Singer Lana Del Rey wrote a controversial post on her Instagram account this week. To be honest, I have read the piece multiple times and I’m still not entirely sure of what her point was. Her messy screed — written in a font that was surprisingly difficult to read on both my laptop and phone — was billed as a ‘feminist rant’ by some publications, but mostly, it seemed like a mish-mash of grievances the singer had that she didn’t know how to expand upon. She started by attacking fellow musicians Doja Cat, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Kehlani, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé, claiming that since they ‘have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f**king, cheating, etc — can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money — or whatever I want — without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorizing abuse??????’
As noted by literally everybody, Del Rey’s targets were almost all women of color. She then lambasted ‘female writers and alt-singers’ who say she glamorizes abuse, then said that, while she is ‘not not a feminist,’ there had to be ‘a place in feminism for women who look and act’ like her. When she faced pushback for what felt like an obvious attack on women of color, Del Rey edited in a new caption to the post:
Bro. This is sad to make it about a WOC issue when I’m talking about my favorite singers. I could’ve literally said anyone but I picked my favorite fucking people. And this is the problem with society today, not everything is about whatever you want it to be. It’s exactly the point of my post - there are certain women that culture doesn’t want to have a voice it may not have to do with race I don’t know what it has to do with. I don’t care anymore but don’t ever ever ever ever bro- call me racist because that is bullshit.’
By the way, the post ends with her plugging her upcoming collections of poetry.
Okay, Lana. Let’s talk about this, to you from a fan who absolutely adored your last album.
Lana Del Rey’s career has been heavily defined by an inherent skepticism of her image. From the offset, a lot of the narrative around the music of Lana Del Rey was rooted in this idea that she was putting on a carefully manicured persona to sell a specific image with her music. Her appearance also featured in that, perhaps inevitably given how the music industry is notoriously sexist. Her appropriation of a particular aesthetic also fuelled a lot of those fires, fairly or otherwise: The Lynchian view of 1950s white picket fence Americana; the pot-driven haze of lazy Summer nights that soon slips into surrealist mania; the beautiful morbid and an evident fascination with death. That last part is what made a lot of people question her style and intent. Personally, I don’t think the notion of women using art to explore their obsession with death is all that shocking or original (I read way too many Anne Rice books for that.) Del Rey seemed to get what made something so bleak and inescapable such an alluring notion for a lot of people. Art has made death beautiful for centuries, after all.
Del Rey rightly notes that her music may not depict wholly healthy relationships but that is how life is for many women and surely that is worth exploring through song. I wouldn’t say that there was anything deeply anti-feminist about her lyrics. Shouldn’t music have room to depict those stories of women dealing with the emotional conflict of dark, unhealthy, or messy relationships? The near-hypnotic quality of her voice and production values may seem at odds with that but think of how many banging rock tunes you’ve listened to that were about violence or misery or death. Country music thrives on turning tragedy into toe-tapping triumphs.
I imagine that Del Rey has faced a lot of criticism that’s been tough to deal with throughout her career, but her attempt to position herself as an exceptionalist force in music, the pioneer of her particular sub-genre and style, all while putting women of color in the crosshairs, undoes any attempt she makes to explain her point.
Del Rey can talk about being targeted by feminists and those meanie critics for her work but it’s barely a sliver of what women of color have faced in this industry. To this day, people write think-pieces decrying Cardi B as an anti-feminist force because of her stripper past and use of her body in her music. People have made entire careers out of decrying Beyoncé for being ‘too sexy’ or, as Bill O’Reilly claimed, ‘harming’ girls with her ‘negative influence.’ The same goes for Nicki Minaj. Not only that but all of the women that Del Rey named have faced immense public hatred for being themselves. Beyoncé got multiple death threats against herself and her family after her Super Bowl performance. Ariana Grande received them too after the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller. Kehlani has talked candidly about the harassment she has received regarding her mental health, her past relationships, and her child. Del Rey says that she wants to speak out for ‘women who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate selves, the kind of women who get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women or by men who hate women.’ The artists she called out are those women. Remember Lemonade?
While she may claim to us ‘bros’ that her points aren’t rooted in any racial blind-spots, it’s clear that the singling out of so many black women as being the problem in her eyes is rooted in the historic oversexualizing and demonizing of black womanhood that has proven a poisonous cultural force for centuries. Positioning herself in opposition and as being one who is ‘[paving] the way for other women’ to be sexy but not that kind of sexy is, to put it mildly, messy. It’s also flat-out wrong for her to claim that she is the leading force in encouraging women to ‘just be able to say whatever the hell they wanted to in their music.’ Once again, shout out to black women like Billie Holiday and Ma Rainey, or rockers like Liz Phair, Fiona Apple, and Courtney Love, or country stars like Loretta Lynn, or, yes, Beyoncé.
On top of her attacks on women like Beyoncé and Doja Cat, Del Rey once again comes for critics. Notice how her focus is on women critics and not any of the men in this male-dominated field who have been shaping tastes and trends in often regressive ways for decades. Last year, she attacked legendary music critic Ann Powers for what was ultimately an eloquent and thoughtful piece on Del Rey’s career. Her anger on this issue also comes off the back of her receiving the best reviews of her career with ‘Norman F**king Rockwell’, a multi-Grammy nominated album that dominated multiple critics’ year-end polls and saw her celebrated alongside the ranks of Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Indeed, Del Rey may not have always been a critics’ darling but her work is still consistently well-reviewed and has only garnered more acclaim as the years pass. Whatever frustration Del Rey has felt over the way she’s been discussed during her career, why bring it up now when she’s never been more beloved?
Del Rey has continued to double down on her comments in ways that have only further highlighted how little she thought out the implications of her harried initial thoughts. The chances are that we’ll eventually get some sort of PR-mandated non-apology if only to get the news cycle to move onto something else, but those lingering issues will remain. Lana may feel that she speaks for the quieter woman, the more vulnerable among us, but all she’s doing right now is talking over those who need to be heard the most.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.