Pop

A Timeline Of Lana Del Rey’s Brushes With Controversy

In the beginning, there was “Video Games,” a pastiche of internet loneliness, longing, and fulfillment that all but turned Lana Del Rey into a star on the spot. As good as it was, even her first-ever song came loaded with controversy; after it went viral, Lana was sued for using footage she found on YouTube but never had the rights to. And that wasn’t even the only controversy surrounding her debut track, the song also kicked off what would be a years-long label as an “anti-feminist” star in a climate when gender politics was suddenly everywhere in pop music.

Signed by Interscope Records but somehow saddled with an “indie” label through a warm up show at DIY Brooklyn venue Glasslands and an inane amount of sexist critical attention, Lana’s early career was a constant battle between authenticity and the glamorized fame of the “pop” world — so much so that Spin magazine addressed the rumors in a three-part “deconstructing” essay defending her artistic independence.

Now, more than six albums in, it’s become crystal clear nobody is running the show but Lana. And the metamorphosis from Lizzy Grant into one of the most vocal, controversial, beleaguered, and beloved songwriters in the pop world has been a bumpy one. Most recently, Lana has made headlines for comments about the artwork for her forthcoming record, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, but let’s face it — she’s always been embroiled in disputes and disagreements with how the media has portrayed her. Here’s a look at some of the incidents she’s dealt with over the course of the last decade, leading up to this week’s political squabbles and magazine clapbacks.

January 2012: Her hit single “Video Games” faces criticism for being “anti-feminist”

“People talk about me being an anti-feminist because of that song,” Lana told the BBC at the time, in the same piece where she discussed getting sued over illegally using footage in the video. “They think it’s coming from a place of submissiveness. But in reality it was more about coming together and doing your own things happily in the same living space.”

Maybe a stronger argument would’ve been pointing out that she used the emotions in that song to kick off her career, taking back power in a different way.

January 2012: Her SNL performance is widely mocked and dismissed

“I actually felt good about it,” Lana told Rolling Stone the week after the show. “I thought I looked beautiful and sang fine. It felt OK. The cast and crew said they loved it. I know some peo­ple didn’t like it, but that’s just the way I perform, and my fans know that. There’s backlash about everything I do. It’s nothing new. When I walk outside, people have something to say about it. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was absolutely excellent. People don’t have anything nice to say about this project. I’m sure that’s why you’re writing about it.” Re-watching the performance now, it doesn’t feel particularly out of step with Lana’s current live performances. She just wasn’t ever going to be a polished, choreographed pop star that was so en vogue at the time.

March 2012: The artwork for her follow up single “Blue Jeans” features a man’s hand on her neck

Accused of glamorizing abuse by using this image — a charge that definitely stuck with the singer along the way — the cover for her second single was ambiguous enough to evoke a chokehold, someone checking a body for a pulse, or even a caress. But the backlash felt boring to some, and it’s hard to categorize this image as violent. Still, she was flirting with the line from the beginning.

October 2012: Del Rey faces allegations of appropriation for wearing a Native American headdress in her “Ride” video

Over the last few decades, standards for cultural appropriation have changed a lot, even if people should’ve known better all along. It’s hard to imagine any pop star without Native American background wearing a full-on traditional headdress in today’s climate. Lana did defend herself at the time though, calling it an “ode to the spirit of dance and freedom” that she experienced when working on Indian reservations. Hmmm, that’s a no from me.

December 2013: Her “Tropico” short film faces similar appropriation charges for using Latino and “chola” culture

“Sorry, Lana, but culture can’t be tried on like a sweater at a J.Crew sample sale,” one critic wrote at the time. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. This film was cringe-worthy then, and it’s even more so eight years later.

June 2014: Title track of her new album Ultraviolence includes the lyric “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”

Obviously referencing the 1962 The Crystals song “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) — written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, by the way — several critics wondered if these lyrics glorified domestic abuse.

June 2014: Lana tells The Fader magazine she doesn’t think feminism is “an interesting concept”

Dropped the same day as the title track off Ultraviolence, Lana told The Fader she that wasn’t interested in feminism as a concept. “For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept,” she said. “I’m more interested in… SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism… I’m just not really that interested. For me, a true feminist is someone who is a woman who does exactly what she wants. If my choice is to, I don’t know, be with a lot of men, or if I enjoy a really physical relationship, I don’t think that’s necessarily being anti-feminist. For me the argument of feminism never really should have come into the picture. Because I don’t know too much about the history of feminism, and so I’m not really a relevant person to bring into the conversation. Everything I was writing was so autobiographical, it could really only be a personal analysis.” This rather infamously became a flashpoint for Lana, that she had to repeatedly address, including in an interview with James Franco for V Magazine a year later.

September 2018: Lana calls out Kanye West for supporting President Trump

Instagram

After the legendary Kanye West decided to throw his support behind Donald Trump, his fans were devastated. One of them? Lana Del Rey. She sang at Kanye’s wedding to Kim Kardashian, but that didn’t stop her from condemning his political choice in an Instagram comment as “a loss for the culture.”

October 2018: Azealia Banks and Lana get into a flame war on Twitter over the Kanye comments

Tweeting from a burner account, created because her primary account was suspended over similarly heated exchanges, rapper Azealia Banks pointed out the power dynamics of a white woman like Lana publicly criticizing a Black man like Kanye. While Banks’ comments might have had some truth to them, Lana’s tough, immediate response, and the collective disappointment in Kanye, gave her the upper hand. Banks’ tweets have been deleted but Lana’s aggressive replies remain:

December 2019: Lana angrily tweets at NPR critic Ann Powers for her essay on Norman Fucking Rockwell

In 2019, after her album Norman Fucking Rockwell was almost unanimously declared the best one of the year, Lana got into a dustup with critic Ann Powers over an essay that analyzed both the album and Lana’s whole career. It came off strange because of power dynamics — Lana’s fans went after Powers in the way that internet mobs do — and because Ann is a beloved, respected critic who took the time to engage with Lana’s work, a sign of respect on any level. After all the bad, lazy press Del Rey’s work has gotten in the past, this essay was actually grappling with her contradictions — something she prides herself on — in an intelligent way. Also, NFR was universally acclaimed! It was a strange one.

May 2020: In a now-infamous “question for the culture,” Lana asks if her “glamorizing abuse” is acceptable now due to the success of sexualized songs by other female artists, primarily women of color

It was a couple months into a global pandemic, just before an uprising to address the baked-in racism against Black people in American culture, and overall just a strange comparison. All of the women Lana compares herself to, like Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Doja Cat, sing about their own empowerment and kicking undeserving men to the curb — the opposite of Del Rey’s perspective. Perhaps her point was that female behavior in relationships can exist on a spectrum, but when one end of the spectrum is resonating so deeply, why would that lend support to the other end? She says in a follow-up that was her point, but the damage had already been done, and lots of people consider this faux pas to be one of her worst.

June 2020: Lana posted a video of herself at protest over the death of George Floyd, inadvertently exposing looters in her clip

In now-deleted posts, Lana tried to signal support for the protest by showing she was there too, but ultimately was called out by Kehlani and Tinashe on Twitter for her video since it clearly showed looters. The women who criticized her were worried that those captured in Lana’s clip would be exposed for their behavior.

October 2020: At a signing for her new poetry book, Violet Bent Over Backwards Lana wore a mesh mask that fans worried doesn’t adequately protect against COVID-19

The mask looked great. Putting yourself and fans at risk doesn’t, but Lana later clarified that it had plastic underneath the mesh and worked just fine.

January 2021 artwork for Chemtrails Over The Country Club

In early 2021, one of the only pop records on the docket so far is Lana’s next one, Chemtrails Over The Country Club. But her post about the artwork came off as tone-deaf to many, who read her invoking of the “I have Black friends” trope as tired and self-serving. Coming on the heels of a racist mob attacking the Capitol, it was also another example of poor timing.

January 2021: Lana slams Complex for focusing on her comment that Trump didn’t mean to incite the mob that attacked the capitol

In a series of tweets, Del Rey took issue with Complex for what she felt was a willful misreading her a nearly hour-long interview with the BBC that focused mostly on politics. Surely, this won’t be the last time she gets embroiled in political drama this year, but maybe things will cool down until her album release in March.

However, if there is a theme here, it’s a frequent lack of self-reflection and ability to understand where it’s coming from. Perhaps Lana can take some time to consider the perspective of other people — who are fans that engage with her work, and hope she’s the best person she can be — before the next controversy unfolds.

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