FEATURE: This Is What Makes Us Girls: Misogyny and Lana Del Rey

“who here likes that bitch lana del rey? she bombed on snl” begins a topic on a music forum. “Ugh, what the fuck’s this doing with a record label? How did the song even make the charts? …Del Ray [is] obnoxiously ugly…” “her lips pisses me off, for real” are just a couple of the user comments left on the YouTube page for “Video Games”. Hipster Runoff’s increasingly bizarre posts on the singer are tagged “slutwave”.

Maybe internet commenters aren’t the most valid form of critique, but they do represent public opinion (to a degree), and reflect an ugly vein of misogyny that seems to be coming part and parcel in the backlash against Lana Del Rey.

A caveat: Of course it isn’t misogynistic or sexist or whatever to not like Lana Del Rey, or her music. That’s your prerogative! I personally think “Video Games” is a fantastic, if overplayed, pop single and Born to Die is an extremely patchy, but interesting, album.

The thing is, all the speculation and vitriol about the perceived ”fakeness” of the singer’s personality, back story and (crucially) her appearance; that is troubling. That’s what I have a problem with. The criticism of her allegedly collagen-pumped lips, her “sexed-up” image. That’s the sort of thing that, as Sasha Frere-Jones wrote in her article in The New Yorker, “no equivalent male star would be subject to”, a sentiment Del Rey herself echoed.

It’s similar to all the hermaphrodite rumours that circulated about Lady Gaga a year or two ago. That troubled me a bit too. Gaga is another performer who “reinvented” herself in order to achieve popular acclaim. Which is nothing new, either; remember, David Bowie released a whole bunch of singles under different names before he hit on a winning formula with “Space Oddity”.

With Del Rey, I honestly can’t see anything in the way she carries herself, or acts in interviews, or anything in her music that anyone can see as so objectionable, so worthy of hate. All the truly vile criticisms go straight towards the topic of how “genuine” she is, and the majority of that is centred around her looks.

Kitty Empire makes a good point in her review of Born To Die, the singer’s debut album, in The Guardian:

Predictably, Del Rey’s detractors cluster around the “dead behind the eyes” zinger as proof that she is a pneumatic marionette programmed to mouth commercial noir-pop songs by an evil industry cabal hellbent on outwitting a noble and sincere public. Because we routinely send all those authentic hits by ugly women playing diddley-bows to the top of the charts, right?

Hipster Runoff, in its totally bullshit “expose” on Del Rey’s past as Lizzy Grant, tried to claim the singer herself was a step backwards for feminism in pop music. Really? Really? 

The unfortunately-titled blog “Pop Culture Has AIDs” provides, I think, the most likely explanation for comments like “[she] is obnoxiously ugly” and “that bitch lana del rey”, for the holier-than-though “take down” Hipster Runoff tried to orchestrate:

Lana Del Rey became such a hot-button issue not just because she tripped off authenticity alarms, but because her supposedly fuller lips and revealing outfits threatened the power structure of the current music culture. Despite how far women have come in the music industry in the last few decades, men are still threatened by female sexuality. Much of Del Rey’s image change involved her looks, and men resent being manipulated like that…We like to think we’re above that. We can’t be fooled by a great pair of legs or a sexy come on. We know good music when we hear it. And Del Rey fooled us. So now we hate her.

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