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I sing Video Games for the fourteen year old girl I once was

“You cannot come in with that ugly cow standing over there”.

Said by the bouncer at a posh disco, to my brother, when I was sixteen? maybe seventeen? and trying to enter said disco with a group of friends. I was the “ugly cow” the bouncer referred to.

Summer dresses and lipgloss, and a place to belong. That’s all I wanted. And to be pretty, to be “male gaze approved” pretty. To be seen as pretty. I remember feeling that way since I was fourteen and I was put on my first enforced diet. I didn’t fit any notions of Eurocentric femininity. My hair too unruly, too curly, too dark, too unmanageable. It remained a constant through my entire life. This hair, the tangled curls, the darkness that, more often than not, through its unmanageability so well illustrates the content of my head. The enforced diet was not optional, not a choice. It was a condition to have my Quinceañera celebration. Either I lost the weight, straighten my hair, get the blond highlights or I wouldn’t have my Quinceañera party. And so I complied. I tried to make myself smaller, less noticeable. But I was cursed with loudness, with a big mouth, with opinions. I was a teenage embarrassment. I look back, how could I be considered fat? I wasn’t. I was just taking a space that was not supposed to be for good girls. It wasn’t about losing weight, it was about never reaching adulthood. About not becoming a woman.

And I dreamed. Oh how I dreamed. I would wake up and be beautiful. I would have long flowy hair, naturally blond, and I would wear the summer dresses with grace, and the boy I liked would like me back. He would kiss me, and he would see me, new, without loudness, without the hips I couldn’t help growing, without my dark facial hair that earned me the monicker of “Lobizon” by age twelve. One day, I would wake up and be Lana del Rey. Or you know, someone like her, had she been famous when I was fourteen, more than twenty years ago.

I was also fourteen the very first time I hurt myself. I remember wanting to escape. Run away from it all but mostly from my own body. A body I was repeatedly told was “wrong”. I was tragic in the awkward way that young girls can be tragic. The details of that day are hazy, but the pain remains with me, no matter how long ago it happened. Had “Born to Die” existed, I would have probably turned it into a personal anthem. Like many girls that age, I was in pain, and music was a respite. I would have also sung “Swinging in the backyard/ pull up in your fast car/ whistling my name” if such song had existed. Because I liked boys. Boys who hardly ever even noticed me, more preoccupied with other girls, you know, the cute ones. I wasn’t unpopular, oh no. I wasn’t hated either. I was just an unnoticed loser. The girl who makes an arse of herself in public because she cannot dance, because she is not naturally graceful, not attractive in the right ways. So now, I listen to Lana del Rey, not because I still want to be her, but because I have not yet learned to love the fourteen year old I once was. And Del Rey sings for that girl, for her desires, for her longing. She sings for some of us who could not fit in the right ways no matter how we tried, those who grew up wishing to be noticed, to be saved, to be taken away. I know I did. It was a lonely world and I did not have words for those feelings. I just knew I didn’t fit.

Dudes are angry with Lana del Rey. They claim she “performs” a regressive version of femininity. Amusing that cis dudes would be experts in both femininity and its performance. I suppose these are the same guys who claim to only be attracted to women who do not wear make up. Because they like their women to be “natural beauties”. Ah how I amuse myself with cis dudes’ opinions about the intricacies of being a cis woman. Because they surely must know. Because surely they got laughed at for period leaks and budding breasts and their uneasiness over sexual advances. Most of all, I amuse myself with the realization that dudes are angry because they have been exposed to the artifice; because seeing Lana del Rey perform, they cannot claim that there is such a thing as a “unique natural femininity”. They hate her, of course, because to acknowledge the artifice would, inevitably, lead to questioning the artifice behind their own notions of femininity and, again, inevitably, their own stereotypes of masculinity. Oh, but she is overdoing it! and she bought her way through fame and celebrity! She is terrible! she is not authentic!

Another dude says she kind of wants to sound like the music Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch wrote for Twin Peaks. While I amuse myself with dudes who disapprove, I am alarmed by this one comparison. Because our culture is already rife with instances of young girls abused, raped and murdered, like Laura Palmer was in Lynch’s series. Is that the kind of fantasy Lana Del Rey evokes in these dudes? Is this the scenery she inspires? Moreover, this dude goes as far as claiming that Lana Del Rey is a “porn name”, a name that is picked for performance of pop sexuality. It is interesting that Prince is not accused of having a “porn name”, this dude reserves such analysis exclusively for female pop stars. In a few short paragraphs, he brings up both a raped and murdered girl, and the porn industry, while writing about a female pop singer. The overwhelming stench of rape culture would not have been noticed by fourteen year old me. After all, I just wanted to look like Lana Del Rey. I would have never imagined the consequences that such look would carry. The kind of fantasies such women inspired.

“I would love you more/ than those bitches before”. Some of us grew up with these ideas. If we acknowledge this over the top performance of a certain kind of patriarchy approved version of femininity, the internalized misogyny has to be central as well. How many times did I hear my female relatives, my own mother even, say “You will be better than those bitches”. Oh no, I wasn’t. I actually wanted to be those bitches. Or at least be their friends. This misogyny of “them bitches” runs deep in our culture. Liz Phair wrote a nuanced feminist defense of Lana Del Rey at The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy. Now more dudes are puzzled because Phair did not display this patriarchy approved internalized misogyny. And, needless to say, since dudes get a lot more print space for their opinions about music, they do not suffer any cognitive dissonance writing about feminism, a topic they have less than passing knowledge about. And this one at Spin, regales us with “feminist theory” such as this:

Second, as far as we understand the harshest criticism of Del Rey, it’s not that she’s “wanting and taking like a man,” it’s that she’s “wanting and taking” just like a stereotypical, anti-feminist conception of a woman: That is, she isn’t wanting at all; she’s existing only as an object of desire, completely in thrall to the male gaze.

How is Del Rey an anti feminist conception of a woman? She is accused of having bought her way to fame (an act of personal agency if I ever saw one), while at the same time, accused of only existing as an object of desire. Yes and? Some women spend a life time wishing to be desired. Hoping to be noticed, wishing the male gaze, a male gaze would find them attractive. Some women, like I did, will never conform to these Eurocentric notions of beauty and desirability. I still, to this day, struggle with it, even though I am in a long term relationship. Wanting to be seen as an object of affection, hell, turning a dude you like on, wishing he would see you as inherently sexy, hot, and yes, perhaps as a sexy “play thing” is not anti feminist. Just like theater and film require the suspension of disbelief, sometimes, feminists can also suspend the theory of objectification for sexual purposes. Is someone who objectifies herself willingly a victim, in any case? Cis men talking about Lana Del Rey as “anti feminist” make me laugh.

I had a long summer dress. It was pastel blue and had tiny rhinestones in the front. It was made of a thin fabric and covered my legs all the way down to my ankles. I, too, wanted to look carefree. I remember the only time I wore it. It was a hot summer day, I could feel the sweat running through my inner thighs. I had sandals and a long necklace. I left the house to visit friends. Took the bus and spent the whole afternoon downtown. Then, on the way back, I noticed people looking at me horrified. A guy laughed in my face. I had no idea what was happening. Once I got home I got to see the carnage: my entire back side was covered in blood. Blood pouring through my summer dress from my ass cheeks, all the way down to my knees. I cried. And if I had had Blue Jeans, I would have played it at full volume. Because I, too, hoped my very own James Dean would rescue me from such unforgettable shame. The shame of growing up, of having a body that didn’t fit, of being a lonely and sad teenage girl. The kind of girl who grew up to be a staunch feminist but who would have also loved Lana Del Rey.

42 Comments

  1. Shinobi wrote:

    I was just feeling bitter about Lana Del Ray’s performance. As a frustrated fat singer who will never have a singing career it is hard to watch people with no actual singing skills get a gig on SNL.

    However I don’t see how her lack of skill and obvious hotness in any way differentiates her from 90% of female pop singers.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  2. cookie2 wrote:

    “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
    Everything I do”

    you really don’t see ANYTHING problematic in the idea that female worth is wholly predicated on 1) laboring to fit a standard of beauty and 2) shaping your life and desires around the man/men you want?

    Kornhaber (“dude” #1) isn’t ever saying that women don’t or shouldn’t want to be desired. He just suggests that it’s problematic how LDR suggests that it is women’s job (or “girls’,” in LDR’s lyrics)to do EVERYTHING they can to please their man.

    i think that is absolutely problematic. and yes, a culture where women are nothing but bodies that need to sacrifice themselves to be loved, teenage girls are humiliated. adult women, too. that we are rewarded for acting like lana del rey is not a defense of lana del rey’s “just look pretty and do whatever he wants” lyrics.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Brad Nelson wrote:

    Another dude says she kind of wants to sound like the music Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch wrote for Twin Peaks. While I amuse myself with dudes who disapprove, I am alarmed by this one comparison. Because our culture is already rife with instances of young girls abused, raped and murdered, like Laura Palmer was in Lynch’s series.

    I mean, the Esquire piece is heinous, just wild dudely bullshit pontificating on the modern nature of lady pop, but I don’t know, there seems a huge distance between sounding like “songs David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti wrote for Julee Cruise” and the actual fact of Laura Palmer’s dead body. I feel like one doesn’t necessarily imply the other, especially in that dude’s (heinous) piece?

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Susannah wrote:

    I agree one hundred times over. The Del Rey backlash has been so ugly and so very based in her gender and physical presentation, and no one will admit it. There is nothing inherently anti-feminist about wanting to be desired, nothing anti-feminist about wanting to be beautiful. Lana Del Rey’s music is not so much about men as it is about that fiery, constant wanting that characterizes adolescent femininity. This is a perfect defense of her.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  5. Kathy wrote:

    I think there are a few parallels that can be drawn between the media treatment of Lana Del Rey and that of tune-yards’ Merrill Garbus, though as far as image goes, they represent different ends of the spectrum. Both have come under fire from straight, white male critics for the way they perform (or chose not to perform) femininity — irrespective of their actual product. Granted this is nothing new from music critics at large.

    Slightly OT, but when I was a teenager, I wanted to be James Dean rather than be rescued by one. Being obsessed with wanting to be the “cool” girl is just another form of internalized misogyny, which I’ve only recently started to accept.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  6. @cookie2, do I see something problematic in that? Depends. I believe in context. I do know I tried hard to fit that standard of beauty. Should I be decried “wrong” for having tried? I even considered liposuction(s) at some point in my life! And you know, I resent that there is little room within feminism to be both critical of these imposed ideals of beauty while, at the same time, we point at women who try to fit in them as “patriarchal” and/ or “bad feminists”. We do not live in a vacuum, or in isolation from the societies where our choices take place. We can be at once critical while at the same time realizing that we cannot escape these standards.

    Also, I think you missed the part where I tried (albeit subtly) to point to the fact that, even if I tried to live by a standard of beauty, I would never be able to reach it because it is an Anglo Saxon, White standard. Something I certainly am not.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  7. Brad Nelson wrote:

    Now more dudes are puzzled because Phair did not display this patriarchy approved internalized misogyny.

    Meanwhile, lol at the dudes who didn’t pay attention to whitechocolatespaceegg and the self-titled record.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  8. @Brad, to me it is about context. You cannot bring one up without evoking the imagery of the other. Especially in something as iconic as Twin Peaks.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  9. musiclovr wrote:

    “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
    Everything I do”

    “you really don’t see ANYTHING problematic in the idea that female worth is wholly predicated on 1) laboring to fit a standard of beauty and 2) shaping your life and desires around the man/men you want?”

    So when the BeeGees sang “I just wanna be your everything,” were they advocating that all men immediately dress like them and give up their lives for women? When Jeanette Winterson wrote “Written on the Body,” was she telling us that it’s a condition of womanhood to have a doomed, obsessive love? When Bob Dylan wrote about stealing things to impress a girl in “She Belongs to Me” (and let’s not even get into that title), was there an uproar that he was promoting a criminal vision of masculinity and courtship? What about Ice-T’s “Cop Killer”? Is it a story about someone who is so fed up with police brutality that he goes out and kills cops, or is it telling people to kill cops? If someone kills a cop, can they say, well Ice-T made me do it? Are we going to get that literal? Del Rey also has a song about two lovers who attempt a double suicide. I dont think she is advocating that any more than Shakespeare was. People write about their feelings. SOmetimes you feel like you are doing everything for someone, or you would do everything for someone. They are songs, not self-help books.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  10. Molly wrote:

    Thank you for this. The first time I heard Video Games, I instantly loved it. That is actually pretty unusual for me, I typically need to listen to a song a couple times to know whether I really like it, but everything about that song clicked for me. And you are right, it was the same part of me that fell in love with Eponine from Les Miserables when I was a chunky, dorky, lonely 12 year old.

    Also, does no one else see her music/videos/persona as tongue-in-cheek? I mean come on, the Born to Die video? I giggled the whole way through it. Do you have to be Gaga and wear a Kermit suit for people to realize you might not be in deadly earnest about this whole thing?

    The complaints that she is not authentic or that she can’t sing just baffle me. Britney Spears? Madonna?? LDR decided she wanted to be a pop star, and she was lucky enough to have access to a lot of resources, so she did it. Pretty gutsy, I think. Good for her.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Moses wrote:

    I guess I just don’t understand why devaluing any feelings/thoughts/experiences had by a woman (any woman, but especially the desperate to be loved young girls like the club to which Flavia and I belonged) are bad things. As long as they aren’t the only voices being heard in the discussion, why are they seen as discursive to growing up to be strong, independent adults. The real problem with her lyrics are that they are about finding your value in another human being (any human being) besides yourself. Whether this person is the boy you want to want you, or the cool girls you want to be friends with, these are feelings felt by all. Telling young girls that they shouldn’t feel this way is simply adding a layer of guilt to an already complicated conversation. As human beings,and social animals, we crave acceptance and understanding, from anyone, but especially those we admire (or love). Yes, the ideals of beauty she represents are misogynistic, and yet, as so far as I’ve heard, completely natural. I guess for me she represents a side that is not often heard, but is felt by many young girls. And feeling like someone else understands you at 14 is just one of the steps to accepting yourself at 20.

    I guess…could someone explain it to me, please? Because maybe I agree with Liz Phair.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  12. K. wrote:

    Thanks for writing this, Flavia. I actually like Lana a lot and think there’s a lot to talk about re: her body of work, image, etc., especially with regard to how certain modes of femininity are understood and performed. Based on the way she’s spoken about her songwriting and the image she’s built for herself, she strikes me as being very self-aware and knowledgeable about the ways in which she’s playing with people’s preconceived notions of “good” femininity vs. “bad” femininity.

    It cracks me up to see so many dudes objecting to Lana based on the grounds that her image is misogynist. The whole world traffics in misogyny, so it strikes me as hilarious to have men concern-trolling women by gate-keeping who gets to play with the narratives that surround sexism and misogyny in ways that have the potential to provoke thoughtful discussion.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  13. Marzipan wrote:

    I kind of get the impression dudes are upset with Lana Del Rey because she’s a girl who said “video games” out loud in public.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink
  14. R. wrote:

    Honestly, I feel like a lot of people get the wrong idea of Lana’s music because they a) live in a culture that won’t accept that she has to say and b) they’re not listening to the deluxe album, because the deluxe album contains songs that finish the story of the album.

    Throughout the album, she creates a very passive, victimized character (light of his life/fire of his loins/ keep me forever/ tell me you own me). One of the added songs, “Without You” is the final realization of this victim character (i can be your china doll/if you want to see me fall), and it is the next song, “Lolita” that informs us that she was actually fully aware of what was happening, that she was in control, that she was manipulating him (i know what the boys want/i’m not gonna play).

    She’s critiquing a culture that wants women to be subservient. She isn’t playing into it at all, she’s making fun of it.

    This was a great post.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  15. Treefinger wrote:

    I think she’s both making fun of and speaking to how she relates to internalized misogyny and slavish devotion to being desirable above all else. It’s cognitive dissonance. Most of us living under patriarchy have that, working out what feels intellectually right and what we need emotionally. I don’t see it as much different from the metal band Therapy?’s lyrics about masculinity of Gaga’s Judas (maybe these aren’t the greatest examples, I’m too lazy to think of better ones). It’s not a call to revolution, but it’s something that can form part of the education of the future artist who does make that call.

    I’ve only really heard Video Games, and I think it’s alright.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  16. Treefinger wrote:

    *OR Gaga’s Judas, sorry.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  17. Linden wrote:

    I’m not very in touch with current pop music, so I have nothing useful to say about Lana Del Rey except that she’s of course trying to make it as a woman in a tough business and good for her.

    I just wanted to mention that Prince’s real, given name is Prince Rogers Nelson. And he is funky.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  18. Maybe standard femininity now means patriarchy-compliant plus lip service to female empowerment. Now that Beyonce sings “girls run the world” and Britney sings about sexual agency and even Disney princesses toss off one-liners about being strong women, it makes cis dudes uncomfortable when women don’t pretend to be empowered. LDR isn’t holding up the illusion of a “post-feminist” world and that may be what drives dudely critics of her gender performance.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  19. Brenda wrote:

    Love this! (And love your comment, Kittywrangler!) “Video Games” is so, so good, and so completely, painfully accurate about normative desires and how we still have them and they make us sad and we know they actually won’t get us anything, but we still want them; and I can see why dudes maybe don’t get how clothes are really important to this.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  20. Aaron wrote:

    I think a lot of the backlash is because 20-something “Bros” are hurt to the core that a “HOT CHICK” called them on the fact that they’d rather play video games then get laid. All the grubby faced hipsters with helicopter parents hovering just off screen, spending their days swearing through their headsets at 12 year olds who just killed them in Modern Warfare are mortally offended by the suggestion that they’d rather do that then nail the hot sex goddess babe in a sundress. But they would, that’s the problem with brodom.

    Sorry if that offends someone. I’m 40… getting old. Don’t even like video games anymore. But ask the girl I was living with when I was 25. She doubtless knows what Lana Del Ray is talking about. When I was 25, this song would have pissed me off too. I might have even come up with a long bullshit theory about how anti-feminist the singer was.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  21. caroline wrote:

    knowing little about lana del rey, and not really understanding the big deal about her one way or another – i think you make a great point.
    we don’t live in a vacuum. i resent the implication that you become a “bad feminist” when you do what you want, simply because it appears in contradiction to what other feminists identify as appropriate expressions of the self.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  22. Or maybe LDR hits too close to their indie-loving hearts and they can’t handle that a hot popular girl is “stealing” their soulful sound. People usually reserve special ire for those who they almost admire but who miss the mark.

    That’s the only way to make sense of her standing out as “performing femininity” when she’s like the only pop singer not writhing around in a spangled one-sie. Didn’t a popular song just come out with the chorus, “you’re the boss, I’ll do whatever you like?” And somehow LDR’s somewhat nuanced depiction of the damage devotion can wreak, that stands out as un-feminist? Nope, sorry. LDR’s music and persona don’t seem particularly subversive to me but the fact that dudes singled HER out to be the anti-feminist, speaks volumes about them.

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink
  23. J G Harding wrote:

    From a straight, white male who was very disappointed when I first heard her sing, then subsequently saw her perform live, I have to say the over-complicated gender politics written about here had nothing to do with my judgement, personally.

    I can understand the story though, I think that’s the same for anyone who doesn’t fit in: you later find things you wish you’d discovered back then. I wonder if anything would’ve been different cos of a few songs? Perhaps it would…

    Back to the main point though, for me it’s a simple matter of hype vs. quality of product. She isn’t a very good singer, and the songs (especially lyrically) sound like those of someone who shouldn’t have anywhere near that degree of publicity or adoration: they’re very immature. The productions and arrangements are good, but they’re done by 6 established pros. Once the music is a bit soul-less though, for me, the rest ceases to matter.

    People naturally project their own agendas, stories and emotions onto the famous, and express themselves through the debate around them, which is fair enough. But your youthful period experience has nothing to do with this man’s dis-satisfaction with an over-hyped singer.

    My reaction to the music and hype is simple and unrelated: I think there are plenty of spectacular (and unsigned) female artists out there, far more deserving of the hype and of praise by everyone (feminists or otherwise). I dislike the system that rewards the capital pumped in by the hype-machine, rather than the most talented performers.

    Drawing a line between the reactions of one journalist and a few other people — who are, like yourself, imposing their own agendas (“rape culture” related or otherwise) on the debate surrounding somebody famous — and the reactions of all ‘dudes’ is not a good way to form an argument, in my opinion.

    In short, the dudes who are angry at her for those rather warped reasons are only reacting in such a way for the same reason you find all kinds of feminist philosophy in her: famous people act as a conduit to ourselves, they are our mirrors in the stars… it has nothing to do with what she actually is, does or how she performs. Their words are a reflection of themselves and their already-sealed attitudes, as this piece is of you and yours. Hence the lines between your own experiences as a youth and the reaction some “dudes” nowadays being tenuous at best. The musician at the center of it is almost immaterial.

    Of course, my reaction comes from my agenda too: I hate art as business, and love genuinely soulful singers.

    I the end, she’s not really an icon, a powerful figurehead or a decent singer. She’s just the hype-machine’s flavor of the month, and to each of us, is made up of at least 50% ourselves. Maybe more.

    Interesting to debate though

    JG

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink
  24. Heh @J C Harding, I’ll chuckle all day at this: “rape culture” as an agenda.

    Yeah, dudes be angry.

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  25. BMICHAEL wrote:

    zomg. it’s like, there’s either hands thrown in the air, radical obsequiousness to some ‘hype machine’ (a harder case to disparage, maybe, given the existence of hype machine [lol?]) or there’s a hands thrown in the air, radical capitulation to various ideological validities. EITHER WAY, I’d rather read someone’s personal, actual, close reading of an art object than anything else!

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  26. The Collaboratrix wrote:

    “Rape culture” in scare quotes. Gotta love it.

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  27. el wrote:

    I feel so, so disturbed by this song. And yet I can’t stop listening to it. I think you’re right that it touches really deeply to a kind of desire that is difficult to acknowledge or talk about in a feminist sphere — for me it’s the desire to be possessed by a man; my secret inclination, which terrifies me, to do anything, to erase or remake myself in order to be loved. The song jars me so much because I relate to it in a way that makes me really uncomfortable. I think it’s been good for me to listen to it, though, because it’s forced me to pay attention to this kind of cognitive dissonance in myself. I think we need to acknowledge this more. I’m glad this song is provoking this kind of discussion. It bothers/confuses me that so many people seem to love it so uncritically though.

    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
  28. Maria wrote:

    It’s really good to read a personal take on LDR. My 2 pennorth: she brings up some disturbing, patriarchally-instituted feelings in me – but so does Edith Piaf, and Gaga for that matter. Existing only for a boy, giving all of your soul away just to be touched, is problematic. But hell, whoever said art wasn’t supposed to pose problems? Give me the meat of that disturbing notion, let me confront it head on. As someone mentioned earlier, we don’t live in a ‘postfeminist’ world, so we have to engage with the world that we do have. LDR is definitely singing about the reality of many, many women.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  29. AEonFlux81 wrote:

    I wonder if what is so disturbing about her to people is that she seems to be uncritically performing out loud all those unspoken cultural expectations of women. A sort of statement that *this* is what it would look like if I caved to all those demands that are made of me as a woman–she’s riding it out to its natural conclusion, which can be an effective way of pointing out how absurd it is. Perhaps her draw is that she rides that line of tension between the savvy businesswoman who’s creating a lot of buzz despite possessing questionable talent and her stage persona of the damaged, dependent little girl. I think it makes the mansplainers uncomfortable because they recognize some of their own enculturated desires in her narrative, but don’t like to be confronted with the end product.

    And other posters have commented on how she catches all this anti-feminist flak, but it’s totally cherry-picking. What about Paloma Faith’s “Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?” where she says, “I can be what you want me to be…but do you want me?” (I love Paloma, but how is this different from the sentiment in “Video Games”?).

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  30. Fran wrote:

    “Is someone who objectifies herself willingly a victim, in any case?”

    Wow. This is the worst piece defending Lana Del Rey’s music based solely on personal experiences and ‘because I like it’ that I have read on the internet. There were some bad ones on Tumblr but this one takes the cake.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink
  31. Ivan Bezdomny wrote:

    Me? I think all of the dudely concern-trolling surrounding LDR is utter bullshit, and that your analysis is spot-on (not least when compared to the way these critics treat unabashedly misogynistic male artists: come on, we’re really supposed to believe Lana Del Rey is worse for women than fucking Eminem?) You’re also probably right that she’s speaking to a markedly non-cis-straight-male-rock-critic audience. I just don’t dig her take on the smoky lounge singer style much — for contemporary versions of that I’d much rather go to Portishead or Madeleine Peyroux.

    (Incidentally, it’d be REALLY interesting to examine the whole phenomenon of the “chanteuse” as a trope in music writing — the more I read that last sentence I wrote, the more I question its underlying assumptions. Why are Del Rey, Beth Gibbons, Peyroux, and Adele pigeonholed as sultry lounge singers, while people like Jeff Buckley and Tom Waits aren’t? We talk about chanteuses, but where are the chanteurs? Could it be that a) female singers are always read through their sex appeal and b) great male artists are supposed to transcend time, place, and context, whereas women, lacking any such Great Artistic Power, are stuck in the same smoke-filled Parisian salon forever and ever?)

    Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  32. Jess wrote:

    I’ve thought long and hard about why I have such a visceral negative reaction to Lana Del Rey, and I decided it’s because she keeps referencing works of art that are too good for her bland, insipid music.

    “I’m gangster Nancy Sinatra.” -Oh really? I would argue that Nancy Sinatra was gangster Nancy Sinatra, and that you are a spoiled girl, LDR, one who has never done anything the slightest bit ‘gangster.’

    The obsession with Lolita, which I think is the most brilliant work of literature in the English language, really irks me. She takes the poetry and linguistic gymnastics of Nabokov’s masterwork and reduces it to “I say you the bestest.”

    But you know, I could be wrong, because I don’t like Adele either and I think I’m the only person who doesn’t.

    Monday, February 13, 2012 at 2:26 am | Permalink
  33. @Ivan, I couldn’t agree more with you. Actually, the reason I started paying attention to LDR was because of how much her music reminded me of Portishead (of whom I am a BIG fan). Let me state clearly that I don’t think LDR is nearly as good as Portishead (it’s difficult to match such talent, after all), but I was surprised to see the triphop sound kind of return and when I first heard LDR, I was also surprised that most music critics weren’t yet making that connection. Now they are, but back in December, when I first heard of her, these similarities were unnoticed for the most part. Moreover, for weeks before I wrote this I had been joking on Twitter about a triphop revival in view of the fact that David Lynch produced Chrysta Bell’s debut album (if you like the 90s drone type of triphop, you might want to check her out, she could have come straight out of the movie Mulholland Drive).

    None of this is to say that LDR is as talented as Beth Gibbons (in fairness we don’t have much to compare as one hyper produced album cannot match the dazzling work Gibbons has released throughout the years, including her live performances). However, when a new male artist emerges, critics, in general, are quite generous drawing these genealogies and situating them in a context, at least genre wise. All of this was skipped for LDR because she makes these same critics uncomfortable.

    Monday, February 13, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink
  34. Awww @Fran, thank you for your valuable contribution to these discussions. I am looking forward to more of your opinions.

    Monday, February 13, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  35. k wrote:

    @AEONFLUX81, yeah I feel the same. For me it’s uncomfortable and gross to see my worst teenage impulses writ large in LDR’s style. I don’t have some kind of idea that others shouldn’t be allowed to like her, but I don’t need any more of that self-destructive swoon in my life right now, personally.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  36. Nanasha wrote:

    So I’ve never heard of this person before, but I clicked over to your link and watched the Video Games music video and I’m surprisingly impressed. First of all, for all the “pop” talk, I expected some BS obnoxious pornified hiphop/techno craptrap, but what I got instead was something that felt a lot more like Semisonic or Portishead. It’s not “standard pop” any more than Imogen Heap is standard pop.

    Honestly, you know what the most refreshing part was about this whole thing? SHE SINGS CLEARLY and used fairly good recording equipment instead of pretending to be “legit” by making everything crappy lo-fi! Which seems to be something that the indie movement *COUGH* ARCADE FIRE *COUGH* seems to have a problem with.

    Sorry, this turned more into a music rant than a feminism rant, but I can’t honestly see why so many people are freaking out about this stuff and yet when you see someone running around talking about being in the club and drinking and acting like a moron with a bunch of people acting like they’re about to throw their clothes off and have an orgy, that’s somehow “totes ok and not disrespectful at all!!!!”

    >_> I think that the fact that so many people are mad is that it makes a lot of guys remember how much they took advantage of that one heterosexual girl who really liked them but they didn’t like them THAT much but they still dated her anyway and she totally made them feel guilty by doing whatever he wanted as though that would make him love her the same way.

    *sigh* That’s the story of my life, unfortunately. I really relate hard with this stuff (not necessarily the outright abuse or anything, but the level of taking advantage that a lot of guys pretend they don’t notice they’re taking even though they often do…and they’re trying so hard to be that uncaring asshole male they’ve been taught to emulate, only it just doesn’t work because shit, men are HUMAN too. And I think that’s the true core of why they hate this stuff. Because it’s too close to the human element in a world where we’re all supposed to be soulless corporate consumer robots.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  37. Josh wrote:

    I hadn’t heard of Lana Del Rey until this article. Curious, I went looking for her videos on YouTube. She has one more fan. And yes, those guys are full of shit. I’m rooting for her to be who she wants to be in the face of the searing examination she is under now.

    Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  38. Lia wrote:

    @Jess: You’re not the only one, I don’t like Adele at all either. I mean, she is a talented singer and a beautiful girl and I’m happy for her success … but as long as all of her songs are about the same dude/the same breakup, I can’t like her at all. Her songs just irritate me. I mean, sure, use music as therapy and create art from your pain but – is that IT? Is that one breakup really all you have, in your entire vast and interesting life, to draw from and inspire your art? You really have nothing else in life to talk about??? The day that Adele writes a song that isn’t about how she’s still not over her ex boyfriend (which seems unlikely, given her interviews about how she’d do anything to get him back) is the day I’ll stop feeling angry in that big-sister just-get-over-him-he’s-no-good-for-you-you-could-be-doing-so-much-more way every time I hear her songs.

    Friday, February 24, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  39. Lia wrote:

    Curiously, the song “Video Games” just takes me back to when I was a 15 year old, had died my hair blonde and starved myself down to a very unnatural-looking size 2, and was dating a guy who liked to play World of Warcraft. I would sit idly on his bed at his mom’s house while he played, waiting for him to pay attention to me instead of the game and trying my hardest to be worthy of his attention. I don’t think it’s an anti-feminist song – I see it as a situation that many of us have probably experienced, that we can look back on now and remember how foolish that was, how unrealistic that relationship was and how glad we are to be in a more mature and independent mindset. I’m not familiar with her other music but I’m intrigued now. I’m hoping she’s playing an over-the-top submissive character to make a statement, like how Lady Gaga played an over-the-top fame/money obsessed pop star in her first album.

    Friday, February 24, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink
  40. Romeo wrote:

    Want for another human being and to be wanted in turn are very human emotions that escape gender concepts. Men and women may express these emotions differently, but we both have them. Why would any one condemn a songstress for expressing such a deep rooted human desire? I don’t get it.

    That said, I must make a confession.

    I avoid most radio and “mainstream” music like the plague. As such I had only heard the song “Video Game” once before and… and I must admit I kind of was offended. Not because of any concept of regressive femininity portrayals or anything like that. But because I took it (stupidly) as an attack on one of my favorite hobbies.

    Listening to it now with a more thoughtful ear, I find it’s actually a very pretty song. The woman’s lament and mournfulness is really quite touching.

    Reading over the comments here I have seen at least one post implying that Lana Del Ray has no talent, and while I am far from a musical expert she strikes me as very talented. I can’t quite place why, but she reminds me more then a little of Tori Amos (And I love me some Tori Amos).

    Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  41. canomia wrote:

    What is this almost all of you seem to be saying about her not having talent?
    Are you listening to the same artist I am? I honestly do not understand this. I heard Video Games once and immediately loved it, there is magic about her and her voice and the way she sins touches my heart.
    Also, the first time I heard it i was sure she was singing about them playing video games together, like a memory of less complicated times just hanging out with the man she loved and playing video games with him. Having listened to her stuff more now I’m just falling in love with all of it. Why is it female artists have to be role models all the time, while male ones don’t have to?

    Monday, March 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  42. canomia wrote:

    Ahem, it’s supposed to be “sings” not “sins”, but i guess the way she “sins” against the way women should look and behave when they want to be taken seriously as musicians also touches my heart.

    Monday, March 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink