Is It Time To Give Up On Lana Del Rey?
I don’t want to either, but I have some serious questions for her
( @lanadelray / Instagram )
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably listened to Lana Del Rey’s albums over and over on vinyl; Just you and your overpriced seafoam green Crosley record player, thinking about how much better life would be if you were born into the Kennedy family and your high school crush would just admit he was into you. You existed in Lana land (or wanted to) between 2011-2014, where flower crowns meet poor little-rich-girl.
Her overtly sad lyrics and her glamorous, old-Hollywood look yanked many of us in from a young age. We couldn’t help but love her in a relatable, but also aspirational way.
Many of us came to know Lana during the 2012-2014 era Tumblr. Back then it was like the wild west, from the pro-ana content, anon hate, black and white depression blogs to the weird Vampire Diaries fanfiction accounts. It was a very public platform that also felt very personal and private, which would often lead people to share their personal thoughts and, shall we say, more robust versions of themselves?
This environment made for the perfect backdrop to Lana Del Rey’s sound and aesthetic. For many of us, the Lana Del Rey fan space felt authentic, delicate and beautiful at times when we were most vulnerable. She represented all the things I wanted to be at 15.
Lana drew fans in with niche cultural and literary references interspersed in her lyrics. Many listeners had never heard of the 1950’s poetic and cultural movement known as the Beat Generation. They never jammed out to The Velvet Underground or most notably read the 1955 novel, Lolita.
But Lana’s music led her fans to explore these topics and pieces of literature they wouldn’t touched otherwise. If Lana knew it, they had to too.
With Lolita in particular, there seemed to be an outright obsession from both the musician, Lana and many of her fans. There were entire Tumblr accounts dedicated to the Lolita aesthetic, sharing gifs from the 1997 film and dedicated shopping lists from stores like Forever 21 and Asos featuring ‘Nymphet’ clothing pieces.
TW: The following paragraph includes notes on sexual assault, grooming, and pedophila. Please read with discretion
It is questionable if the individuals making these lists knew what they were glamourising. If you’ve read the story of Lolita or even seen the movie, then you know that it centers around a deranged middle-aged man grooming a 12-year-old by moving in with her mother and then kidnapping and raping her multiple times.
End Trigger Warning
What isn’t in question though, is Lana Del Rey’s awareness of the content she was putting out there. That isn’t to say she was straight up trying to convert all of us sad 2012 Tumblr teens into being more vulnerable to Humbert Humbert types; But it’s something to note as I question whether or not I want to give up on her.
Beneath the surface, her music certainly touched on topics like dating an older man, or wanting to. However, the exploration of it in her lyrics really glossed over what that kind of relationship would actually be like for someone who wasn’t a character in some kind of Frankenstein mix between a YA novel and a Courtney Love song (not that I wouldn’t love to be a character in that clusterfuck).
Lyrics aside, Lana has done and said some debatable things in the last few years. The infamous ‘Question for The Culture’ Instagram post, which was heavily critiqued online, seemed to call out almost exclusively female vocal artists of color.
Lana complained about her lyrics being criticized for discussing things like, as she put it, “submissive or passive roles” in her relationships via her music, but then also pointed the finger at other female artists for talking about their experiences of femininity, whether their experiences be in sex work, relationships, or sexualization and being sexualized.
While I can respect the argument that everyone’s experience of femininity is valid and of course different, she was making herself out as somehow morally superior than artists like Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Kehlani, Ariana Grange, Camila Cabello and even Beyoncé. Lana said she doesn’t write songs about “being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating, etc.” She writes about old, bad men, cocaine, grooming, domestic abuse and being an outsider rich girl, which obviously gives her the high-ground. Right?
Many chalked up the post to “Lana just being Lana” or more generally, someone just not being very good at getting to the damn point. This post is when I began to really question if being a fan of her was for me or not. I do think that she portrays a specific experience of femininity in her lyrics that a lot of people can relate to. On the other hand, it does sometimes feel a little like “he hit me, and it felt like a kiss,” and despite having felt that way with men at times, I don’t know if it is something I personally want to relive.
When you dive deeper though, there are other instances of Lana being — to put it charitably — questionable. In late 2020, Lana was seen wearing a mesh face mask to a signing in L.A. for her new poetry book, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. On so many levels, this is socially unacceptable, but it feels different, as well.
There is something about the mesh mask in the middle of a pandemic that feels willfully ignorant. She obviously knew better, but she wore the mesh mask anyway. Maybe she wore it as a publicity stunt, maybe to just make some kind of convoluted point about masks and freedom? Who knows! But either way, we as the audience and fans knew it was BS.
Perhaps, when we were younger we couldn’t parse out her music’s glamour from the heavy topics her lyrics really suggested. But now, with some of her more egregious actions, it feels time to ask if we need to listen to her music or follow her Instagram with a more conscious frame of mind.
Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever give up on Lana. I would listen to her song Ride while I was learning to drive in the midwestern middle of nowhere where I grew up, fantasizing about driving off to some coastal town and becoming a mysterious writer, like a female J.D. Salinger, but hopefully less of a piece of shit. What can I say, ~I’m fucking crazy, but I am free~.
I can’t help but cringe and openly criticize her for saying dumb shit online or acting disrespectful in public. But she’s capable of change, just like we all are (especially once she breaks off her engagement with her cop-boyfriend.) Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you can separate the art from the artist. But there will always be a time and a place for Lana’s music in my mind.
Ingrid O’Connor is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She loves poodles, Red Bull and late night talks with friends. Her big three are Pisces, Taurus & Libra and has paid for multiple professional astrological chart readings despite claiming she doesn’t believe in astrology.