Lana Del Rey may be “Young and Beautiful” but it turns out she’s also kind of young and petty—at least when it comes to dragging other women in the music industry. On May 21, the Norman Fucking Rockwell singer took to Instagram to announce the upcoming release of her latest album, due to drop on September 5. But that’s not all the singer had to say. In the long post, Del Rey posed a “question for the culture,” as she put it, responding to apparent longstanding criticisms of her music and claims that it’s “glamorizing abuse.”
“I’m fed up with female writers and alt singers saying that I glamorize abuse when in reality I’m just a glamorous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world,” Del Rey wrote in her post. “With all the topics women are finally allowed to explore I just want to say over the last ten years I think it’s pathetic that my minor lyrical exploration detailing my sometimes submissive or passive roles in my relationships has often made people say I set women back hundreds of years.” Del Rey went on to say that while she’s “not not a feminist” (OK?), writing, “there has to be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me.” Which is honestly quite rich coming from a cis, white woman, considering feminism has largely been about and for people that look *exactly* like her.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Del Rey low-key dragged *a bunch* of other famous and successful female singers—many of whom are women of colour—while trying to making her point, seemingly implying that because certain artists are able to sing and rap about taboo subjects without criticism, Del Rey should be able to do the same. “Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating etc. – can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money – or whatever I want – without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorizing abuse??????”
There’s a lot to unpack in Del Rey’s statement, paramount among them being the singer’s comments about other women in the industry. Because whether or not Del Rey realizes it, her comments about these women—and the implication that they haven’t suffered similar repercussions or hurdles as she has for their music’s subject matter—is a drag of them and the hardships they have faced to become successful. And also, can women just please stop unnecessarily using other women to make their points? (cc: Alison Roman!)
First of all, what’s Lana Del Rey referring to?
For those who aren’t super familiar with Del Rey’s work, the criticism she’s talking about receiving is something the singer has dealt with for several years. Del Rey—who has become known for her moody, melancholic tunes—has long subscribed to lyrics that address unhealthy relationships, as well as being seduced by controlling lovers. As the BBC notes in a May 21 article, Del Rey’s breakout song “Video Games” described a lover who was distant and dismissive, and for whom she professed undying love, regardless. Other songs, like “Ultraviolence,” describe boyfriends who “used to call me DN – that stood for deadly nightshade, because I was filled with poison.” While these lyrics may just make it seem like Del Rey has a penchant for dating kinda terrible people (which, haven’t we all?), Del Rey has also written more outwardly problematic lines, such as “he hit me and it felt like a kiss” on 2014’s “Ultraviolence,” which some believed romanticized domestic abuse.
In a 2015 article for The State Press, critic Isabella Castillo referenced lyrics from Del Rey’s debut album, including lines like “tell me you own me,” and said the singer’s music is filled with “outdated, antifeminist ideas.”
It is important to note though that in recent years, Del Rey has moved away from these types of lyrics. In a 2017 interview with Pitchfork, Del Rey reportedly recoiled at the mention of the aforementioned line “he hit me and it felt like a kiss,” telling the magazine: “I don’t like it. I don’t sing that line any more.” More recently, Del Rey has removed a song called “Cola” from her live shows, as it references a Harvey Weinstein-like character.
Women are treated pretty poorly in every industry—but *especially* in the music biz
The criticisms of Del Rey aren’t that surprising. It has always been, and unfortunately continues to be, tough for women in any industry (just look at the ongoing stats regarding pay disparity in Canada), but being a woman in the music industry is notoriously challenging. While artists like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are topping the charts and seriously killing it in their careers, their rise and success hasn’t been without a great deal of struggle, public scrutiny and attempts to be controlled by men. Take, for example, the recent hubbub between Swift and music manager Scooter Braun. ICYMI, Braun and Swift have been in a legal battle over the issue of artist’s rights since June 2019, after Braun paid $300 million to acquire Swift’s former label, Big Machine, which gave him ownership over the singer’s first six studio albums. Swift claimed that she had no idea this sale was happening and wasn’t even given the opportunity to purchase her work. And in November 2019, the singer accused both Braun and her former label’s chief executive, Scott Borchetta, of barring her from performing any of her old songs at the American Music Awards (something Braun and Big Machine both denied), writing in a tweet: “This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs. They did nothing to create the relationship I have with my fans.”
Swift’s experience is a prime example of men trying to take ownership for women’s work and profiting from it—sadly something not unique to Swift in the industry, with other female singers like JoJo and Megan Thee Stallion stuck in unfair and exploitative contracts. A February 2019 Inclusion in the Recording Studio study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that women within the music industry, whether producers, songwriters or artists, encounter several pitfalls while navigating the space. “What the experiences of women reveal is that the biggest barrier they face is the way the music industry thinks about women,” said report leader Dr. Stacy L. Smith in a press release. “The perception of women is highly stereotypical, sexualized, and without skill. Until those core beliefs are altered, women will continue to face a roadblock as they navigate their careers.”
It’s also important to note that Beyoncé and Swift’s success as women at the top of the music industry isn’t indicative of the industry as a whole. Because women are largely underrepresented across the board when it comes to the music biz. According to a 2018 Forbes article, the music industry remains a “boys club” when it comes to jobs like producers, technicians and vocalists. While the 2018 Billboard Power 100 list—a roundup that represents music industry leaders in all fields—found that 17% of individuals on the list were female (up from 10% in 2017), men still held most of the top jobs. And the same Annenberg study noted above—which looked at the 700 top songs on Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 chart between 2012 and 2018—found that women only make up 21.7% of artists, 12.3% of songwriters and 2.1% of producers. And data for the 2019 Grammys found that nominees for the biggest awards of the evening—Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Producer of the Year—showed that men were vastly overrepresented at the awards (making a strong case for the continuing #GrammysSoMale hashtag).
Not to mention the fact that female artists are often unfairly held accountable for circumstances that have nothing to do with them. Need proof? Remember that time Ariana Grande received death threats after the passing of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller from a drug overdose? Something she had absolutely no control over but was somehow blamed because they’d broken up shortly before? Show us a male celeb who has received the same treatment.
And no one faces more hardship than Black female artists or WOC
While it’s a struggle for any woman in the industry, making it big and succeeding can be especially difficult for Black women and women of colour, who not only face harsher and more pointed criticism than their male and white female counterparts (for their musical offerings and appearances), but have to seemingly work twice as hard for the same level of recognition and success. In January, singer Ari Lennox responded to what she saw as heightened criticism aimed at Black female entertainers after someone tweeted: “Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor’s ability to have dangerously high sex appeal while simultaneously looking like Rottweilers will always amaze me.”
Lennox, for her part, responded to this incredibly derogatory and racist comment like a literal saint, tweeting: “People hate Blackness so bad.” And TBH, she’s not wrong. A 2017 article by the Los Angeles Times—that explores Black women in pop music—noted that in the past 10 years, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Mariah Carey are the only Black women to land a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 and top album charts as a lead artist. In contrast, more than a dozen white female artists have topped the charts—and it was even higher for men.
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Which makes Del Rey’s criticism of these women 100% incorrect
And the fact remains that while Del Rey may think that artists like Cardi B, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj have topped the charts for singing about their bodies and being confident in their sexuality without backlash or repercussion, she’s entirely wrong. As many people on social media pointed out in response to Del Rey’s post, these women have *all* received immense and often unfair—not to mention frequently racially tinged backlash—to their music, for both sexual and political reasons.
Lana blatantly ignoring the criticism Beyoncé, Nicki, and other black women have received (and continue to) for being confident in their sexuality doesn’t sit right with me. Commercial success hasn’t made them exempt from misogynistic attacks masked as constructive criticism.
— C (@BOYCOTTCAMILLE) May 21, 2020
In 2016, Beyoncé was repeatedly threatened and boycotted after singing about police brutality on her hit song “Formation” and featuring dancers dressed like Black Panthers during her Super Bowl Halftime performance. The “Formation” video—which was filmed in New Orleans—featured imagery closely aligned with the #BlackLivesMatters movement, including a scene featuring a young Black boy in a hoodie dancing in front of a line of police officers wearing riot gear, with the words “Stop Shooting Us” appear in graffiti on a wall. In response, police departments across the country boycotted the singer, saying that the imagery was anti-police.
Beyoncé was threatened to get lynched because she dared to sing about police brutality, Ariana got death threats for the death of her boyfriend that she had no control over. Kehlani got death + rape threats for a breakup song. All the women Lana mentioned have been through hell.
— Tayoncé Defense Attorney (@BlueIvysDoormat) May 21, 2020
And when it comes to Black female rappers like Cardi and Nicki, the criticism and backlash can be almost worse. Not only are both rappers repeatedly called out for being overtly sexual, but you think you’re not allowed to sing about dancing for money, Lana? Try being Cardi B, a woman who comes from two marginalized communities (as a Black woman and former exotic dancer, both stigmatized communities) and rapping about *that* experience. In fact, despite becoming the first solo female artist to win Best Rap Album at the 2019 Grammy Awards for her debut album Invasion of Privacy, Cardi has continuously received backlash and hate for her work and lifestyle. After her historic Grammy win, Cardi was slammed by people online who claimed that the “Bodak Yellow” rapper didn’t deserve and hadn’t earned the accolade. Even now, many people online still try to use Cardi’s history as a dancer as a slight against her (despite the fact that she is obviously proud of her hustle, not to mention the fact that it legit landed her a role in a major film. Ever seen Hustlers?).
Not to mention totally unnecessary and harmful
Which is all to say that, whether she believes it or not, Del Rey’s comparison of her situation and the criticism she faces, and the implication that she has been treated worse than these women in the industry (because they’re “able” to sing about sex and cheating while she isn’t able to talk about the whimsical, complicated topic of “love”) isn’t comparable at all. This doesn’t invalidate the fact that Del Rey has probably faced certain hardships herself—she no doubt has—but it’s simply unfair to use these women to illustrate her point, because doing so ranks their struggles as less serious than hers, thus minimizing their experiences and hard work. Beyoncé didn’t just snap her fingers and all of a sudden become a successful superstar. She had to overcome *a lot* to get where she is, on both the personal and professional fronts, from being a child star and working her ass off to make the transition into an adult entertainer, to dealing with separating from her father as her manager and her struggles with infertility.
think Lana’s post would have been fine if she hadn’t compared herself to a group of mostly black women with the clear tone that she thinks she’s been treated worse by the media when that’s observably untrue
— shon faye. (@shonfaye) May 21, 2020
Del Rey’s comments, if anything, highlight the fact that she either fails to acknowledge (or isn’t able to see) her own privilege as a white women in the industry. Because in many ways she has been set up to succeed more easily than a lot of the women she mentioned. When she talks about her inability to sing about dancing for money, she overlooks the fact that—whether she believes it or not—she’s able to sing about this experience without the added layer of stigma Black women like Cardi B—and IRL strippers who are WOC—face. Because her white body isn’t hyper-sexualized and stigmatized in the same way that Black women’s and women of colour’s bodies have been and continue to be. When she talks about singing about abusive relationships, she fails to acknowledge that she’s probably perceived differently than a Black or woman of colour would be singing about the same thing.
And TBQH, these women’s experiences and hardships *shouldn’t* be compared at all because as several people online pointed out, playing the “oppression Olympics” isn’t beneficial for *anyone.* Saying “I think it’s pathetic that my minor lyrical exploration detailing my sometimes submissive or passive roles in my relationships has often made people say I’ve set women back hundreds of years” not only implies that these women, by showing their bodies and talking about sex have already done that (or Del Rey sees them as having done that), but it also seemingly ranks the topics that can be explored in their music.
Lana Del Rey erased the work of Black women and played the oppression Olympics, just to promote two poetry books and an album. The Caucasity of it all..
— Dani Kwateng (@danikwateng) May 21, 2020
And speaks to a bigger issue
The fact of the matter is that, TBQH, like Alison Roman dragging Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo into her new hotly debated interview, Del Rey could have 100% made her point without including these other artists and seemingly dragging their success in the process. Because, what was even the point?
The real issue Del Rey has is with the industry, one that has set women up at a disadvantage and allows for them to be stereotyped, stunted and their music more harshly critiqued than their male counterparts. So come for the industry, don’t come for the women who have found success in spite of the industry that aims to tear them down.
Really tired of prominent women (Lana Del Rey and Alison Roman) putting down other women, especially women of colour whose careers are very different, to address issues in their industries, which they could've discussed without naming names.
— Fatima Reyes (@fatimareyes) May 21, 2020
love Lana’s music and feel strongly that she should not have internet access
— Amanda Mull (@amandamull) May 21, 2020
Update: On May 21, Del Rey addressed criticisms of her post, responding: “Bro. This is sad to make it about a WOC issue when I’m talking about my favorite singers. I could’ve literally said anyone but I picked my favorite fucking people. And this is the problem with society today, not everything is about whatever you want it to be,” Del Rey wrote. “It’s exactly the point of my post – there are certain women that culture doesn’t want to have a voice it may not have to do with race I don’t know what it has to do with. I don’t care anymore but don’t ever ever ever ever bro- call me racist because that is bullshit.” In a follow-up comment, the singer shared a final note, writing: “When I said people who look like me – I meant the people who don’t look strong or necessarily smart, or like they’re in control etc. it’s about advocating for a more delicate personality, not for white woman – thanks for the Karen comments tho. V helpful.” Finally, Del Rey took to Insta once again to share an a series of stills from one of her videos, captioning the video with a blunt #fuckoff.