Another day, another Lana Del Rey leak. This time it’s “National Anthem,” a nicely jaded capitalist ode that praises drinking and driving and excess buying. “Money is the anthem of success,” Lana coos. Perhaps it really is cash-money that gets our girl Lana all hot and bothered since this is the first time I’ve ever heard her not sound narcoleptic.
Part (most?) of what makes Lana Del Rey such a perfect target for criticism is her delicately crafted image. Those in the pro-Lana camp declaim that anyone who attacks Lana Del Rey but not, say, Frank Ocean for cultivating an air of mystery and taking on a new name are misguided since all pop stars engage in this behavior. And it’s misogynistic because when men do it, no one cares.
So, sure, I think that a lot of the bombs lodged at Lana Del Rey come from a realm of sexism, but a lot of that has to do with the type of persona Lizzie Grant decided to slip into and flesh out. In the video that catapulted her into stardom, she stares into the camera with the cross-eyed blankness of a highly bred cat. The fake eyelashes, fake nails, possibly fake lips would all be fine if she appeared to be a little less comatose. Interspliced within the video are hazy 8mm films of Hollywood, laughing people cycling, swimming at Chateau Marmont, etc. Most interestingly, we have a few clips of an extremely fucked up Paz De La Huerta arriving at some paparazzi-filled event. She’s barely able to stand up or even keep her eyes open. Someone calls from out of sight, “Is she all right?” And one of her handlers says in a rather cheerful manner, “Yeah, she’s allllll right!” The implication being “Yes, this is normal for her. You’re good, Paz, right? Look at the cameras, sweetie. This will look great tomorrow on TMZ. You’re a star, Paz!”
The glamor of self-annihilation is what Lana Del Rey is exploiting. I don’t begrudge her that. I love self-destructive behavior — I engage in it nightly. But her form of self-destruction is particularly female and victimized. She’s the one who is dressing up in her sundresses and putting on his favorite perfume only to be bettered by a videogame her boy prefers to her. She’s says she’s oozing beauty and love but is feeling self-pityingly rejected. This threads through most of her songs: “You Can Be The Boss” has her chanting just that to some malt liquor-smelling boozer; in the high budget “Born To Die” video, she’s in a lacy white negligee being spooned by some topless, tattoo-etched thug who has his fist around her throat. Again, she’s singing, “We were born to die… you like your girls insane.” Over and over, she glamorizes a prone position of femininity. This isn’t Lady Gaga’s aggressively in control sexuality; this is a pussy galore down on her knees begging for it.
Which makes me think of another break-out artist of 2011 with that pesky air of “mystery” — The Weeknd. Now this guy also sings about sex and being wasted and high. So there’s the self-destructive behavior. But, you know, when Abel Tesfaye, the mastermind behind The Weeknd, sings about the insane cocktail of drugs he’s ingesting and half-torpid come-ons he’s delivering he at least sounds pretty energetic. What he’s saying is fucked up, but the vocal delivery, the cleverness of the lyrics and the production belie the fact that he is as fucked up as he says he is.
Critics write that the nihilistic and out of control vision Tesfaye creates is part of the reason we enjoy it, blah blah, vicarious pleasure at another’s expense. But Tesfaye does such a good job at painting an image of himself and the multitude of ways he fucks himself up that you marvel at how in control he is. Whereas Lana Del Rey looks and sounds like she enjoys being a lobotomized, over-sexualized little girl, even though the President of Polydor records (her label) says she “likes to control every aspect of her career.”
Everyone, not just women, can all have fantasies of being submissive and sexy and out-of-control. Here is a verse from The Weeknd’s song “XO/The Host” where he’s singing about a woman he wants:
You’re built like a Goddess
And it seems like you been stressin’
Specially when your nose red
From that K, special Diet Coke
You need more bread, now you got no rent
You blow that money, money
You try to window shop, you blow another hundred
She’s fuckin’ goons in the day
Hipster nights downtown and your daddy don’t know you’re out
Same topics as Del Rey — sex, money, drugs — but at least we’ve got some panache and the girl in this story has a little get up ‘n go. She makin’ it rain, buying drugs, clothes, booze and when she starts buggin about her downward spiral, our hero tells her she can always call him, they can make some love, she’s not alone. Ok, ok! So later in the song he wants to make a sex tape, have her suck his dick while he films her from above, alright, alright, so that’s not the most feminist thing I’ve ever heard, but hear me out!
When the women in The Weeknd’s songs seem to have more agency, more verve for life than Lana does, that’s when I call bullshit. Nothing Lana Del Rey does sounds exciting. She sounds jaded and bored and trapped — a beautiful, sad-eyed fuck-doll. A carefully-crafted mien of passivity hung up on boys, frozen in time.