Part 1 of a 3 part Lana Del Rey- inspired essay sequence on Deathly Decadence, deviance, David Lynch.
I get the sense that it is somehow vulgar to admit my interest in what Johannes Göransson called “necroglamour.” To me, this is a palace of beautiful, diseased abstractions. In this palace I imagine Lana Del Rey. I do certainly give her a lot of credit, despite her gratuitous infatuation with ideologically dangerous things.
Lana Del Rey is “problematic,” a term we often confuse for “not to be said aloud.” Her thoughts on feminism (not into it), beauty (definitely into it), death (in love with it) and money (it’s everything) are uncomfortable. In a time of self, other, body and value-policing, there seems little room for anyone who dares to deal the overt glamour of death and image and vice. There is little line between the perceived glorification of badness and the reality of our desire for or inclination toward badness. The exploration of this realm of badness, including purposeful artifice and the acknowledgement of pain, is often met with offense.
I think Lana Del Rey manages to explore these worlds while also Being a Pop Star, which is really weird. Lana Del Rey, of all artists, is assumed to simply be bad, rather than subversive or cunning. She certainly inspires vitriol in a way her contemporaries do not. You may call Britney stupid. You may call Beyonce a diva. But when you call Lana Del Rey a fake, you’re entering into an obscure, projected territory that has much more to do with yourself than the subject at hand. I think this because Lana Del Rey, a new breed of sad pop star, seems capable of so much, so we expect her to say the nice, clean, politically correct things we need her to say in order to justify liking her out loud. But where does Lana end and Elizabeth (her birth name) begin?
Does it matter? The intersection between person and persona is where the controversy is born, because people must be either A or B all the time.
I respect the gusto with which she approaches her person/a. I don’t believe that her persona is manipulated by an industry, but I certainly think it’s sold by one. Let’s go with that for now.
In Ultraviolence, she marches forward in a sunlit garden, marrying an ominous someone or something. She smiles at you as you judge her for sensually sucking on the fingers of a cult leader. Presumably, she’s helplessly in love with a bad man, and to display this means she’s ‘possibly’ discussing violence, weakness and pain – all real elements in human relationships. This doesn’t mean she condones it. She’s aware of the buttons and the consequences of pushing them and she does it anyway, because she wants to. She is dimensional. We’re all dimensional, so what sort of package does honesty, metaphor or exploration have to come in for it to be appreciated and not silenced or reduced?
People want art to be real, but also to be transcendent. Naturally, that’s an issue. We want to define Lan Del Rey. We want to ridicule her face and her sorrow, but then we say: “women must be beautiful,” and “art must reflect life.” We want to decide if she has a soul. We’re ravenous about her agency; we usurp it and make it our own. We talk and talk about how she’s not empowered, and we say how simple and easy and dead she is. And we’re so offended by all of it.
Most of the people I talk to think Lana Del Rey is some sort of pawn or robotic simulacra, and most of these people are feminists. They think it terribly offensive that someone might be ‘insincere’ or ‘forced’ or that a woman could possibly discuss the sometimes sad, difficult state of being a woman. Can a woman only want beauty and bad boys and eternal love so long as they don’t say it out loud?
Whether she is Lana Del Rey The Sad Singer or Lana Del Rey The Happy Girl Who Fakes Sad Art, why does it matter? Our myopic scrutinty of ‘sincerity’ rejects what is at the bottom of art: expression.
In her world, Lana Del Rey fails radical feminism’s strict ordinance (and I consider myself a feminist). She triggers that visceral reaction of, “I can’t like this, this is bad for me.”
I wish darkness had a place at the throne these days.
Lisa Marie Basile is the author of APOCRYPHAL (Noctuary Press, 2014) and a few chapbooks. She is the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and her poetry and other work can be read in PANK, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, Ampersand Review and other places. Her work is featured in the Best Small Fictions anthology at Queen's Ferry Press and in Best Emerging Poets with Stay Thirsty Media. She's currently editing a print anthology of Lana Del Rey-inspired poetics for Luna Luna. Lisa got an MFA at The New School.