Ladies. (And gentlemen).
I’m faced with a serious problem.
And her name is Lana Del Rey.
Let me start by saying that, ever since I heard her song “Off to the Races” (I can’t remember when or how I first heard this song, since it wasn’t one of her singles, and I fell in love with it well before she gained any popularity), I’ve been obsessed with her. The song was haunting, disturbing, and beautiful. The lyrics resonated with me – it felt like a musical version of my darkest thoughts and my own poetry.
In this particular song, Del Rey croons:
“[he] Likes to watch me in the glass room bathroom, Chateau Marmont
Slippin' on my red dress, puttin' on my makeup
Glass film, perfume, cognac, lilac
Fumes, says it feels like heaven to him.”
And later she sings:
“Now I'm off to the races, laces
Leather on my waist is tight and I am fallin' down
I can see your face is shameless, Cipriani's basement
Love you but I'm going down
God I'm so crazy, baby, I'm sorry that I'm misbehaving
I'm your little harlot, starlet, Queen of Coney Island
Raising hell all over town
Sorry 'bout it”
The words (and music) gave me chills. Much of her music moved me – it left me feeling like my own soul had been displayed on the radio waves. It had been a very long time since music had touched me the way Lana Del Rey’s did.
I think what resonated with me most was/is her use of darkness, and her ability to depict flaws, fears, death, and insanity. I’m a rather macabre writer, and I thrill off of this sort of subject matter. It simultaneously brings me to tears, terrifies me, and invigorates and excites me. Songs like “Born to Die,” and “Dark Paradise,” all spoke to my own obsession with destruction and distress.
I first heard Lana Del Rey’s music when I was in college and struggling with a multitude of issues, many of which revolved around self-worth and sexuality. I never felt good enough – specifically sexy enough – and I went to great lengths to prove I was worth a man’s attention. AKA, I mistreated my body, put myself in dangerous situations, let people take advantage of me, and convinced myself that my physical body was the only thing that mattered. I think, in a lot of ways, Del Rey’s music also appealed to this messed up part of myself. Much of Del Rey’s music depicts a woman desperate over her man/men. In “Dark Paradise,” Del Rey’s lover has passed away and she can’t fathom living without him. This is, in many ways, a romantic and passionate gesture, but when looked at in the scope of her other songs, it furthers the image of a man-dependent woman. Her new album – which will be released in a few days – has a song titled “Fuck My Way to the Top,” and another titled “Ultraviolence,” in which Del Rey sings, “He hit me and it felt like true love” (a nod to the 1960s song by the Crystals). Her music videos often feature Del Rey wrapped around the arm of a man, portraying herself as an accessory, and many depict violence against women (generally Del Rey herself).
As a feminist, I want to take issue with these images, these lyrics, and this portrayal of women as powerless accessories for men. Whether or not Del Rey believes or supports the image of the woman she is depicting, it’s a potentially dangerous idea and image to be marketing to young women. I know this. I get this. But something stops me from dismissing Del Rey completely – if at all. As someone who has struggled intensely with my self-worth, specifically in regards to men and their perception of me, Del Rey’s music spoke to me in the midst of my troubles, and it speaks to me now. The first time I heard her butterscotch voice, I felt like she understood me – even though I didn’t know exactly what it was that she understood. All I knew was that, like Lana, I wanted to be adored, I wanted to love and be loved, and – hell – I wanted to be taken advantage of if it meant feeling special. Like the girls in those songs, I was submissive, indecisive, reckless, and intent on being desired. Del Rey’s lyrics – and her eerie, lilting melodies – spoke to these dark desires and feelings of confusion and helplessness. It wasn’t so much that she justified my skewed way of thinking – it was more as if she understood and was telling me I wasn’t alone. Her songs reminded me of my own writing – a medium where I could lay bare my insecurities and shortcomings. Yes, Del Rey’s songs depict a woman who isn’t especially feminist. But I’ve been that woman – I still am that woman from time to time. I hear Del Rey’s music nowadays and am reminded of my struggles. But I like that. Sure, I’m a bit of a masochist. But I also think it’s healthy to revisit the tough times, because, let’s be honest, I’m still struggling and still growing and I don’t want to forget how far I’ve come or how far I have to go. Del Rey’s music still inspires me every time I hear it. It inspires me to look inside myself, and it inspires me to express every aspect of myself, even the parts that are shadowy and dangerous. None of us are perfect, and I think it’s okay that Del Rey’s music depicts an imperfect person in an imperfect world. Sure, she could sing about girls taking over the world like Beyoncé, or how we’re all “born this way,” like Lady Gaga, but that’s not what Del Rey’s music is about. It’s about the flaws, the nitty-gritty, the nightmares, the women and men who are falling apart. It’s about facing death, it’s about domestic abuse, it’s about girls who are crying, and collapsing, and yearning. If you were to read my poetry, you’d find work that doesn't look anything like an ode to feminism. They are about anorexia, rape, and self-loathing. (They sound like a joy to read don’t they?). They are about darkness and dread and devastation. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t feminist. Just because my writing – or Del Rey’s – describes women who are struggling, making poor decisions, etc., doesn’t mean they should be discredited. Feminism – like life – is an ongoing process and journey. I - like almost every woman I know - have been through some harrowing things, and writing about them is what got – and gets - me through. Del Rey’s music represents, to me, some of the negativity we are faced with, and it reminds me that I’m not alone – that it’s okay to feel scared, to have been hurt, to have fucked up.
If there’s one thing I do take issue with, it’s Del Rey’s recent statement that feminism doesn’t interest her. I hope that she misspoke, or that, in time, she’ll realize that she is a feminist, and that the woman in her songs – whether it’s her, me, all of us, or none of us – will find a way to overcome the darkness.
So, I guess in actuality, I don’t have that much of a problem. I still love Lana Del Rey and I still love her music. Sure, I wish she’d embrace feminism and promote it for all the women who adore her and look up to her. But, when it comes to her music, I still support and feel incredibly moved by her work. It was there for me at my lowest lows, and it is here for me now as an inspiration and a reminder. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or understand why I feel this way, but – for me – Del Rey’s music will always hold a special place in my deepest, darkest soul.
Let me know how you feel about Del Rey and her music – I’d love to hear some other opinions!