A Long Overdue Critique Of Lana Del Rey

If the first 12 days are anything to go by, then it’s pretty clear that 2021 isn’t going to be the anti-climatic year we had hoped for in comparison to 2020. In the two weeks that the Capitol Building in Washington D.C experienced a coup, the UK was put back into lockdown, my university deadlines are becoming increasingly harder to ignore, and Lana Del Rey announced her new album. I should’ve known that this was not going to be the saving grace that the beginning of 2021 so desperately needed. 

At the moment, it’s hard not to want to crawl under my bed and not come out for a little while. I probably would if there weren’t so many boxes of stuff that I will never need and never think about but absolutely refuse to sort through and throw away. And now, Lana’s dulcet tones seem to grind in my ears in a way they never used to before. 

I appreciate that there are bigger things at hand here, but I’ve been a fan of her music for the last ten years. I’m pretty sure everyone has – what’s not to like? Her distinctive style, her crooning voice, her sombre lyrics all resonate with us, no matter your personal taste. All of her albums are wonderful. When Born To Die came out in 2012, it had me trying to make a flower crown out of old tissue paper and sobbing over a heartbreak that I was yet to experience. National Anthem had me singing about ‘excessive buying, overdose and dying’ when I was thirteen. Thirteen! I hadn’t even had my braces fitted at this point. 

Ultraviolence and Honeymoon followed, each magnificent in their respective ways. Then Lust for Life! Her collaborations with ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti throughout this album are immense, and I listened to Summer Bummer on repeat in lockdown number one (a depressing reminder that we have had multiple lockdowns). Norman Fucking Rockwell came spinning into the picture and I remember sitting down to listen to it in one sitting, convinced there is no other way it should be listened to but with the deep attention to her work that had grown throughout my teenage years. I still think that it is probably her best album. 

But here we are. I wouldn’t be writing this article unless there was something I wanted to say, and I wouldn’t have anything to say if Lana had learnt to read the room by now. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I started to reconsider my adoration of her, but I can think of specific instances when I realised that she might not be the person I thought she was. 

Was it the time she defended the lyrics in Norman Fucking Rockwell that glamorised abuse by saying ‘to be as clear as possible, I’m not not a feminist’? Was it the time she used Black female artists as a tool to say that her treatment by critics was unfair in comparison (laughable)? Was it the time she wore a mesh diamanté mask to the reading of her new poetry book during a pandemic? Or perhaps was it a few days ago, when people criticised the lack of diversity on her album cover for Chemtrails Over The Country Club, and she responded with a glorious lack of awareness for someone who is a professional songwriter-slash-poet. 

I’ll pop a quote in just to make sure that everyone has got a reference point:

‘In 11 years working I have always been extremely inclusive without even trying to. My best friends are rappers my boyfriends have been rappers. My dearest friends have been from all over the place, so before you make comments again about a WOC/POC issue, I’m not the one storming the capital [sic], I’m literally changing the world by putting my life and thoughts and love out there on the table 24 seven. Respect it.’

I mean, this has got to be the icing on the cake. I don’t even know where to start with unpacking this. Maybe under my bed amongst all the stuff I need to clear out is that trophy for ‘Being The Most Inclusive Without Trying To’. Lana used the classic ‘I’m not racist I have Black friends’, but she seems to have forgotten the word Black and used ‘rappers’ instead. It’s embarrassing that she acknowledges herself that this isn’t the first time she’s been called out for her lack of inclusivity, and then she adds to this by trying to detach herself from racism as it is a ‘WOC/POC issue’, and as a white female she doesn’t seem to think that this is something she is accountable for. And then it’s just absolutely painful that she thinks that her life and thoughts and love don’t have the power to change the world, but are, in fact, changing the world right now. My toes curl and I wince. 

I think I would be flattering her to describe her as ignorant. Surely someone who can write so acutely of the pain of heartbreak, the process of loss and grief, and the vulnerability of womanhood, can’t seriously think that going onto the comments section of her own post and writing this will disarm her critics and reinstate the love of her fans. I can already imagine the sign in her kitchen: ‘Live, Think, Love’. A fresh take on ‘Live, Laugh, Love’, only worse.  

If you are being criticised- as a musician- for lack of diversity then I can suggest two things. Listen and do better. Don’t dispute these comments as if they are incorrect, because that undermines the work that people are putting in to call for wider representation in the music industry. 

Lana Del Rey has worked hard to get to the position she is in, and I’m not dismissing her achievements. I’ve recognised her achievements, and they are massive, but what is she going to do with them? Because so far, all I’ve seen is an overgrown ego and not much else.