Lana Del Rey performing during her show at 2017 KROQ Weenie Roast festival in Carson, California, United States / Harmony Gerber / Wikimedia Commons
The timing was conspicuous. Lana Del Rey, who had merely squeaked about feminism to that point, waited until there were four solo Black women artists at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 (a world first) to speak her piece. She doomed herself from the first clanger of a sentence: A question for the culture.
It only got more bizarre from there. Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani, and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking and 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?
Oof. Pop stars love a run-on sentence.
The comment was rightly critiqued for its racist implications (like, did she have to name drop five Black women?) and general brattyness. People especially noted that the named artists are charged with writing songs about ‘fucking, cheating’ and ‘wearing no clothes’ while Del Rey describes her own as being about ‘being embodied, feeling beautiful’.
Of course, Lana Del Rey lyrics include: My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola.
And… that song slaps (Born To Die: Paradise Edition forever). But white women have long ‘gotten away’ with such lyrics (while maintaining their coquettish imagery) while Black women, and other women of colour, who speak about sexual desire in such terms are often tarred as vulgar (often in language reserved almost exclusively for women of colour – see: ratchet).
As a white woman, I’m not best placed to write on the subject much beyond that (and many others have already done a better job) so I’m going to scuttle away from the topic faster than you can say it’s me your little Venice bitch. But there’s another element to the drama that has niggled at me: why can’t artists take criticism anymore?
Del Rey doesn’t represent all famous artists, obviously, but her stubborn refusal to take any criticism on board does represent a large cultural shift among some artists to hit back at bad reviews, hit back at critical blogs – even to hit back at critical fans.
The apparent crux of Del Rey’s rant, which has been buried by the strange (-ly racist) decision to name seven other (majority Black) artists, is ’10 years of bullshit reviews’. It’s true that Del Rey largely received middling criticism for her earlier work, but the fact is her latest album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, was highly praised. The album, which some music websites listed as the best of the year, even earned Del Rey her first Grammy nomination.
Journalists, music writers and critics don’t exist as a part of the publicity machine. It certainly helps an artist when positive reviews pour in, but the two entities – artist and critic – should never be in cahoots. That’s not art – that’s propaganda.
We’re watching as, left and right, the death knell for journalists keeps ringing. While large media organisations shut down entirely, tiny blogs struggle to stay afloat. If journalism is going to survive, it must maintain its integrity.
That certainly doesn’t include removing a negative review at the artist’s request, nor becoming a part of their publicity machine.
None of this means that journalists should get away with criticism rooted in misogyny, racism, or any other prejudice (and history does reveal some classics, often by women and/or POC, to be severely misjudged). But reviewers don’t exist to puff up an artist’s ego. Neither, despite the sycophantic relationship that sometimes grows, do fans.
Lana Del Rey has made some wonderful music. So have Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani, Nicki Minaj and (above all) Beyoncé. For the time being, Del Rey might indeed be best to follow Queen Bey’s example: sometimes it’s best to just focus on the art.Support Villainesse