How ‘cancelled’ is Lana Del Rey, really?

HOW ‘CANCELLED’ IS LANA DEL REY, REALLY?

By Emma Curzon

THE RELEASE OF A NEW MUSIC VIDEO FOR LANA DEL REY’S UPCOMING ALBUM HAS BEEN MARRED BY THE SINGER’S CONTROVERSIAL AND PROBLEMATIC STATEMENTS. BUT JUST HOW CANCELLED IS THE ‘BORN TO DIE’ SINGER?

For Lana Del Rey, scrutiny was always going to be non-negotiable. Her debut single ‘Video Games’ went viral back in 2011; ten years later, the run-up to her seventh studio album Chemtrails over the Country Club was inevitably highly anticipated from minute one. 

The good news for “baroque pop” aficionados is that musically, Del Rey is going as strong as ever. The music video for the album’s eponymous flagship single dropped on January 11th, and it’s an intriguing watch: a haphazard, artfully hazy collage of decadent scenes in an idyllic resort setting. Cute kids, gleaming vintage cars, you name it; the line “Wearing our jewels in the swimming pool” sums it up perfectly. Oh, and then a Wizard-of-Oz-esque tornado transports us to a post-apocalyptic fantasy wasteland, full of sexy female werewolves with glowing eyes and fangs etc.

Still, the video predominantly suggests that the upcoming album will be classic Lana. The glamorous sixties aesthetic, packed with old-school Americana. Del Rey’s signature slow-paced, melodious alto; and, of course, chaotic relationships that flit between dreamlike bliss and hedonistic mutual destruction. So far, so reasonably expected.

However, what we didn’t expect was the almost surreal amounts of controversy that the singer has been generating. Buckle up, because it’s an entire multiple-act saga of white fragility, narcissism and an utter lack of ability to read the goddam room.

The Del Rey that literally no-one asked for

It all kicked off last May, when the artist, ostensibly motivated by accusations of “glamorising abuse” through her music, fired off two Instagram posts comparing her perceived ill-treatment to that of various other female artists, many of them Black, who “have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f***ing, cheating, etc.”. When people understandably objected to this apparent disdain for her non-white colleagues, she accused them of turning “my advocacy for fragility [within feminism] into a race war”.

More recently, she appeared to defend Donald Trump’s role in January’s riots in the U.S. Capitol. The crowning glory of this whole fiasco, though, came earlier that month, when Del Rey released more information on Chemtrails.

Apparently still nursing a grudge, she immediately went on the defensive over the album’s cover art (a group photo of mostly white women), writing “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.

You’re reading that right, she really did play that grotesque hybrid of the ‘Black friends’ card and the ‘loves rap music’ card.

For the record: no, this woman did not cross over from an alternate timeline. She really did look at a year which included a pandemic, worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, and the end of Trump’s presidency — and cast herself as a heroine. Stacey Abrams, for instance, has spent the last few years “literally changing the world”. Del Rey’s singing? Not so much.

At this point her detractors are really starting to pile up, so it’s not hard to see why some have written Del Rey off with that dreaded label: “cancelled”.

Except… let’s back up for just a second. ‘Cancelled’ is one of those words that everyone’s heard, but no-one can really agree on its meaning. So how much does it actually apply to Del Rey?

What does ‘Cancelled’ mean?

On dictionary.com, “cancel culture” is defined as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive”. Theoretically, cancelling can mean anything from losing one’s Twitter followers to one’s latest source of income, such as sponsorship or book deal.

Unsurprisingly, it’s insanely controversial. A prominent example occurred when J.K. Rowling signed an open letter warning of a newly “intolerant climate” for free speech, having been widely criticised for writings that many people understandably viewed as transphobic? Simultaneously, there have been cases of public figures being subjected to horrific social media pile-ons through armies of trolls. For instance, widespread online bullying has been frequently highlighted as a factor behind presenter Caroline Flack’s death by suicide.

But conflating such cases with Del Ray being widely criticised for her tone-deaf comments is annoyingly counter productive. All it means is that lots of individuals object to someone’s potentially harmful words of actions. In other words Del Rey’s ‘haters’ are exercising their right to free speech rather than theatrenings hers. And for the rich and famous, this form of ‘cancellation’ can be laughably ephemeral. For instance, Dua Lipa’s visit to a strip club saw the hashtag “#dualipaisoverparty” briefly trending, yet her subsequent album and career remain as wildly successful as ever.

So, Lara Del Rey isn’t ‘cancelled’?

Which brings us back to Del Rey, and absolutely no prizes for guessing which of the above categories her ‘cancellation’ falls into. With a net worth of around $30 million and legions of die-hard fans, her music is clearly far too lucrative for any record label to cut her off. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine her money and fame increasing thanks to the headlines her behaviour has attracted. More YouTube views, more Instagram followers, more streaming on Spotify and Apple Music. Chemtrails is already on several official Apple Music playlists, including ‘Future Hits’. Hell, while writing this article I’ve started listening to her music out of sheer curiosity.

So, does Lana Del Rey need to get over herself? Probably. Is she cancelled? Depends on your definition, but… not really. Because, final question: will any of this actually have a significant, meaningful and highly negative impact on her life and career? The answer, almost certainly, is no.