Against Lana Del Rey

Written By Hannah Wolff on 06/13/2014

LANA_AGAINST

Lana Del Rey is one of the most divisive figures in pop music. As she approaches the release of her second album, Ultraviolence, two of our writers took sides. One in defence of Lana and the other against. Yesterday, Sam wrote in defence of the singer. Today, Hannah writes in opposition to Lana Del Rey. Let the battles begin. 

Let’s just start by saying I am someone never short of an opinion. Founded or otherwise, once I’ve settled on said opinion, I dig my heels firm into the ground on which I stand and should you have a hope in hell of changing said opinion, come armed with a hefty entourage of big ol’ beefy men to drag me kicking and screaming from my stake on a patch of self assured, unnecessarily opinionated turf.

This is relevant only because sometime during 2011 I decided to hate Lana Del Rey. Or Lizzie Grant. Or Elizabeth Grant. Or whatever name she was choosing to use at that stage of her career.

Now, in anticipation of her second major-label album release, Ultraviolence, with google producing more than 98,900,000 search results in less than 0.25 seconds for those three little big-money-making words, Lana Del Rey, I thought it best to revisit exactly what it is about the boofy-hair-come-boofy-lipped beauty I just can’t bring myself to endure. You know, for rebuttal's sake.

While a fair amount of hate is attributable to the fact that Born To Die alone has sold more than the combined efforts of Queen B’s last two studio albums, it goes deeper. Sorry Beyonce.

Reading Ms Del Rey’s interview with The Fader last week, it’s impossible to ignore the first mention of any of her creative potential is not, as you would expect, regarding her languid vocals or her new, rock-focused direction but rather her synonymous video clips. “Lana Del Rey’s filmography is a master class on how to build an icon,” while said by Duncan Cooperin's reference to the “shaky clip of a teary 2013 performance, shot on a phone by a fan in Dublin,” it does seem to echo a similar sentiment of Del Rey’s own: “My songs are cinematic so they seem to reference a glamorous era or fetishize certain lifestyles.” And one again found in Nitsuh Abebe’s article for Pitchfork that notes rather despairingly, “In a sense, these great videos are oddly terrible at their job: Instead of selling you the music and showing you how it can feel, they actually hint at what the music lacks, the places it could go but has chosen not to.”

Del Rey’s music, image, videos, life, are so tightly tangled in one aesthetic, that there is simply no room to allow the viewer (should be/ would be listener) any truly unique or personal experience when engaging with her works. I’m hesitant to merely say “songs” because an overarching criticism is that just as Abebe suggests, her music is almost incomplete without an accompanying video clip. And, with her video clips more often than not forming literal representations of her already didactic lyrics, neither of them are anything without the sticky glue of Del Rey’s public persona. As it goes, Lana is as Lana does. Which is great if, as an artist, all you are interested in is carving out a niche for yourself, but when that niche becomes so tightly defined and imbued with cultural references of a bygone era, for the audience, it’s almost like falling down a very un-fun rabbit hole in which Del Rey’s nostalgia-by-design becomes “a fantasy world that makes you long for reality.”

The thing about Del Rey is that, yes, while her music is undeniably evocative, it is only evocative in a singular dimension that “relies on clichés ("God you're so handsome/ Take me to the Hamptons") rather than specific evocations.” It is such an exacting formula for nostalgia that should you deviate or be unwilling to travel down the same sepia-toned pathway, filled with the icons of way-back-when Americana, her music loses a decent amount of poignancy. While I acknowledge songs like Video Games, use this nostalgia to comment on 21st century livin’, if I can’t share the memory, I can’t learn from it. In this way her impeccably constructed image, coupled with her impeccably construct sound are, well... incredibly disengaging.

On that note, the constructed nature of Lana Del Rey’s career, that often attracts criticism for lack of authenticity and calls for the real Lana to please stand up, are surprisingly not a part of this argument. “Fake it 'til you make it,” has been a catch cry for masses of young, off-broadway hopefuls for generations now. Identity is fluid. It charges full steam ahead towards destination unknown, rarely touching the same stone twice, even for the most obdurate of personalities, of which Del Rey is not. To criticise the Del Rey today for not being the Lizzie Grant of the noughties, is no different from criticising the Miley Cyrus of today for not being the Hannah Montana of Disney fame. As a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, change is inevitable. Hell, even as an old woman on the cusp of menopause, change is inevitable. Change is ALWAYS inevitable. Were Lana Del Rey to do what Jon Caramanica suggests and wash that paint off her face and try again in a few years, she would be absolutely no better off, hounded by the exact same accusations of inauthenticity and falsehood.

What I will call bullshit on is that we, well you, her adoring fans, are supposed to take some solace from the too-well rehearsed party line, ‘while you might not know who she is, have faith nonetheless, she doesn’t know either.’ Poor, poor, lost soul Lana. After all, as Del Rey so succinctly puts it, she’s just “fucking around.” Reinvention is vital to success in an era of minute-attention spans, but really, who’s buying the just “fucking around” attitude? That, my friends is bullshit. That a woman can double Beyonce’s record sales just by “fucking around” and we’re supposed to lap it up, is quite frankly an insult. Alter egos, multiple personalities, stage presences, genuine experimentation, a new pair of shoes, a new “do,” are all part of staying alive as the pop machine churns ever onwards, but have some integrity while you rip through your mothers dress-up draw. Change with intention. Change from the core. Change for personal growth. Change and damn well say you’re changing. As it is, Caramanica hits the nail on the head in his New York times article, “People don’t know what to do with this unformed thing they’ve been told they need to care about; crushing it is easy, almost humane.”

Sitting here with my Mum, giving her a brief education on just who the enigma Lana Del Rey might be; her response? “She should just chuck it in, do away with her failed rendition of 60s screen siren sexuality and be a nice girl.”

Here, here.

Read the companion piece to this: In Defence of Lana Del Rey.