Scandals, daddies and love songs define Lana Del Rey’s image, but make it hard to support both the controversial artist and her art
To her fans, Lana Del Rey used to be a maiden of mystery—the personification of cigarette buds, drugs, long nails and an affinity for singing about older men. From claiming to find validation in her sexuality as a woman to wearing mesh masks in public, she is a New York vixen turned California “valley girl.”
Del Rey’s work began long before her critically acclaimed album “Born To Die.” In 2007, Del Rey released her debut EP “Kill Kill” with 5 Points Records under the name Lizzy Grant, which is a homage to her actual legal name of Elizabeth Wooldrige Grant. 2010 saw the release of her self-titled album “Lana Del Rey,” which garnered little attention and was ultimately shelved by her record label.
The woman who ditched her dark brunette locks for the California blonde highlights and an unofficial gay icon—this music artist garnered infamy during a “botched” SNL performance on January 14, 2012, right before the release of “Born to Die” (2012), which is ranked No. 435 in the overall greatest album chart with a total rank score of 4,508.
Del Rey has released six studio albums, 35 singles and 11 promotional singles. Her most popular and celebrated albums are “Born To Die” (2012), “Ultraviolence” (2014), “Honeymoon” (2015), “Lust for Life” (2017), and “Norman F****** Rockwell!” (2019), overall getting her 5 Grammy nominations.
Her music speaks to identities her fans never knew they occupied. She is a lyricist that creates atypical love stories, a singer who makes the universe feel smaller than it is. Feelings of unrequited love, ache for freedom and need for constant change color each of her albums.
In “Born To Die,” the ballad “Ride” personifies the struggle of wanting to be free and untethered, while also not wanting to be alone. As she so ironically says, “Been trying’ hard not to get into trouble/But I, I’ve got a war in my mind… so I just ride.”
Throughout the album, there is this struggle between wanting to be loved and accepted for her authentic self while also defining herself in terms of stereotypes of drugs and alcohol, being “daddy’s girl” and being pursued by older men.
Her 2014 album “Ultraviolence” transports the reader back to the 1960s and 1970s with its dream pop and psychedelic rock elements. Songs like “West Coast,” “Cruel World” and “Florida Kilos” make the reader feel as if they are in an intoxicating relationship filled with dangerous love, cocaine and chaos.
Her sardonic songs “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When You Cry” are reminiscent of being in stereotypical relationships in which you’re always being let down, undervalued and made to feel like a side piece. In her bluesy song, “Sad Girl,” Del Rey shows that with lyrics “His money on the side, money on the side/Makes me so sad, girl.”
“Honeymoon,” her fifth studio album is ironically named even though it is concoction of
dark, gothic themes and submission to the one you love. In the song “Religion,” Del Rey creates a soundscape in which the person she loves is her “religion/You’re how I’m living.” Similar to some people’s experience with organized religion, the people we become romantically involved with can take over all aspects of our lives.
In her fifth studio album, “Lust for Life,” Del Rey creates a light, airy feeling of hope that is solidified by songs such as “Get Free” and “Change.” With less focus on love stories, the 16-track album includes a myriad of experiences, from heart-ache, drugs and self-actualization of one’s inner saboteur to this need to change and wait for a “tomorrow never came.”
This was also her first major album to have guest appearances—Sean Lennon, Stevie Nicks, Playboi Carti, ASAP Rocky and The Weeknd are all featured.
In regards to her sixth studio album “Norman F****** Rockwell!” (NFR!) produced by Jack Antonoff and Del Rey, there is an emergence of a new side of the singer.
Arguably her most politically and socially aware album, Del Rey sings about the state of the world with her song “The greatest” in which she professes “Hawaii just missed that fireball/L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot.” The Hawaii lyric referenced the Jan. 13, 2019 missile threat scare in which Hawaii residents woke up to an emergency alert on their phones saying “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Del Rey even comments on the climate crisis with her reference to the 2019 California wildfires.
The seventh track on the album is “Cinnamon Girl,”which is a warm embrace on an ice-cold night. There’s this comfort in the universal feeling of wanting to love someone who might not be good for us, but still makes us happy, that is captured when Del Rey says “There’s things I wanna say to you, but I’ll just let you leave/Like if you hold me without hurting me/You’ll be the first who ever did.”
Throughout the album Del Rey captures the unstable feelings of many millennials and Gen Z’ers. Happiness is fleeting, the world feels like it’s burning and going to consume us whole and our political world is in shambles. Kanye West isn’t the musical savior we had hoped he was, and there is this unshakable anxiety that makes us just say, “F*** it, I love you.”
Yet, despite her Grammy nominations and fanbase, Del-Rey is not beyond scandal or controversy. She has often been accused of glamorizing abuse in her music. This was first seen in 2012 in her video for the song “Blue Jeans.” In addition, she experienced backlash for wearing a full Native American headdress in her music video for “Ride.”
In 2018, Del-Rey butted heads on Instagram with Kanye West for whom she had previously performed her song,“Young and Beautiful,” at his rehearsal dinner at the Palace of Versailles for his wedding to Kim Kardashian in 2013. In 2018, West hosted Saturday Night Live in which he gave an impromptu speech endorsing President Trump. Del Rey threw a shot at him saying his endorsement of the US president was “a loss for the culture.”
However, this headline worthy exchange caught the attention of rapper Azealia Banks who got involved in this West-Del Rey feud.
“To me this just looks like the typical White woman using a weakened target to ‘pretend’ to be an ally,” Banks tweeted. In addition, the Twitter-trending, key-board battle escalated to alleged threats of burning Del Rey’s house as Banks tweeted “When her house mysteriously goes up in flames while she is asleep inside… I want to see as many #Azealiavoodoo hashtags as possible.”
Del Rey fired back on Oct. 9, 2018 with “u know the addy. Pull up anytime. Say it to my face. But if I were you- I wouldn’t.”
In 2019, riding the high of her extremely successful sixth studio album, “Norman F****** Rockwell,” which had garnered two Grammy nominations, Del Rey shaded Ann Powers, NPR’s revered music critic, for her “NFR!” album review.
Powers characterized her music as having “uncooked” lyrics and that her artistic persona is like “a bad girl to whom bad things are done.”
Del Rey responded back on Twitter, saying, “Here’s a little sidenote on your piece — I don’t even relate to one observation you made about the music. There’s nothing uncooked about me. To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will.”
Power’s overall critique of “NFR!” was positive as there were many parts of her piece that praised the album. “The power of NFR! emanates from another source: her compulsion to collapse logic, to violate boundaries musically, through imagery and within her storytelling,” wrote Powers.
On May 21, 2020 Del Rey took to Instagram in which she penned a harsh letter that criticized “the culture” for allowing “Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyonce have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f******, cheating, etc” but was offended that she was not allowed to sing, “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?”
Del Rey doubled down saying that, “Let this be clear, I’m not not a feminist but there has to be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me—the kind of woman who says no but men hear yes – the kind of 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.”
Del Rey’s most recent social media backlash was over pictures of her wearing a shimmering, mesh face mask at a book signing event.
On Oct. 5, she was trending on Twitter with many concerned fans wondering why her actions felt tone-deaf given the current circumstances of the world.
At the end of the day, Del Rey’s music embodies melancholy, daddy issues, heartbreak and makes you feel nostalgic about feelings you’ve never experienced. She is controversial, creating a niche for unconventionality. A wealthy woman teetering on the edge of the “problematic white woman.”
But she is also someone whose music passes for spoken poetry. Her music personifies an unattainable image of a romanticized lifestyle. She is a woman that contains competing multitudes. A storyteller who makes it hard to support the artist while also celebrating the music. Written by: Muhammad Tariq — firstname.lastname@example.org