Hopefully Lana Del Rey’s perspective continues to broaden, and her desire for peace spurs her and her listeners into decisive action.
By Roslyn Talusan
Lana Del Rey’s 4th major label album, Lust for Life was released last week. The record has been deemed a departure from Del Rey’s hallmark darkness and depression, in direct response to the catastrophe that is the current American political landscape.
Her team has been marketing Lust as a brighter, more upbeat entry in her discography, and is a commentary on where we are as a society, and where she hopes we’re headed. Specifically, Del Rey has said that while she made her first albums for herself, this album is for her fans. The goal of Lust is to soothe, comfort, and empower her listeners affected by the 2016 American election.
I was skeptical about this at first. Del Rey has often been gratuitous with her creativity at the expense of marginalized groups. One of her most iconic images as an artist is her appropriating an Indigenous headdress in the “Ride” video, and her portrayed herself as a Latina sex worker in “Tropico”. The hallmark of her music, along with a leaked clip filmed by Eli Roth where Del Rey stars in a horrifying visceral rape scene, is how she glamorizes and romanticizes domestic violence. Moreover, she’s made comments about how feminism just isn’t that interesting to her, and that she’d rather discuss our galactic possibilities.
With such problematic track record, I was expecting the worst with the arrival of Lust especially because of its supposed political commentary. It wouldn’t be the first time a celebrity has used social justice advocacy to market their work and capitalize off the turmoil and oppression that the world is under. For the past year or so, I’ve felt extremely disillusioned from Del Rey’s music – and believe me, I was once a hardcore stan.
Honeymoon pushed me into a deep, suffocating depression when my PTSD was being triggered every day. When the album was released, I was driving 30 miles across Toronto at 6:30AM to work full-time at the office where I had to sit within 100 feet of my rapist. For 2 months, I drove home every evening shrieking and sobbing to the album, exhausted from being re-traumatized and on edge for an 8-hour workday.
Since my first sexual assault in 2015, I cope with my trauma by being a vocal feminist advocate. As a Filipina-Canadian cis-woman, I’ve committed myself to further developing my worldview to be as intersectional as possible. I like to think that my activism comes from a positive place of love, compassion, and empathy – and to me, Del Rey’s discography and her image as an artist represented the opposite of that. I could no longer reconcile seeking solace in her overly self-involved artistic expression with the kind of person I had become.
You can imagine my surprise when I listened to Lust for Life the first time and enjoyed it. The album resonates with my personal growth over the past couple of years, and articulates the motivating factor behind why I chose to rise above and survive my trauma and depression in the first place: love. Fittingly, “Love” is the title of the album’s first song.
Del Rey reminds her listeners, especially her young fans, that this tumultuous, chaotic world is ours whether we like it or not. She knows that it can be overwhelming and depressing. Contradicting earlier lyrics in ‘Born to Die,’ Del Rey opens the album by reassuring us not to worry, and that it’s enough to be young and in love – and I’m surprised to say that I believe her.
In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Del Rey discusses her own personal growth between albums, and it’s consistent with the concept behind Lust. She’s aware of how her music has often glorified domestic abuse, and is moving away from that perspective – she is different now.
In “13 Beaches,” she tells her lover, “It hurts to love you / But I still love you / It’s just the way I feel.” Sonically and lyrically, the song is a callback to Born to Die that also exhibits her artistic growth. Writers write what they know, and if abusive relationships are what she knew best at the time, I won’t fault her for that — especially if she’s actively trying to change.
One of the major motifs in the visuals for the album are daisies – they’re referenced throughout the album’s lyrics, weaved into her long hair on the cover, and are also the main subject in the album art. Daisies represent rebirth, transformation, and true love – coincidentally, their meaning is why I had them tattooed this year on the second anniversary of my sexual assault. It comforts me that Del Rey also used this symbol of new beginnings to visually represent this chapter in her life. Her change seems authentic and earnest, and not necessarily a ploy to sell albums.
Lust, even in its hopeful divergence from her trademark sadness, still remains consistent with the part of Del Rey’s world that she shares with us through her music. From singing wistfully about a romantic prospect in “Cherry,” one of the album’s strongest pop tracks, to the folksy “When the World Was At War” that wonders about the end of America, two distinct themes stand out on the album. She is still the Lana Del Rey that we know and love (or hate to love), but this time around, she’s expanded her gaze upwards and outwards to the world around her, and expresses her compassion for humankind.
Of course, this doesn’t erase her past micro-aggressions, and I still reserve my skepticism–she has the words ‘trust no one’ tattooed on her hand after all. Recently, she’s explained that her 2014 comments on feminism came from her inability to relate to discrimination on a personal level, and that everyone she knew was safe under the Obama administration.
Del Rey wrote ‘Coachella – Woodstock On My Mind’ out of conflicting feelings arising from dancing at music festivals during the escalation of tension between North Korea and America. In the song, she muses, “Maybe my contribution / could be as small as hoping / that words could turn to birds / and birds would send my thoughts your way.”
Come on, people are dying out here–it’s a beautiful sentiment, but the world needs more than her to exude positive vibes if she so desperately wants peace. I’m ultimately reminded that she is a wealthy caucasian woman who is afforded things that some people are not. Being able to dismiss certain social issues because you’re not personally affected by them is a luxurious privilege. I don’t expect celebrities to be radical advocates, but some basic solidarity and compassion would be nice.
In a musical landscape dominated by the white feminism – or rather, Alleged Feminism – peddled by the Mileys and the Katys of the industry, Del Rey manages to comment on the times without being overly obnoxious or self-serving. With Lust for Life, she’s modernized the Counterculture Movement of the 1960s–exactly the kind of music that we’ll need to carry us through this political hell we currently live in.
Lust for Life is one of Lana Del Rey’s strongest albums to date. Not only is it a great pop record, but the album’s social commentary is refreshingly optimistic, although it leaves a bit more to be desired in terms of actual action. Hopefully Del Rey’s perspective continues to broaden, and her desire for peace spurs her and her listeners into decisive action. The album has helped me relate to her again, and it’s re-informed my perception of her for the better. I didn’t think I would ever say this again, and I’m happy that I am, but I look forward to seeing what she delivers next.
Author Bio: Roslyn is a Filipina-Canadian freelance writer in Toronto. She’s a passionate feminist and advocate against sexual violence, and found her soulmate in her cat. In her spare time, she dances to Britney Spears, and practices hot yoga and hot Pilates. You can find her other pieces on her website, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.