Billboard’s Women in Music is a good thing. When there’s a gender gap in an industry, and the most influential trade mag in said industry makes a point to try to reverse the trend, it’s something that should be applauded.
But when Billboard decides to use the occasion to honor Lana Del Rey with a “Trailblazer” award, it’s jeers, not cheers, that are in order. The human thinkpiece generator is certainly popular, and makes music that connects with people in a way that transcends barriers of taste and class. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is that if Lana Del Rey is considered a trailblazer — for women, for music, for anything — then the word “trailblazer” ceases to have any meaning.
Let’s start with LDR the “trailblazing” woman. This is the same Lana Del Rey who told The FADER , “Feminism is just not an interesting concept” (LOL), and then told James Franco in a later interview, “I don’t focus on feminism, I focus on the future.” It’s as if she believes that the goals of feminism (you know, equality for all) have already been achieved (ha!) and that by name-dropping Elon Musk projects, she can transcend the pettiness of earthly issues and just focus on feeling sad and dead and beautiful.
Then there’s her aesthetic. From day one, it’s been decidedly retro, at times to a laughable fault. Other times, it’s not so laughable. Just look at the faux-Super 8 aesthetic of her video for “Ultraviolence,” in which she fetishizes the romance of domestic violence. When Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” for Phil Spector and The Crystals in the early ’60s, there was a sad, authentic beauty to its inspiration: Singer Little Eva, who was King and Goffin’s babysitter, was regularly beaten by her boyfriend — but she had convinced herself that he beat her because he loved her. When Lana Del Rey strips that sentiment from its original context, fetishizing and romanticizing it, that sadness rings hollow. It’s an emoticon, an accessory, something that she wears to build her brand.
Since her rebirth from the ashes of the career of Lizzy Grant, Lana Del Rey has been a cipher for cultural signifiers, whether it’s the dead, battered bride of “Ultraviolence,” the biker-gang groupie of “Ride,” or the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” of Born to Die. She’s achieved an odd critical mass of critical adulation simply by rehashing vintage tropes and capitalizing on the trendiness of being sad.
This isn’t to say that Lana Del Rey isn’t worth celebrating for some other reason, or that her work doesn’t have value. People like her music, they watch her videos, and they pay to see her perform. She is also a woman. This certainly makes her a “Woman in Music,” but let’s get real: The only trail Lana Del Rey is blazing is the path straight to the bank.