lana Del Rey is our Daisy Buchanan—a gorgeous half-hipster creation that infuriates as much as she fascinates. Even if we hear the money in her voice, we all still stick around to listen to the clink and we all still wait in front of the curtain for the next performance.