Lana Del Rey’s Essay: Not Big, Not Clever and Hardly Feminist

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By now, you’ve probably heard about the essay Lana Del Rey posted to her Instagram account on 23rd May. You may even have read it. In case you hadn’t, or dismissed it as a TL;DR, I can summarise it as this: a long winded version of the “I’m not like other girls” cliché.

Del Rey appears to criticise ‘Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj’, artists who “have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f***ing, cheating, etc”. At the same time, she questioned why she was being ‘crucified’ for singing about “being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship isn’t perfect, or dancing for money”.

This is not the artistic critique Del Rey imagined it to be. If anything, it comes off as self-pitying, even arrogant, whinging.

She appears to be elevating her own music above other, apparently less artistic singers, as if she makes “real art” and they don’t. Because, of course, she’s not like those other, seemingly ‘lesser’ girls.

Later in the essay, she calls out the detractors who accuse her of “setting women back a hundred years”. Ironically, there’s nothing very 2020 about what she’s saying. She’s gone back to the days where it was totally fine and totally normal to tear other women down. It accomplishes nothing.

Besides, the women she mentions are no less than her simply because of what they sing about. To imply so needlessly reinforces a sense of inequality we should have moved past by now. There is value in women writing songs about sexuality: it is celebratory, and it pushes back against the stigma that has been attached to sexual women for far too long.

Del Rey goes on to argue that “there must be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me, the kind of women who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate selves”. It’s almost impressive how blindly ignorant this sounds. There’s always been a place in feminism for her. She’s white, straight, cisgender, non-disabled, and conventionally attractive.

It’s not just her who is ‘slated mercilessly’ by the press either. We live in a patriarchal society. All women in the public eye face what she does, and some of them experience far more prejudice and backlash than she ever will.

As many commentators and members of the public have picked up on, most of those women she mentioned and derided are black. They are the ones who are more frequently left out of feminist discourse. They are subject not only to misogyny but to misogynoir.  

There are countless articles debating whether Beyonce is “too sexy”. Even Germaine Greer has called her out on it. Kehlani has received death threats and cruel jokes over her mental health. Despite not being black, Ariana Grande has faced enough unjustified hate, especially after the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller.

Various figures of colour from the music industry have called her out on her comments. SZA has admitted that Del Rey’s comments ‘really hurt’ her. Black artists, she wrote, “work very hard to be seen as soft and not threatening”, refuting the implication that the fragility Del Rey was referring to was only white women’s fragility. Doja Cat responded simply with “gang sunk that dunker”.

Meanwhile, journalist Toni Tone commented that her comments ‘left a bad taste’, given Del Rey’s unnecessary citations and criticisms black women and their music.

On Monday 25th May, Del Rey responded to criticisms of her essay in the form of a video message.

She could have apologised for the offence her insensitivity caused, but instead she only became defensive. She claimed that “when I mentioned women like me, I didn’t mean white like me”, but regardless, she created what the writer Nisi Shawl calls an ‘unintended resonance’ – she was problematic implicitly rather than explicitly. Del Rey should have been aware of how her words would be interpreted while writing the essay.

The errors of judgment continued. “When I get on the pole, I’m a whore, but when [FKA] twigs does it, it’s art,” Del Rey said. FKA twigs is also a black woman.

Somehow, Del Rey decided to continue doing everything she was called out for to begin with. Somehow, she was even more tone deaf than before, by implying that she is subject to a double standard a black woman benefits from and she doesn’t.

“I’m not the enemy and I’m not racist,” she continued. “I just wanna say that the culture is super sick right now… they want to turn my advocacy for fragility into a race war and it’s really bad.” Of course, in her mind, the problem has always been “the culture” that’s obsessed with race relations and is therefore out to get her because she’s a white woman. It’s always someone else’s fault, it seems.

Still, people are conscious of racial issues perhaps more than they ever have been and it’s a valuable mark of social progress. The discussions are everywhere, and to be oblivious to them in this day and age is a flaw that, in the time of cancel culture, can be fatal.

If Del Rey thought she was perceived badly to begin with, it will only get worse after the things she has come out with in her initial essay and follow up ‘apology’. Playing the role of the great artist who goes unappreciated by “the culture” won’t get her far. Given that she announced a new album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, in the same video, it won’t sell her albums either.

She’s become a hypocrite, criticising women who try to tear her down – ‘stronger women’ who take away the ‘stories and voices’ of women like her – while doing the exact same thing. Worse still, she takes no sense of accountability for very clearly making several mistakes.

This may seem like a trivial issue, when compared with the horrific murder of George Floyd on 25th May, but in a world of institutionalised racism and sexism, even the little things matter. Feminism stands for all oppressed groups. There is no use fighting for women’s rights if it is only the rights of white women being fought for.

Come on, Lana. Open your eyes. You’re better than this.

Words by Emma Wilkes

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