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?


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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas