Early Thursday morning, singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey posted a message on her Instagram. The gist of the long winded post is that she feels as though she is attacked in the media for her lyrics and persona while other singers — whom she calls out by name — get undeserved attention for content that has themes she doesn’t agree with.
Del Rey’s phrasing gives the impression that she believes she’s a victim. Words like “crucified” and “slated mercilessly” conjure images of an angry mob. She paints herself as “submissive” and “delicate.” However, the narrative of Del Rey being victimized by the media is not particularly accurate.
Del Rey’s latest album, Norman Fucking Rockwell! received rave reviews. In its review, Pitchfork calls her “one of America’s greatest living songwriters.” Rolling Stone gave the project 4.5 out of 5 stars. The album was on many decade-end lists as one of the best pop albums. Many of her earlier albums garnered similar praise from critics.
Of course, like any star, Del Rey has her critics and rightfully so. She once said in an interview, “I wish I was already dead,” leading Kurt Cobain’s daughter Frances to reprimand her for idealizing early deaths. Helen Brown puts it well in an article from The Independent in 2019, saying, “She romanticised domestic ‘ultraviolence,’ had herself choked in videos and recycled The Crystals’ 1962 line, ‘He hit me and it felt like a kiss.’” Even then, though, Brown goes on to praise Del Rey’s music outside of her questionable lyricism.
Though Del Rey uses the language of victimhood in her post, she immediately goes on the offensive. All of the artists Del Rey named were women of color, except for Ariana Grande. Specifically, she mentions Beyoncé, Doja Cat, Kehlani, Cardi B, Camila Cabello and Nicki Minaj. She calls out the artists she’s mentioned for topping charts while dressing scantily and singing about sex rather than “being embodied” or “feeling beautiful.” The women she mentioned, as far as I can tell, have never said a bad word about her publicly prior to the post. Yet she chose to mention them, rather than someone like Lorde, who once called Del Rey’s music “completely irrelevant.”
Women of color, and black women in particular, are often heavily targeted in the media. In her book about racial stereotypes, author Tamara Winfrey-Harris explains that black women are often hyper-sexualized while white women, taking a cue from the Antebellum South, portray themselves as dainty and delicate. Del Rey invokes these negative stereotypes in her post by specifically naming black artists and calling them out for “being sexy and wearing no clothes.” In contrast, she calls herself “authentic” and “glamourous.” Del Rey plays into racist tropes, which is extremely harmful. A celebrity using this type of language further normalizes and, in some people’s minds, justifies it.
“I'm not not a feminist,” Del Rey writes in one of the paragraphs. She explains that she doesn’t think there’s a place in feminism right now for women who look and act like her, “the kind of women who get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women or by men who hate women.”
In a sense, she has a point. Modern feminism, in some forms, does shut people out. But on the receiving end of the mistreatment is almost always women of color, disabled women, queer women and trans women. For instance, the TERF, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, movement is gaining more prevalence in online communities. In another example, journalist Rachel Cargle calls “liberal white women’s feminism” toxic and fragile toward women of color seeking solidarity. It was originally a black woman — Kimberlé Crenshaw — that coined the term “intersectionality.” These are the women whose voices are silenced. Feminism has always had a place for women like Del Rey: wealthy, white, straight, traditionally beautiful.
Being criticized for the content you put out is not the same as being a victim of societal ill treatment. Del Rey doesn’t seem to grasp this concept. Instead, she co-opts the genuine critiques of one-dimensional feminism that many women have and uses it for her own purposes. Author L.L. McKinney explains her feelings on the statement in a Twitter thread:
Del Rey also willfully ignores the marginalized women that came before her in the music industry. She makes the claim that she “paved the way for other women to stop ‘putting on a happy face’” — a bold (and incorrect) statement. In the 1950s, black female artists like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday were unafraid to sing their true emotions, like on Holiday’s “Lady Sings The Blues.” Joan Baez, a Latina folk singer from the 1960s who Del Rey has performed with, was groundbreakingly vocal about her politics. Janet Jackson’s “The Velvet Rope,” released in 1997, addresses themes of depression and domestic violence. There are countless other examples of marginalized women who actually paved the road for Del Rey, rather than the other way around.
Maybe this media cycle is what Del Rey wanted. At the end of the post, she mentions both a new album and two books of poetry coming out soon. After all, any press is good press. In any case, Del Rey’s rant made her emblematic of a manufactured, commodified victimhood.
Editor's Note: The views presented in this story belong to the writer and are not necessarily reflective of North by Northwestern as a whole.
Thumbnail licensed by Wikimedia Commons. [[File:Lana Del Rey at KROQ Weenie Roast 2017 (cropped).jpg|thumb|Lana Del Rey at KROQ Weenie Roast 2017 (cropped)]].