The viral (and now Interscope) star incorporates hip-hop producers and nabs an "SNL" slot before her album debut. Finally, her voice is bigger than her controversial persona.
According to Del Rey, she wrote more than 70 songs during her time in England, and soon filmed DIY videos for "Diet Mtn. Dew" and "Video Games." A verbal agreement with Stranger Records to commercially release the latter gave Del Rey's camp wiggle room to reacquire the song rights in case of a major-label signing. "[It was] a very free single deal. If we got a record deal for an album, they would let her take the single back and get the rights back," Mawson says. "I just realized the other day we didn't sign anything... It was a verbal agreement from chatting and then we confirmed by email."
Labels came full circle when the BBC's Radio 1 played "Video Games" last summer, thanks to Mawson's European connections, and her Internet buzz kick-started. The artist began fielding offers from imprints that previously denied her, deciding eventually on a joint deal with Interscope Records in the United States and Polydor Records in the United Kingdom without holding any grudges.
"Signing someone and spending a lot of money, it's a very dangerous thing to do. Largest failure-to-success rate in any industry," Del Rey says. "I never had any help, and I really needed help."
The timing of the deal and her video's viral release raised eyebrows in the blogosphere. News of her signing broke in late October, but the ink on the contracts had dried in July, fueling conspiracy theorists to assume that the machine had helped with the clearance of copyrighted material included in the videos and promoted her material. It's not unusual for labels to pull invisible strings for new artists, but rarely is the artist afforded both the creative and marketing freedom that Del Rey has had.
It's here where her labels, which provided her a budget for videos and album completion, as well as hired a publicity firm (Shore Fire Media) in August, deviate from standard practices. Polydor president Ferdy Unger Gamilton says, "Apart from the strength of the song and the video [for "Video Games"], this shows how the world operates now. Something like this can just gather its own momentum. So many have been reached by it without traditional media or marketing."
The viral factor of "Video Games" paralleled several breakout Internet sensations of 2011: Del Rey associate the Weeknd, and Frank Ocean. And for Del Rey, the gone-viral marketing method, which often hangs still on quality of music and artistic mystique, was key for convincing label executives wowed by her ability to navigate different Web cultures. She was embraced beyond genre lines, a Net star on sites like Stereogum and Pitchfork, and also popping up on sites like In Flex We Trust, MissInfo.tv and 2DopeBoyz.
"I don't think she's any sort of heavy-handed marketer. I think she basically has it down from start to finish. That's what's the allure is, in terms of what I saw and what other people are seeing. You have an artist and it's all just so honest," Interscope executive VP of A&R Larry Jackson says. "There's no video treatment we've come up with. We haven't produced the records. It's 100% solely her. That's the most honest part. And that's all that matters. The honesty is the marketing."