There are different ways to listen to music. My preferred way to listen is to pay attention to the lyrics. I find the significance in the words, and more often than not they impact my perspective. Alternatively, sometimes I just like certain songs for what they are: entertainment. I’m not always in the mood to listen to Nirvana and contemplate life. Honestly there are times when I don’t even care about artistic substance, which is why you’ll find a whole lot of Britney Spears on my iPod.
I recently started listening to Lana Del Rey. She has an alluring vocal quality that I can’t seem to get enough of; not to mention the delectable fusion of pop, hip hop and electronic beats. Yet critics are vehemently divided on her. There are a few contributing factors to this, the most important being the controversial content of her lyrics. She’s not scandalous because she’s daring, rather it is the surprisingly old fashioned outlook she takes on romance (and in turn self-respect). Her second album has been called a “feminist nightmare” (and that was in one of the better reviews). It would be a challenge to try and dispute that considering the following lyrics: “This is what makes us girls/We don’t stick together ‘cause we put our love first.” Even with her first album (which will be rereleased this summer) you won’t find any female empowerment: “Come on, you know you like little girls/You can be my daddy.” Her melancholic and even desperate lyrics go on about love, partying and rising fame in a way that seems best suited to the previous century. So how can any self-respecting woman enjoy her music? More importantly: Is Lana Del Rey the Antifeminist, taking the woman’s movement a few steps back?
First off, it is important to recognize that entertainers are paid to project a certain image. Essentially they are like a brand that conforms to a distinct idea in order to appeal to a particular audience. The truth is that most musicians do not practice what they preach; just because it’s in the lyrics does not make it reality. For example: For all of Eminem’s rapping about insanity, violence and abuse I don’t see him racking up a body count. Also there’s the Chris Brown scandal. He sings about the deeply romantic notion of “forever” yet he still was capable of violently abusing his former girlfriend Rihanna. These false projections can be found in every genre. Del Rey is selling the image of a sad, misguided party girl who wants little more than to be loved, and recognizes some of the unfortunate truths of western society.
That brings me to my second point: Lana Del Rey is very much a product of our world. Our culture is thoroughly penetrated by materialism and aspirations of fame. Not to mention in all forms of entertainment love is often the overarching goal. From Disney movies to classic literature, an inordinate amount of significance is place on the need to have a lover/spouse to lead meaningful lives. Also, she’s not wrong when she touches on the catty nature of women in regards to other women. It’s a tragic reality that women turn against each other so often, especially when it comes to men or the way one chooses to dress. It is not that men aren’t guilty of this too. But while movies try to sell us on the ‘bro code’ or the ‘bromance’ they also frequently portray women clashing over men or a shoe sale as though there is nothing wrong with that. Looking at my own experiences I can see the prevalence of female hostility too. While Del Rey doesn’t offer any solutions to this world she seems to be drowning in, she isn’t necessarily the problem. She is simply another entertainer.