Proud Gemini Lana del Rey started her sun sign’s season with a bang and she did so by posing a “question for the culture.” On May 22, the singer-songwriter posted a letter that started with: “Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyonce have had number ones about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f*cking, cheating etc.—can I please go back to singing 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?” She has since followed up with another text post and a video to dispel claims about her statement being racist. She clarified that the only declaration she made was about the “need for fragility in the feminist movement.”
For Lana del Rey, “the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept.” In an interview with Fader in 2014, she said that she’s “more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities.” It seems that her disinterest in feminism hinges on a perceived exclusion of women like her—the kind of woman who says no but men hear yes, in her words—in the women’s movement. Since her Lizzie Grant era, she has been blunt about how she enjoys playing a submissive role in her relationships. In 2011, she shared that the strangest performance she ever had was “alone in a basement for a handsome record executive.” What sounds a lot like a #MeToo horror story is a romance that she fondly looks back on. She revealed that the label head was her muse even if he never signed her.
The seven-year relationship was her inspiration for tracks such as “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” on the album “Ultraviolence.” Writer Lindsay Zoladz observed that “When Del Rey does sing about striving to acquire power, it’s usually by fighting exploitation with more exploitation.” She adds that while that album comes off as defeatist, “it also taps into a genuine fatigue that a lot of young people—and girls in particular—have when it comes to ‘achievement.’”
While it’s she’s been criticized for her themes, her music continues to be well received by critics even if they’re not always fully convinced of her storytelling. This has been a source of frustration for del Rey whose idea of empowerment is rooted in a recognition of authenticity and the freedom to be whoever she chooses to be. Spencer Kornhaber of the Atlantic noticed that in the album “Norman F*cking Rockwell!,” del Rey perhaps started to realize how toxic love isn’t just enclosed in the realm of the personal. Still she sings about her man child and booze. “In the past, she synthesized those two impulses with a creepy vision of daddy/girlie gender relations and a creepier romanticization of death. Now she’s chasing dignity rather than doom,” writes Kornhaber. The album received two major Grammy nominations.
You may remember Ann Powers’ review for the same album that del Rey fired back at. She told the NPR critic, “I may never never have made bold political or cultural statements before- because my gift is the warmth I live my life with and the self-reflection I share generously.” Not that Powers invalidated this. Many fans were disappointed with this response to the thoughtful piece. Powers said that while del Rey continues to be “a loyalist to outdated ideals like mad love and bad boy machismo,” her exploration of the contemporary psyche provided a look into the script of “a dream of romantic fulfillment that slipped into self-negation” ingrained in women by their mothers and the men who benefit from it.
Lana del Rey isn’t the first woman who has sang about the romance in abusive relationships. Similar songs include The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” and Holly Dunn’s “Maybe I Mean Yes.” Beyonce and Rihanna have also released songs about it in the past. It’s not a topic that women are just now exploring. Even women who aren’t delicate, as del Rey would put it, have been in similar situations.
We’re not yet at a stage where women are free to choose not to be submissive. The singer is already anticipating “a third wave of feminism” that will be more accepting of the “softer female personality.” (We’re already in the fourth wave of feminism, by the way.) Let’s not forget that while boss women have been taking the spotlight recently, many everyday women are still forced into being meek and passive. What she calls the “dissociation to fragility and sexuality” of those critical of her music is a response to the continued objectification of women. She has spoken against Trump’s “grab em by the p*ssy comment” and she mentioned domestic abuse as well as mental health problems in her Instagram video. I presume that this isn’t lost on her.
Feminism at its core is about fighting for gender equality. If waxing poetic about uneven power dynamics is part of Lana del Rey’s “advocacy for fragility” then it seems to be a self-sabotaging move to fight for this. There is already a space for women who have soft dispositions in today’s feminism. More people are starting to be more conscious of victim-blaming and how the burden to change must be on the abuser. For women to truly be free to be their authentic selves, what we must go up against is patriarchy which equates femininity with weakness. Today’s feminism is already cognizant of that and for del Rey to realize this, perhaps a reintroduction is in order.