I first learned of Lana Del Ray when I heard a dance floor remix of “Summertime Sadness”. I screamed across 12 inches of nightclub bedlam to a musically knowledgeable lady friend — asking her what the song was. For several months in 2016, Lana’s smoky voice and dreamlike music videos were a refuge for me as I processed a devastating setback in my private life. Lana’s songs have layers to them — the haunting melodies with the right amount of electronic effects; complex syncopated beats; and then her lyrics — poetic to the ear, and often with a deeper metaphysical import. In a world of superficial pornified music, Lana’s work stands out as true art — love songs that acknowledge the messiness, asymmetry, and insanity in human connections.
Lana’s work has been commercially successful, but every time she puts out a new album, some woman gets on her computer and writes an article about how her music normalizes abuse; why she’s not a “feminist”; why people shouldn’t be listening to her; or why the themes make the author feel guilty for liking the music. Now Lana is putting on a show — she does have a “curated” persona — but as she’s stated in several interviews, her art is rooted in her personal experiences. However troubling it may be, it’s genuine, exploratory, and incisive.
A few days ago, Lana took to Instagram with a “question for the culture”. This two page note — unusually articulate for what one encounters in social media — expressed her weariness with the accusations of “glamorizing abuse”. She described herself as a glamorous person singing about the realities of emotionally abusive relationships. She cited the work of other female performers that sing about heteronormative sexuality, infidelity, and clothing choices, and asked if she could go back to making her music about “being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, dancing for money, or whatever I want”.
The Wokesphere brought out their torches and pitchforks. Because Doja Cat, Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Kehlani, and Nicki Minaj — the performers referenced in Lana’s post — are women of colour, Wokeniks played the Race card. Now I agree that at the surface Lana’s post misses the nuances of being a Woman of Colour in a male-dominated industry and how social media criticism usually attaches to physical appearance, perceptions of “morals” and sexual behaviour, and other classist or racist tropes. But a discussion of Whiteness was not the point of her post.
A day after her “controversial” post, Lana put out a second note articulately calling out the Wokeniks who fabricated a race narrative around her first statement. She insisted that her references to the other performers were complimentary and emphasised her criticism of a culture that berates the gentler manifestations of feminine identity.
Wokeness has an important purpose in our society. Racism, classism, gender discrimination, and other such biases are so ingrained in our system that an understanding of unjust structures and intersectionality is essential to resolving the critical issues facing humankind. At this exact moment, public policy and apathetic governance across the globe are aggravating already hideous levels of suffering and inequality. At such a time, for the wokeniks to pick on an artist expressing the complexities of human existence in music is petty and asinine.
While I adore Lana as an artist, I have a newfound admiration of her as a person. In the age of cancel culture and militant wokeism, people who rely on public sentiment for a living have hard choices to make. Lana is courage personified in showing a mirror to the Wokesphere. There’s a lesson here for all of us.
Be like Lana. Have Purpose, Conviction, and Courage.
And make Epic art.