Ashley and I have taken a lot of heat on this here website for making fun of Lana Del Rey, so I figure I should take a moment to explain myself. We like to joke around about people (it’s kind of our job), but I also have some real and sincere reasons for disliking this woman. (Or rather, her public persona, as I don’t personally know her.)
There’s so much here I don’t know where to begin! So I’m organizing my hatred into several categories. I do think it’s important to separate out your feminist reasons for disiking someone from your music snob reasons from your purely subjective and visceral ones. Like, I will defend the people who get plastic surgery from judgment on feminist grounds, but I still reserve the right to dislike the way it looks. Ya dig?
I’m going to start with the most important reasons first, so you don’t just start off thinking I’m an asshole. Lana Del Rey has constructed an image that is heavily dependent on sexist stereotypes, the beauty myth, and the larger myth of the American Dream. She makes many, many references to red dresses, makeup, diamonds, and high heels, and she loves to pose in front of the American flag. She says “you like your girls insane” and refers to herself as “crazy” a bunch of times in a way that really gets under my skin. She’s so American and female and perfect that her pussy tastes not like pussy, but Pepsi Cola!
This is all well and good; plenty of artists, male and female, have played around with American iconography and gender as performance. The problem is, she doesn’t really play around with these things at all. She throws a bunch of imagery out there, but then does nothing with it, creating an end result that’s more conservative than subversive. (Or maybe it’s simply muddled.) When Hunter S. Thompson posed in front of the American flag, it didn’t come off jingoistic because he’d earned it with his complete interrogation of America. LDR fails that test.
And unlike, say, PJ Harvey or Courtney Love, she doesn’t seem to think that the trappings of femininity are something to be put on knowingly and then taken off again, examined, and reckoned with. She is sincerely in love with them and what they can do for her, and you don’t get the sense that she understands their more problematic aspects. Or if she does, her response is one of docility and acceptance; she sounds sad a lot of the time, but she never sounds mad. I want my female singer-songwriters to be mad about these things! (And not necessarily in a masculine, aggressive way; the hysterical, feminine keening of Tori Amos will also do just fine.) When she says “God you’re so handsome, take me to the Hamptons,” there’s little to indicate she’s being ironic. (Points for name checking the female gaze, though?) It’s okay that most of her songs are about loving a (usually bad for her) man (I love men, too!) but I wish she’d stop at least once to get mad at the men for the shitty things they’ve done to her, or ask herself WHY she likes such shitty dudes, instead of just telling us that she does and THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS.
And I could write a whole post on her fundamental mis-reading of Lolita. The famous literary rape victim appears a few times on Born To Die, as well as Lana’s styling and press releases. (If I never hear the phrase “Lolita got lost in the hood” again, I will die happy.) Lana Del Rey has never said or done anything to indicate that she knows Lolita is a text about child rape, and not some sexy, glamorous advertisement for being young and hot and American. Any thinking person knows that “Lolita” can never be short hand for “I, an adult woman, enjoy consensually fucking wealthy older men and calling them ‘Daddy.’” Which is gross in its own way, but we’ll get to that.
And then there are the class issues. Oh, the class issues. (I really should have split this category up into several sub-sections.) As with gender, she talks about America’s modern caste system in a way that’s resigned at best, admiring at worst. When she purr-raps “money is the reason we exist, everybody knows it it’s a fact, kiss kiss,” it makes my skin crawl. Again, I’m not convinced she’s being ironic.
Class issues aren’t confined to her lyrics, either. Lana Del Rey (born Lizzy Grant) is the daughter of a wealthy domain name entrepreneur who financed her early career, yet she unabashedly talks about herself like she knows what it’s like to be poor. Hearing LDR talk about living in a trailer park is like hearing Hannah Horvath complain about how broke she is because she can’t get a job as an essayist. In the immortal words of Jarvis Cocker, “if you called your dad, he could stop it all.” I’d respect LDR a lot more if she owned and engaged with her privilege instead of making up some ridiculous Horatio Alger origin story. The way she uses “ghetto” imagery is also problematic, but I think I’ll let the hip-hop experts talk about that.
And then there’s the American dream, which appears everywhere in her music, and which she tends to view as desirable and achievable. Basically, I think anyone who claims to believe in “the American dream via hard work” as a feasible way people can get what they want on a mass level is either a huge sucker or a rich person trying at all costs to preserve their own privilege.