Lana Del Rey has taken a lot of abuse over the years from critics, both female and male, who accuse her of wallowing in, romanticizing, even glamorizing abusive relationships for women. Seems like she has finally had enough:
I have never thought Lana Del Rey was glamorizing abusive relationships, quite the opposite. I see her as reporting how she, or at least the women she plays in her songs, often loses herself when trying to become the woman some man wants her to be. Even after she finally attains “money, notoriety and Riviera,” she still believes she is “nothing, without you.”
All too often, a song’s meaning is reduced to its words. It’s perfectly understandable why; it is so much easier to talk about, write about, analyze and critique words than it is music. But as anyone who has ever been offended by a text from a friend knows, written words are very easy to misinterpret due to lack of affect. Similarly, a song’s meaning is realized in its performance.
Lana Del Rey’s performances flip the meanings of her written lyrics. Her slow, weary delivery has always been marked by a resignation that makes it clear the relationships she details are not satisfying. These are not epic tales of great loves to be envied, but sad stories of failed romance.
As Angela Davis wrote of Billie Holiday:
“My Man” has retained its appeal not because of its content, which represents women in a mode of victimization, but because its aesthetic dimension reworks that content into an implicit critique. In Holiday’s performance of “My Man,” an ironic edge in her voice warns against a facile, literal interpretation. And in case this is missed, the slow tempo with which she sings the words – expressing uncertainty as to whether she should love him because “he isn’t true, he beats me too” – emphasizes an ambivalent posture rather than an acquiescence to the violence described.
Lana Del Rey has a Billie tattoo to honor Holiday and sings of repeatedly playing the torch singer during her “Blackest Day.”
[Holiday’s] genius was to give her life experiences an aesthetic form that recast them as windows through which other women could peer critically at their own lives. She offered other women the possibility of understanding the social contradictions they embodied and enacted in their lives – an understanding she never achieved in her own life.
And isn’t that exactly what Lana Del Rey’s gloomiest songs do? Don’t they let other women (and men) know they are not alone in having fallen for the wrong person, having stayed too long in a relationship that was not good for them? Don’t these songs expose how horribly common abusive relationships are and how many feel they are better than being alone? Don’t they also help some listeners realize that they do not need to let others define them, whether a lover or a critic?
Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1998)