That headline was just a tease. It’s pretty reductionist to feminism in general if we were to say you can’t “be” a feminist and like a singer. Sometimes you like what you like.
Last week, I was performing at the Poetry Brothel in NYC. At this event, character-poets (mine is sort of a femme fatale) take on another persona and seduce people with private poetry readings–which usually turn into therapy sessions or amazing connections.
I wore little flowers in my hair and a feminine outfit with a leather touch. Someone requested me to be their private poet.
It was a woman whose wife was from Sao Paolo, (I had just flown through that city with my partner, who is half Brazilian) so it was Kismet. Let’s just say we talked a whole lot about the bottom half of my body.
Even though my character’s name is Luna, she called me Lana, all night, and she wouldn’t stop. Would. Not. Stop. She kept saying, “You’re my Lanaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. You’re so feminine and glamorous.” It was odd, because I too love Lana Del Rey, but–Jesus! I’ve worn flowers in my hair long before Lana came around. Also, I’m not Lana Del Rey.
I asked why she loved her so much, and her answer is, “She’s sad and beautiful.” I guess people project whatever they want on to her: femininity, mystery, that pretty-girl-still-broken vibe that tries to reappropriate beauty as a burden, without paying much attention to the humanity of the person in question. Since when do we want our celebrities sad?
I suppose since always, since it makes them so touchable and human or it makes them a vessel for our own emotions; the humanity is then taken out of the celebrity and she just exists as the projected image of all that we need them to mean. We’ve always loved the poor/sad little rich/beautiful girl. She’s different enough to dream about, but similar enough not to hate.
Look at Marilyn: we publish her poems and talk about how sad she was, somehow putting her on a pedestal because of her excess and her silent sorrow. I don’t think it’s wrong, but I think it breeds a false sense of mystery. Society probably needs this, though, because life is impossibly dull and boring for most. See? I am the ennui-filled girl who loves the ennui of other girls. Joking.
What I love so much about Lana is her gratuitous and apologetic desire to be as ambiguously inauthentic as possible–is it this inauthenticity that makes her so real, so coveted?
Is she making commentary or just existing as product? It’s important to note that she loves the so-downtown, campy, gaudy, lip-liner-Lolita, off-kilter, somewhat shy aesthetic as much as she clearly loves the Pop lifestyle.
She went after it, didn’t she? She did say, “Money is the anthem / of success” and you know she means it. She’ll take her bling and pretty at the same time, please. And why shouldn’t she? She resurrected out of a failed Lizzie Grant, after-all, designing this new image. I love it. She’s calculated and hungry for more and still retains that mystery.
I don’t think she’s much like anyone else. Sure, she’s been lumped into the mainstream pop cycle, which I don’t think is off–she’s too self-aware, too conniving an image specialist and too produced to run the indie circuit.
But where Katy Perry is kind, cute and saccharin, and where Lady Gaga’s shtick gets repetitive and the shock factor wears off, Lana’s not trying to reinvent her wheel everyday; she disappears for months on end, leaves dead-end tweets and says she’s having a hard time making a new album.
She loves to exist as a walking-dream. She sits, pool-side at the Chateau Marmont, talking in that girl-baby voice, her portrayal of haplessly beautiful, despondent ennui at odds with her actual fame and fortune.
We have a magical potion here. She’s accessibly sad and lost, while still removed and unreal enough for us to cast projections upon. She’s at once accepted and totally rejected (think SNL).
She’s also “feminine,” while seeming to ignore certain beauty standards. She’s malleable. Salable. She’s a sort of Uncanny Valley; we can’t put our finger on what it is about her that compels us to watch, like a car crash. Is it the surgery? Is it the mixture of dark and light? Like the Guardian wrote, “Cultural critics say genuine authenticity is almost impossible to achieve. ‘The whole idea of authenticity is elusive. It is in many ways a complete illusion.’
She also loves to play dress up as past decades. She’s paying homage but in mostly silly, exaggerated ways. For me, I love this, because I’m a poet, and I like to see things vividly and even sometimes inaccurately. It’s alarming and visual and fun.
In the video for her cover of Chelsea Hotel #2, she has the audacity to just sit there, with her creepy long salad-finger nails holding the mic, with her ugly lined-lips.
She plays with the “gangster Nancy Sinatra” aesthetic (like, what?) filling in the lines between glamour and grunge, even playing a biker-gang daddy’s girl. Does she not know real people actually have experienced the loss of a father?
Does she not see that living a lonely life punctuated by being objectified is a problem? Does she not see that it isn’t at all lovely–that men brushing your hair like this is a problem? Is she romanticizing Daddy Issues because it makes it more bearable? Maybe not. Maybe that’s why we like her, because it’s messy and problematic and ire-inducing?
She penned an entire silly (and totally fucked) monologue (in which she hoped to become a “beautiful poet” even though she was a singer –“not a very popular one”–LOL) about being a lost and unaccepted vagabond, attempting to monopolize on the “otherness” she really, actually, may not be experiencing:
They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people – for home to be wherever you lay your head. I was always an unusual girl.
I know a lot of people took offense to her biker-gang-girl-as-object idea for that video. It was a problem, but I don’t want to discuss Lana as an Icon for women, or Lana as a role model. I don’t think she wants accountability for that, nor do I think everyone needs to be assigned that role merely because of their celebrity.
On the other hand, reviewer Kat George, wrote:
“Lana Del Rey embodies every socially institutionalized attitude towards women (by both women and men) that I find absolutely and unequivocally repulsive. It’s a poor, irresponsible standard for idols of her stature to set, and it makes me blind with rage. And I feel like I need to be vocal about it because every time this misguided young woman comes out with a video that other young women swoon over, deifying Lana, posting photos of her dead doe eyes across social media and romanticizing her image, it feels like everything I’ve ever wanted for women of my generation, and for the generations that will survive us, is slipping away.”
I think that reviewer is right, essentially, on first glance; I think how dare she depict this sort of “freedom” in her video, while ignoring the realities behind sex work–and if not sex work–the horrible reality of instability and codependency? She pokes fun at the Native American image, makes conclusions about some vague America “as it used to be” and claims her only real summers were those she spent with men.
There is also the very distinct possibility that she is actually pushing us to think about celebrity as “whore,” or “America” as the abuser, but perhaps that will be saved for another article. Or she might be subverting something bigger here; she may be commenting on the institutions that keep us wanting to seek safety in other people. She may be denouncing it after all.
I really, truly am not sure.
Maybe she wants us to hate her. Maybe she actually wants to make art. Maybe she loves to be an unaccountable romantic “heroine.” Maybe she;s pointing out something we all ignore.
Who knows. After all of that, I still sort of love her-a lot. The fact is, I’m experiencing serious cognitive dissonance because sometimes you have to make a choice: you can run with what inspires you even if it is totally horrible, or you can choose to take the smarter path–in this case, if she isn’t saying something Bigger, not depicting yourself as a girl whose freedom is hanging out with men who treat you like a doll/daughter.
I am only defending her (though my argument is weak) because I am a poet, and sometimes as artists, we have to live inside a world we create for ourselves because it hurts or is inspiring, or spurs us to figure something out, even if it is to the detriment of the public. For that, I am sorry.
I personally love her music. I do. I love her aesthetic. I don’t care if she pretends to feel freedom on the road or wraps herself in American flag blankets because…well, why? Who knows. I think it’s all so languid and desperate and lovely–simple enough to digest and lovely enough to fall into. Rainy day music. Broken heart music. Martini party music. All that.
With all that said, I wanted to derail the deconstruction here and get to the funny stuff. There are reasons so many nuanced and really articulate spoofs exist, detailing Lana’s pretentious obsession with aesthetic and divine inspiration.
Many of them are even quite sexist, depicting her as an archetype: she’s fondling her hair and wearing fake nails and pursing her lips. They’ve broken her down into the some doll. I get the feeling she wants this.
I’ve always thought spoofs were funny, no matter how much I might like a person–because why be so serious all the time?
My favorite: “Lunchtimes are sacred. They remind me of a childhood that never was, and the open road where I long to be.”