The “issues” surrounding Lana del Rey’s music are plenty. Besides making an argument about wether or not her music is original, innovative, and worth the purchase, there are many complaints about the themes she includes in her lyrics. Sadness, heartbreak, and loneliness, all despite how it appears that she (or her character) has it all. I can see how Baz Lurhman’s Great Gatsby was perfect for Lana del Rey’s music to use as a primary theme song, as the bittersweet reality of the American Dream seems to echo through her lyrics and her particular way of singing.
And that’s fine with me, and it should be fine with everyone.
Music is art, and honestly we can do what we want with art. It’s the form of expression that has no consequence and will never have enough praise. We connect with it, we are changed by it, we are offended it, we are disgusted by it, and we are comforted by it. All of the above achieved while at the same time we are entertained and partially distracted from reality. Unbeknownst to us, we might even be thrust into some form of mirrored reality in which we can either dream on or wake up. What is happening now to all forms of art is very annoying, in my opinion. It is no longer possible to offend, disgust or challenge anyone’s beliefs without receiving a cruel backlash and threatening to shut down the project or artist completely. This is happening to the point that in order to survive in the music, film and literature industry one must comply with society’s demands to keep everything belief and culture friendly, so everyone ends up producing very empty material. And we can feel this emptiness of meaning or feeling. Sometimes the road to success is not the cleanest, honest or true-to-self ways to reach security and pleasure. But they get there, and then the emptiness starts to seep in through the cracks.
Now I’m not saying that surely this is the one and only reason why Lana del Rey’s music is sad and slightly depressing, but surely it’s a portrait that captures the bittersweet reality of success. And most musicians have at some point or another in their career dedicated a song to this feeling. For the purpose of thinking of all the teenage girls that look up to Lana del Rey, the first song that comes to mind is Britney Spears “Lucky” which talks of a “famous pop star that, despite having all that she wants, still feels lonely inside“. But while some musicians have one song of many for their sadness, Lana del Rey appears to have decided to dedicate her whole career to this feeling, which is the most resounding complaint I’ve heard regarding her albums. The argument being that she is representing a part of womanhood that is not in congruence with feminism’s efforts to demonstrate that women’s life and feelings range from those associated with strength to overcome, triumph and be independently happy. Often she is charged with giving girls the wrong idea of who they should grow up to be, in other words being a “bad example”.
But didn’t Billie Holiday’s songs also consist of mostly being heartbroken and sad? Don’t we adore and praise her music after all these decades? She’d definitely amongst my musical heroes, but in her case her music is resoundingly that way because she herself had a rather tragic and bittersweet life, so singing provided her a way to avoid bottling it all up. So is Lana del Rey eternally sad and depressed with her life? Is there no cure for her sadness? Who knows, but I would argue that as an artist, no matter how many complaints we have with the way she uses the art form, she is in all her right to keep a consistent feeling throughout her music. Whether or not these feelings echo who she is or wants to be is non of our concern. Wether or not Lana del Rey is an alter-ego or just a side of herself she wants to show, is part of the fun of being an artist. It’s this enigma behind your artistic (or real) persona that was part of Bob Dylan’s success and it continues to be a mystery. And we need to remember this. The error of society now-a-days is that when someone is given attention, praise and a space in our lives they are charged with representing, exemplifying and proving that our thoughts and beliefs are right. We take away their artistic freedom and opportunity for expression by demanding they do right and never falter with either by who they are or what they produce.
“To enjoy what she does, you have to give yourself over to her media-saturated fantasy and put the everyday on hold, and you also have to lay aside pop radio’s typically sunny affirmations.” writes Mark Richardson in his review of Ultraviolence for Pitchfork, and I agree. In fact, I think this should be the case for all music, not that we should give ourselves in in the same way with everyone, but that we should give ourselves in. Everyone, no exception, should stop expecting something from music and complain when it does not taste they way they imagined.
Personally, I love drowning in sad songs and tragedy as is the case with Billie Holiday, even though I have never had my heart tragically broken or suffered any form of depression. I just do, and I can find no explanation for it. Maybe I am filtering feelings my subconscious is bottling up, maybe I am preventing future emotions, maybe I just like getting a taste of this tragedy without suffering through it. The same way someone else might like watching films about horror without necessarily ever participating in it, or playing violent video games without ever showing signs or thirst for violence. Do I want to be sad and depressed? Of course not. Does everyone who listen to Lana del Rey want to be heartbroken and attached to lost love? Probably not. As much as a Freudian explanation as we might like to think is very evident behind our tastes, they are mostly our prerogative. As is Lana del Rey’s, and we should all have a right to it, and not be expected to smile through everything. But if we cry, it’s not all there is to us.