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Lana Del Rey's poorly-timed tirade is a selective misreading of music history

Lana Del Rey posted a lengthy note on Instagram late in the evening on May 20, as Taurus season slid into Gemini time. The point of the letter was to announce the drop date of her seventh studio album, on September 5. But before Lana got to her thesis, she bemoaned the criticism she’s faced for writing honestly about sex, love and power. Unfortunately, the singer implied that many of her contemporaries haven’t faced the same backlash and hatred she has — which, as an enraged internet pointed out, is a selective misreading of music history.

“Question for the culture,” Del Rey’s note begins. "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, 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??????”

Now, the main issue people are rightfully taking with Lana’s tirade is that she chose to name-check so many female artists of color. Her timing is suspect; Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion made history last week by becoming the first Black women to hold the number one and two spots on the Billboard 100 with their respective remix collabs. Cue the eye-rolling, but Lana’s whining is symptomatic of the tiresome preoccupation so many artists have with the charts. Del Rey’s never had a number one hit on the Billboard 100. The closest she’s come is “Summertime Sadness,” which was on the chart for 23 weeks but only hit a peak position of #6 in September 2013. Sounds like someone’s salty her critically-acclaimed 2019 album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, didn’t also snag her a pop hit.

Lana’s muddled point is that artists should be free to explore whatever topics they want. “Part of how agency works for womxn artists is having the ability to talk about any subject you want — sexual promiscuity, cheating, scamming, drinking, partying — without being beholden to patriarchal standards,” Teen Vogue’s Danielle Kwateng-Clark sagely wrote. “These are all themes Lana (given the subject matter she herself explores) should praise. But even if she's trying to say that women should write whatever they want, her decision to name-check these artists undermines any kind of larger point.”

In her letter, Del Rey implies she’s some sort of gatekeeper or martyr whose setbacks have paved the way for others — even artists who were making groundbreaking music long before Lana crooned her way onto the scene circa 2010. “I just want to say it’s been a long ten years of bullshit reviews up until recently, and I’ve learned a lot from them,” she wrote, “but I also feel it really paved the way for other women to stop ‘putting on a happy face’ and to just be able to say whatever the hell they wanted to in their music.” But women have been singing about the unglamorous sides of pain and heartbreak for many decades.

Beyoncé, who Lana name-checks, made it the central focus of her debut solo album Dangerously in Love all the way back in 2003, and she weathered all sorts of criticisms surrounding her personhood, womanhood, motherhood and race linked to the unabashed sexuality of her music. More recently, cops called for a boycott of her 2016 world tour because they objected to the #BlackLivesMatter themes in both her “Formation” music video and her Super Bowl 50 halftime show performance. The vitriol Lana seems to think she’s weathered pales by comparison.

That’s ultimately what’s so off-putting about Del Rey’s words: she’s making a culture-wide issue all about her own career aspirations. She’s entitled to feel frustrated about these things; it sucks pouring your heart into creative work only to be labeled “hysterical” by misogynistic critics. The problem was she chose to detract from the successes of other women to get her point across. What Lana needs is a good editor, someone to proofread her typo-ridden tirade before she posts it online, and maybe suggest cutting everything but the important info: there’ll be a new Del Rey album out right before Labor Day. That’s it.

UPDATE: Lana Del Rey has since responded to the controversy surrounding her comments. She posted a comment to her Instagram saying:

"By the way the singers I mentioned are my favorite singers so if you want to try and make a bone to pick out of that like you always do be my guest, it doesn’t change the fact that I haven’t had the same opportunity to express what I wanted to express without being completely decimated and if you want to say that that has something to do with race that’s your opinion but that’s not what I was saying."