Who Are You?: Bowie, Lana, Madonna and Authenticity

Real people are boring. They eat, they sleep, they wear the same clothes more than once. In the everyday lives of people we do things that are not creative or involving making art. But we do them, because that’s what humans do. When public figures are well-known, we have a fascination of discovering every nook and cranny of them – all their flaws and human behaviour. Magazines with celebrities not wearing makeup and wearing ‘normal’ clothes (compared to their glamorous images) fly off the racks because we like peeling back a layer of glitz to expose what is (shockingly enough) a human beneath the sparkle. But what people most like to see in the music world as well as celebrities at large, is the relative term of ‘authenticity’. Realness, belief that what they are saying, they believe in. Of course, it’s a stupid habit to search for this impossible trait, because humans as a whole aren’t authentic or fake – it’s like categorising people between good and even. There are shades of ‘realness’ and ‘fakery’ which we exist in, and so do music artists. The fact is that ‘realness’ is boring because it’s something we all do – only when people get weird or eccentric that they become something more, the beginnings of fame.

It is untrue to say that David Bowie, Lana Del Rey and Madonna are fake, because the personalities of David Robert Jones, Lizzy Grant and Madonna Ciccone overlap into their alter-ego, it’s bound to happen. But it’s important to note – it is an alter-ego, a character in the same way fiction is. They are crafted for entertainment, for talent, for something different. ‘Something different’ sells in a way that David Robert Jones doesn’t. When he steps into the persona of David Bowie, he’s somebody else entirely and moves separately from his ‘real’ self. However, authenticity is fine to a point for the general public – when the artist tries to ‘hide’ their real self for the purposes of the act, the public gets antsy and wants answers. There is a privilege afforded to male alter-egos – it is a patriarchal system where David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Prince can become their persona without questions asked as to whether they are being real or not, because men are allowed to slip between personalities, but when it comes to women, heaven forbid they choose who they want to be. The world wants to pin them down.


Lana Del Rey has become a talking point over the last few years as to whether her bad-boy-loving, ’60s aesthetic, rebel-behaviour persona is real or not. If you think about it, Iggy Pop loves bad girls (‘Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell’) and rebellious behaviour (‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’), but he’s allowed to get away with it because ‘Raw Power’ rocks hard. ‘Video Games’ might not rock hard, but which one is going to turn your kids into supposed nihilistic anarchists? Lana is heavily scrutinised for her image, but it’s just that. It’s an image, a skin to put on which will sell records (or connect with your fans if we’re not being cynical). Madonna is a lightning rod for controversy over songs like ‘Like A Prayer’ or ‘Like A Virgin’. Likewise, it’s an image to portray to the audience. Madonna Ciccone isn’t the ‘Queen of Pop’, Madonna is.


The search for authenticity goes on. Grimes got a bunch of backlash over her 2014 single ‘Go’ when fans were surprised to see an artist grow from her ‘authentic’ bedroom electronica to this commercialised, fake pop. The fact is that Grimes is an alter-ego anyway, and that ‘authentic’ original that people loved was just her suit of the day. The obsession with finding and keeping the authentic musician is pointless because this authentic origin can never be found – humans in nature are layers of personality piled on top of one another to suit the situation. So what’s the trouble with Lana talking about bad boys who want to use and misuse her as they please? I’d much rather listen to that than a list of things she did at the weekend. Reality is boring – consumers want stories and characters to escape from real life, but when they’re presented nobody wants to believe it. It’s catch-22 for Lana, Madonna and Grimes; a cycle of never-pleasing.