Wow, I’m now wishing I stanned Lana Del Rey a bit more quietly now. Instead, I was crying on the TL about her cancelling her tour back in February and bragging about Norman Fucking Rockwell! being my most listened to album of the decade on Spotify (the shame). Yesterday, randomly, Elizabeth Woolridge Grant decided to put out a statement on her Instagram page in which she critiqued the music industry for saying she is “glamorizing abuse”. She then brought up some other musicians including Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Kehlani for having number one songs about “being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating etc.” The whole thing was a mess. I am disappointed but not surprised.
Being a black fan of the ‘Born To Die’ singer already felt like balancing on a knife-edge. This was the final straw. And oh no, she didn’t stop there, Lana went on to say although she isn’t a feminist, there needs to be a space in feminism for women who look and act like her – authentic, delicate and who “get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women”. The idea that she somehow is at the forefront of meek and “delicate” womanhood does a real disservice to “white feminism”.
Deep down I knew there was a reason I purposely chose to have a Skepta-fingers-in-ears approach to Lana Del Rey. I don’t read her lyrics or interviews, or even try and find out about her life because I knew if I went digging I’d find something. The one time I really did tune into lyricism on her latest album I remember zoning into her whispering “Kanye West is blonde and gone” and thinking …stay in your lane. And of course, there’s her nostalgic Americana aesthetic, old Hollywood, wrapping herself up in the American flag, and seeing that time period through rose-tinted lenses. I’m sure it was a cute time unless you were black of course.
“Deep down I knew there was a reason I purposely chose to have a Skepta-fingers-in-ears approach to Lana Del Rey”
There’s something really smelly about trying to name and shame black women and women of colour in the music industry (and Ariana Grande for good measure), in order to make her wishy-washy point. Intentionally or not – taking issue with this majority-WoC list of singers for enjoying nudity or being sexy instead of being “delicate” is white feminism 101. Who can forget when Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox said Beyoncé wasn’t a feminist and that “twerking is not feminism … it’s not liberating, it’s not empowering” the same sentiment as Germaine Greer. Nicki Minaj has had her fair share of disparaging critiques and accusations of setting women back. In fact, ask any black woman and they’ll tell you mainstream feminism as we know it isn’t inclusive, it’s faulty and it has a long way to go until we are all equal – there is a reason why terms like “womanism” and “intersectionality” were coined. So, If you think it has failed you, Lana, join the queue.
And, of course, the coded language of calling musicians like Beyoncé “strong” while she gets to be “delicate” was not lost on me, or anyone else for that matter. I don’t think I have ever been described as “delicate”, even though I am an overemotional Libra, because these terms aren’t held for black women. Womanhood has always seen “the damsel in distress”, the tears, the vulnerable delicacy prioritised. While black women have been relegated to being angry, hyper-sexualised, dehumanised, or carrying the world on our shoulders.
“Lana may think her 10-year career paved the way ‘for other women to stop putting on a happy face’ but I am sorry, black women basically invented that category”
Replying back to the accusations of racism, Lana Del Rey said: “Don’t ever ever ever call me racist” and “the singers I mentioned are my favourite singers so if you want to try and make a bone to pick out of that like you always do be my guest. It doesn’t change the fact that I haven’t had the same opportunity to express what I wanted to express without being completely decimated.” She continued: “When I said people who look like me – I meant the people who don’t look strong or necessarily smart,” like that was somehow clearing things up instead of further cementing the “strong black woman” stereotype. Although sailing through a successful career on the wings of rich white privilege, it’s these women you have chosen to be salty about.
Yes, what initially drew me to the 34-year old singer’s music was her dreary outlook (although I admit, half the time I’m not resonating with the lyrics at all) the soft minors and her long-drawn-out tone. But I for one was never coming to her for feminist discourse or relationship advice. I just like leaning into miserable music, and I found hers was an ideal anthem to cry to in the shower. But women having melancholy outlooks is nothing new. Lana may think her 10-year career paved the way “for other women to stop putting on a happy face” but I am sorry, black women basically invented that category. From Nina Simone to Etta James (‘I’d Rather Go Blind’? c’mon). And now we have Beyoncé who gifted us Lemonade, a masterpiece about anger, sadness and a relationship breakdown. Even some of the more upbeat artists like Janelle Monáe gave us ‘Cold War’. Black women have so much to be unhappy about that I think there’s power in being loudly happy and together, or feeling weak as shit.
Am I going to continue listening to her music? Maybe – I don’t know. Will I be calling myself a fan and paying to see her live? Na. Joining the ranks of JK Rowling, I’m sure Lana Del Rey will not be the last to disappointment me. In the meantime, I’m going to have to find someone else to cry to in the shower.