Lana Del Rey Can’t Stop Putting Her Foot in Her Mouth
The singer’s bizarre comments on race and Trump (“it really needed to happen”) come after criticizing artists of color and highlighting looting during the George Floyd protests.
My best friends are rappers. With those five words (and many, many more), Lana Del Rey announced the arrival of her new album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, and its cover: eleven women decked out in 1950s-style garb, all pearls and white linens, posing around a table. Nearly all of the women appear to be white, perhaps owing to its ‘50s-suburbs aesthetic. Without any prompting, the 35-year-old crooner chose to issue a disclaimer of sorts about the image, and album.
“We are all a beautiful mix of everything—some more than others which is visible and celebrated in everything I do,” she wrote in a since-deleted Instagram caption. “In 11 years working I have always been extremely inclusive without even trying to… My best friends are rappers my boyfriends have been rappers. My dearest friends have been from all over the place, so before you make comments again about a WOC/POC issue, I’m not the one storming the capital, I’m literally changing the world by putting my life and thoughts and love out there on the table 24 seven. Respect it.”
It read like a preemptive self-pardon, with the singer seemingly using the word “rapper” as a stand-in for “Black person” (“my best friends are rappers” may be the new “some of my best friends are Black”), invoking the storming of the capital [sic] for reasons unknown, claiming she’s somehow “changing the world,” and demanding colorblind fealty. Tone-deaf would be an understatement. Sadly, she wasn’t through. On Monday, during a BBC Radio 1 appearance with Annie Mac, Del Rey argued that the Trump presidency was a necessary evil.
“The madness of Trump… As bad as it was, it really needed to happen. We really needed a reflection of our world’s greatest problem, which is not climate change, but sociopathy and narcissism. Especially in America. It’s going to kill the world. It’s not capitalism, it’s narcissism,” she said. “But, you know, I just think there’s actually, minus our terrifying death toll, I think it was a huge wake-up call.” (The “minus our terrifying death toll” is doing a lot of work.)
Of the Trump-obsessed insurrectionists who killed a police officer (as well as several of their own) and targeted congressional leaders during their bloody assault on the Capitol, she opined, “Watching the people storm the Capitol, everyone gets to go look at that and figure out what Capitols they’ve been storming this year in their own freakin’ lives. ‘Cause everyone’s running amok. You know, half the people I know are just jerks. Like I could picture them being like, ‘Well, we need a change.’ You know, and then the other half of the people I know are like watching them with tears in their eyes, in disbelief. And it is sad, it is scary. But it could happen in any country.” (Look, I’m not exactly sure what Capitols I’ve been storming in my own freakin’ life, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t the freakin’ U.S. Capitol, and nobody freakin’ died.)
The recent comments probably wouldn’t have caused as much of a stir if Del Rey—a liberal with a long history of denouncing Trump, and who once casually claimed she’d placed a hex on him when he was elected president—hadn’t also taken a series of missteps over the summer. On May 21, Del Rey posted an Instagram manifesto of sorts on feminism whilst claiming she’d “paved the way” for a number of female artists to express themselves freely.
“Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating, etc.—can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money—or whatever I want—without being crucified or saying that I'm glamorizing abuse??????” wrote Del Rey.
Music fans took issue with Del Rey’s decision to single out mostly artists of color and accuse them of being anti-feminist for expressing themselves sexually, while conflating their sexually forward lyrics and dress with charges that she herself glamorizes domestic abuse—in the single art for her track “Blue Jeans,” featuring a tattooed hand gripping her neck; in the song “Ultraviolence,” with its lyrics “He hit me and it felt like a kiss… He hurt me but it felt like true love,” as the singer praises her and her abuser’s “blessed union;” and in the simulated-rape video she shot with Marilyn Manson and Eli Roth. “Let me be clear,” Del Rey asserted, “I’m not not a feminist. But there has to be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me.”
When the backlash hit, with the phrase “Oh Lana” trending on Twitter, she posted a six-minute black-and-white video to Instagram wherein she insisted that she wasn’t a racist, while comparing herself to yet another artist of color, FKA Twigs, saying, “When I get on the pole, people call me a whore, but when Twigs gets on the pole, it’s art.” She also revealed that several of the artists she’d mentioned didn’t take kindly to what she’d said—but instead of causing her to reflect on it, she remained steadfast in her belief that she is right.
“I’m sorry that a couple of the girls I talked to who were mentioned in that post have a super-different opinion of my insight, especially because we’ve been so close for so long,” Del Rey offered in the video. “But it really, again, makes you reach into the depth of your own heart and say, ‘Am I good-intentioned?’ And of course, for me, the answer is always yes.”
“I’m not the enemy and I’m definitely not racist, so don’t get it twisted,” she concluded. “Nobody gets to tell your story except for you, and that’s what I’m gonna do in the next couple books. So, god bless—and yeah. Fuck off if you don’t like the post.” (Beefing with artists of color seems to be a running theme for Del Rey, as she’s also gotten into public spats with Kanye West and Azealia Banks.)
Ten days later, as millions took to the streets to protest for Black lives following the brutal murder of George Floyd, Del Rey posted side-by-side videos to Instagram of a Black Minneapolis protester standing atop a burnt-out car holding a “no justice, no peace” sign and one of Black protesters—with Del Rey’s camera zooming in on their faces so they’re clearly visible—looting from stores. Del Rey turned off comments on the post, presumably because she knew it would attract condemnation, and later deleted the looting video after a number of Black artists, including Kehlani and Tinashe, criticized her for it. (It should be noted that Del Rey was also photographed attending at least one Black Lives Matter protest.)
It seems that in the Trump era, when white nationalists are storming the U.S. Capitol in the apparent hopes of killing members of Congress, Del Rey’s persona—a self-described “gangster Nancy Sinatra” who romanticizes “white trash” (her words) culture, from trailer parks and motorcycle gangs to toxic masculinity, and dates influencer-cops—has started to rub some folks the wrong way. (Del Rey’s father is an internet millionaire, and she went to the Kent School in Connecticut, a private school that costs $64,600 a year.)
“I did move into a trailer park when I made my first record. I got ten grand from Five Points Records and moved into Manhattan Mobile Home in New Jersey. And I was happy, because I was doing it for myself,” she told Electronic Beats in 2013. “There was a white trash element in the way there was a time that I didn’t want to be a part of mainstream society because I thought it was gross. I was trying to carve my own piece of the pie in a creative way that I kind of knew how. And I thought it was cool to be living by myself and working with a famous producer. I was excited about the future at the time.”