By Jackie McKenna
Years ago, in the foggy marshes of 2012, I joined Tumblr and started listening to Lana Del Rey. I was obsessed with her aesthetic: she was the big-haired, red-lipsticked, baby-talking 1960s Americana vamp I wanted so desperately to be. Lana was the embodiment of “weaponized femininity,” the pseudo-feminist aesthetic my Tumblr idols preached, which was all about empowerment through traditionally feminine styles and also murder, or something. The politics of the whole thing were pretty muddy to me; all I knew was Lana was so shiny, and my lizard brain craved her. Now, in 2016, my lizard brain takes a backseat while I’m writing my Women and Gender Studies thesis about Ms. Del Rey.
When I first started listening to Lana, I was a moody high school junior dead set on being different from the “crowd” (whoever that was). Lana’s music was already attracting criticism for her lyrics, which many feminist cultural critics found more than a bit reductive. But the girls whom I followed on Tumblr (really, the women, since most of them were 21+ adults) and whose words I obsessively consumed were writing post after post about why, actually, Lana and her music were the most feminist.
The whole discourse stressed me the hell out. I really did want to be an empowered feminist woman, but her critics were making some damn solid points. I didn’t have the understanding of intersectional feminism or politics that I do now, because all that theory seemed icky and hard, so attacks on Lana just felt like attacks on me.
It took a little more time for me to get to the point where I could recognize that, yes, Lana’s lyrics were largely problematic (at best) and yes, she was pulling some racist shit on the side (Native American headdresses on white girls are still a no, Lana). It took even more time after that for me to stop rejecting her music outright out of mostly petty spite for my former obsession. Once I decided Lana was problematic, everyone who still liked her was problematic — except for me, because I was so superior.
These days, I’m a very tired college senior with very little patience for Tumblr and not enough time for needless spite. My point in writing this isn’t that you are a bad person for enjoying problematic content, nor is it that the problematic content you enjoy should never be analyzed or criticized. I’ve dedicated the last few months of my life to writing an extensive critical paper about Lana Del Rey and I still belt out “Daddy you the bestest” when I’m getting ready in the morning.
Just enjoy your thing without bending over backwards to justify why it’s actually the most progressive. Just appreciate the thing you like, acknowledge where it messes up — because every piece of content out there messes up in some way or another — and live your life. When I put on my black winged eyeliner and red lipstick, I’m doing it because I like it for myself, not because I am the best feminist there ever was. Lana is my problematic fave, and boy is she problematic, but she’s gonna get me through undergrad.