Lana Del Rey is the epitome of the classic, feminine woman. It is exactly this that has earned her almost all of the vitriol that has been thrown her way. In today’s climate in which the focus is on eschewing traditional gender roles, Lana Del Rey stands as someone who embraces and lauds the relationship between men and women.
Her music videos are often a celebration of men and women and the joys to be had in these interactions. As such, she has been criticized for not being a feminist and by extension making her a villain and the target of numerous negative pieces of “journalism”.
Many female celebrities wear makeup, but Del Rey has drawn ire for using this in the creation of her brand. I hate to quote Entertainment Weekly, but in a 2014 article, writer Ray Rahman described part of the initial backlash to her as stemming from the public’s disapproval of her “narcotized sex-doll” image. Del Rey has worn heavy yet stunning makeup in her music videos, but why does this earn her the negative perception of “sex doll” when others like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry manage to wear large amounts of makeup while going unscathed? The reason is context. While Perry and Lady Gaga in their videos and personas both on and off the stage incorporate messages of rebuking negative male-female relationships and a challenge of standard gender roles and ideals, respectively, Del Rey inhabits and espouses a world of retro Americana in which men are men and women are women. Because she celebrates tradition and clear differences people frequently misinterpret this as a denouncement of same-sex relationships or feminism. This is to make the mistake that a celebration of male-female dynamics and the support of modern, progressive causes are mutually exclusive. Del Rey has never made any comment or given any indication that she doesn’t support the LBGTQ community or women in general. There was an interview in which she was asked whether she was a feminist and failed to get in robotic line with everyone else, which is the source of much of her detractors. One of the most unfortunate trends in celebrity interviewing during the past four years (an era that has seen a number of unfortunate trends) is that of asking the usually female interview subject if she considers herself a feminist. Perhaps as with a courtroom question
directed at a witness by the attorney who knows the answer they will receive, the question of whether a woman is a feminist is lobbed at almost every female interview subject now with the expectation that she will say she is a feminist. This of course, gives the media outlet the ability to run a headline along the lines of, “Reese Witherspoon discusses blockbusters, fashion and feminism”. The feminism aspect is not so much something that was brought up by the actress in question, but rather discussed at the behest of the reporter. Should the actress decide to not fall in line and opts instead to speak her own mind, the outlet might have even more powerful clickbait with a headline deriding the actress or singer for not supporting women.
This was the case with Del Rey and also Shailene Woodley. Woodley was asked in a 2014 interview with Time magazine whether she identifies as a feminist and replied, “No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50% feminine and 50% masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.”
The negative response to Woodley’s opinion that balance is preferable to usurpation was swift and sure. Later on, after her fame and career took a hit (not just because of the lackluster Divergent series) Woodley backpedaled and began playing the game every celebrity needs to in order to have a career. It should be noted that in today’s online “journalism” culture, the need for clicks overrides sincerity and in any article, it is not certain whether the writer is genuine or searching for high traffic in order to keep their job. Nevertheless, Allure.com ran a piece criticizing Woodley for her shift from non-feminist to feminist, splitting such ridiculous hairs as Woodley’s use of the term “females”, which supposedly denotes a species’ gender-specific state of providing procreation, instead of the use of the term “women” to describe a specific human gender. Furthermore, the piece took aim at Woodley’s supposed exclusion of transgender women in using the term “female”.
Del Rey took a hit for expressing her opinion that feminism wasn’t an interesting concept. She said to Fader magazine, “For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept.
“Whenever people bring up feminism, I'm like, god. I'm just not really that interested.
“I'm more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what's going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities.”
Del Rey went on to say, “My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”
It’s interesting that the concept of freedom is not honored by the feminist movement, as Del Rey is clearly exercising her freedom to think as she pleases. Thought that is only in line with a mandate is not thought at all, but rather obedience. If feminism includes equality as well as freedom, Del Rey is at least being denied the latter. It’s not only Del Rey’s refusal to fall in line with the mainstream view of feminism that has caused the backlash, but also the lyrics in her songs and her overall persona.
In her breakout song “Video Games”, Del Rey sings of the comfort and bliss she experienced while spending time with a man. The song is about the simplicity of sharing an experience or activity with someone she has feelings for.
“Open up a beer and you say get over here and play your video games,” she sings early in the song. Both drinking beer and playing video games are activities one might associate with whiling time away. They are passing, unproductive activities. They are activities associated often with what is remembered fondly as a period of life associated with unhurried contentedness in the early stages of adulthood. During this stage, usually in our early 20s, we are old enough to feel grown up yet young enough not to know what adulthood means. It is a time during which a man and a woman haven’t yet encountered the anxiety that comes with aging. The fear of unfulfilled potential and dwindling opportunities is far beyond the horizon and at this time the most serene comfort is found in simply enjoying time together; time of which there is plenty available.
Del Rey confirms this by singing, “Heaven is a place on earth with you.” She is romanticizing this joy and the song is a celebration of this type of infatuation that leads to being happy just watching the object of one’s affection play video games. It is her embrace of admiration of a male that earns her much of her criticism.
Romantic relationships between men and women are a theme in many of her songs and accompanying music videos. Often these relationships involve older men, contributing to the criticism Del Rey receives for being submissive. Her video for “Ride” opens and closes with her narration, which as the credits for this roughly 10-minute short film note, was written by her. She speaks, “I was in the winter of my life and the men I met along the road were my only summer.” The video features shots of Del Rey cavorting with a series of men at gas stations, dive bars ad roadside motels.
In between these scenes of aimless wanderings are sequences in a desert landscape emblematic of a classic American ideal. The open road and this Route 66 - style journey in conjunction with the celebration of the comfort in the arms of companions. “They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people,” Del Rey says in the video, referring to people who question her lifestyle. Del Rey’s affinity for both classicism (her short film “Tropico” features images of Elvis Presley and John Wayne, icons of 1950s Americana) and head-over-heels romance yields her much dislike and suspicion in an era in which traditional relationships are often considered a threat to
This shouldn’t be the case, since Del Rey is very progressive in her interest of science as evidenced by her interview with The Fader. Because there’s now such a strong push for women to join scientific fields, this should be valued, but people have instead focused on Del Rey as a threat.
All that aside, Lana Del Rey is an important force in an era that is far too divisive. While factions split into even smaller groups based on how they feel about relationships and gender, trying to “out-progress” each other, Del Rey lives in and espouses a world in which relationships aren’t political statements, but rather organic and beautiful pairings based on genuine affection.