Lana Del Rey: The latest powerful woman that we want to see as just another toy

What is it that some people find so threatening about a successful, talented artist?

Share

Lana Del Rey’s new album is out, which means people are worrying. She’s provoked anxiety, right from the start. She’s also been marvelled at – she’s a phenomenally talented artist, conjuring a strange and unsettling world. The new album, like the first, is narcotically compelling, full of heavy-lidded languor. But it’s also fiercer and deeper. Her voice is stranger and harsher, as well as more expansive – she’s manipulating it with a playful insolence. The hallucinatory weirdness pulsing through the album makes it eerie and intensely beautiful. That’s also true of the persona – the ‘lonesome queen’ – she’s created. Lovelorn, enthralled, hurt – she’s an immobilised animal, dispassionately, poisedly observing her own wounds.

Criticisms of Del Rey are often well-intentioned – they come out of concerns about representing women as passive and inviting domination or violence, as well as about the pressures on women in the music industry. But they end up perpetuating the very ideas about women that they claim to be concerned about.

READ MORE: Lana Del Rey at Glastonbury 2014: Best songs to download and why you should watch her set
Lana Del Rey responds to Frances Bean Cobain: ‘I said I liked your dad because he was talented not because he died young’  

For one thing, there’s been a desire to insist that she is someone else's puppet, rather than the driver of her own work. The glee with which some tried, at her first success, to establish that she was in some way fake, a persona engineered by others, should make us suspicious. Why do we so keenly want to see Del Rey as someone else’s toy? Why are we so gleefully obsessed with the search for the figure behind the woman? Not just, I think, because we want to point out abuses of women by powerful men – but because, more deeply, we’re attached to the idea that women are puppets. We not only find it hard to see women as powerful agents of their own lives; we also feel a triumphant satisfaction in proving that a woman has been someone else’s plaything all along. Some of the criticisms of Del Rey, supposedly pointing out her lack of autonomy, are in fact animated by a need to undermine women’s autonomy, and by a need to punish and humiliate a successful woman. She can’t be the force behind her own oeuvre – she’s just a girl.

There’s also much concern that Del Rey is glamourising a damaged, passive femininity. But the insistence of concern about her persona - lovelorn, jaded, death-weary – is not just an anxiety about power and vulnerability in representations of women. It also trades on a reluctance to allow women artists to deal in the strange, dark feelings that are part of life. We ask them to perform a life that is neat and tidy, that is logical and politically justifiable – with no unpalatable or destructive urges. And this, in fact, requires precisely that they become puppets - dancing to our anxieties about what women should be feeling and saying. If our immediate response when a woman artist touches the darkness inside herself is to demand she sanitise that darkness, we’re perpetrating yet another violence: an erasure of her experience, and of her artistic vision.

Del Rey has created a beautiful, hurtful world. That we should panic in the face of its darkness is like watching Lynch and complaining that it's creepy. And in any case why should we want our art to be comfortable? Art should hurt us a little. Poet Frederick Seidel says: 'I like poems that are daggers that sing.' Underestimate Del Rey at your peril. She’s the real deal. She’s a dagger that sings.

Unmastered: A Book On Desire, Most Difficult To Tell (Penguin), is out in paperback on 3rd July

READ NEXT: In the face of the Iraq crisis, do not forget the Central African Republic

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: will this be the election result? And other Questions To Which The Answer Is No

John Rentoul
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn