Friday, December 11, 2015

Fear of a Lana Del Rey Planet


On his 2015 breakout album, Beauty Behind the Madness, R&B Lothario the Weeknd performs a duet with pop singer Lana Del Rey on the full-length’s penultimate track, “Prisoner.”

A song about addictions, Del Rey’s verse plays out like an encapsulation of her musical ideology in just four scant lines:

I think I’ve been in Hollywood for too long
Cause I can feel my soul burning, feel it burning slow
But I would be nothing without the touch
I feel the rush and it’s amazing

Over the course of her still ascendant career, Del Rey has carefully crafted a persona that stands well apart from the current crop of female pop stars.

Where the likes of Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES, et al. make a decided point of projecting powerful, determined women, Del Rey’s image is one of codependency; where her admitted addiction to Hollywood and all its trappings, steel-hearted men and rapturous bliss that’s always just out of reach is her driving force—even if she already knows it’s just a pipe dream of diminishing returns that’s slowly burning her from the inside out.

There’s a casually tossed off masochism and latent submissiveness at play, one that surely makes many critics uncomfortable. The epitome of the classic trope of the doomed American beauty who still revels in the very trappings that hasten her downward spiral, Lana Del Rey’s music casts a shadowy pall that simultaneously hurts so good for her millions of fans around the world who obsess over every song lyric and Instagram post.

In reality, however, Del Rey is no Marilyn Monroe. Far from a victim, the singer is in complete control of her surroundings, unafraid to lay bare predilections some would surely prefer she left unsaid (when asked why she’s depicted being choked in music videos during a 2014 interview with FADER, Del Rey’s response: “I like a little hardcore love.”)

In a time when social phenomenon like Ashley Madison and sugar baby/daddy culture are prominent in the public eye, Del Rey’s musical modus operandi of perpetually chasing a particularly kind of emotional high that comes from being desired and coddled is one many would consider dubious at best.

As such, the singer has been vehemently attacked as antifeminist, particularly after she was noted on record as calling feminism “boring” in the same FADER interview.

“For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities,” she said. “Whenever people bring up feminism, I’m like, god. I’m just not really that interested.”

It’s a telling quote, one that emphasizes the distinction between Lana Del Rey the artistic persona and Lana Del Rey the human being. Having carefully crafted this character that personifies every sullen teen and heartbroken romantic weeping over crushed dreams, in reality she’s obsessing over technological breakthroughs and meeting Elon Musk, which she told Apple Beats 1 DJ Zane Lowe was “one of the best days of my life.”

Given Del Rey’s rapidly ascendant career, it’s amazing to remember that she first hit pop culture consciousness on the mass scale with a 2012 appearance on Saturday Night Live that was mercilessly skewered, eliciting harsh words from such public figures as Juliette Lewis, Eliza Dushku and disgraced newsman Brian Williams.

In retrospect, her SNL showing feels like the ultimate long con, the perfect setup to position herself as the beautiful loser, the comeback kid, the wallflower at the party who still draws a lion’s share of the attention.

What the singer has done is carve out a unique niche in the increasingly crowded musical landscape, eliciting desire, controversy, and obsession: all components of a true star in 2015 (her recently released album, Honeymoon, is already generating some of the best reviews of her career and is poised to make a sizable impression on the Billboard charts).

The luxury we have as a younger generation is being able to figure out where we want to go from here, which is why I’ve said things like, 'I don’t focus on feminism, I focus on the future,'” Del Rey explained during an interview with actor James Franco earlier this year. “It’s not to say that there’s not more to do in that area. I’ve gotten to witness through history the evolution of so many movements and now I’m standing at the forefront of new technological movements. I’m not undermining other issues. But I feel like that’s obvious, like I shouldn’t even have to bring that up.”

Or as she even more succinctly put it back in 2014: “My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”