Lana Del Rey and the Dreams of a Generation

Art by Tenya Chen

I’ve been having a bit of a Lana Del Rey phase lately.

While I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘fan’, there’s something nostalgic about listening to Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness. Whether I’m feeling blue or wanting to feel like I’m the ‘main character’ in a dreamlike music video, Del Rey’s music does just the job. 

Despite my disconnection from the Lana Del Rey-ers, I’ve heard swirls of rumours disputing the woman behind the melancholy melodies and who she really is. A common belief I’ve encountered is that Lana Del Rey – her persona and alleged lifestyle – is a complete fabrication. It’s suggested that Lana’s backstory, appearance, clothing and characteristic melancholy is all fake and created by an opportunistic record label. 

Can the real Lana Del Rey please stand up?

There certainly does seem to be an air of mystery around Lana Del Rey. Seldom do I come across interviews where she’s speaking, and she doesn’t seem to be given much attention in the mainstream tabloids. Lana, however, has seen her fair share of controversy over the years. Most of these controversies are based on accusations of cultural appropriation and sexism, specifically her attitudes to feminism and female artists, as well as the dark and allegedly abusive nature of relationships in her songs. 

Besides these controversies, one of the main critiques of Lana Del Rey is in regards to her perceived lack of authenticity. Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, Lana Del Rey’s stage name was inspired by “the glamour of the seaside” and interactions with her friends from Cuba. While ‘Lana’ comes from the actress Lana Turner, the singer chose her surname based on the Ford Del Rey sedan, which was designed in Brazil and driven in various South American countries. 

It’s worth noting that previously she had released a three-track EP under ‘Lizzy Grant’, so this new name signified a meaningful career move for the singer. A lot of artists perform under a different title more befitting to their music, and yet Del Rey seems to be a particular target for accusations of deception. 

Dreaming of the past or lamenting the present?

Lana’s style is typically associated with dreams, melancholy and nostalgia for the past, namely the 1950s and 1960s. She’s even quoted saying “I wasn’t even born in the ’50s but I feel like I was there.” It seems like the 1950s appear as a ‘happy place’ or kind of refuge, perhaps from her personal problems. According to one source, Lana struggled with alcohol overconsumption at the young age of 15 and was admitted to a special school to combat her addiction. 

Despite her retro persona, Lana Del Rey is unquestionably a product of today’s world. Heavy drug use, ‘daddy issues’ and a sense of cultural loss or grief – these are feelings and experiences contemporary to the dryness of a hyper-consumerist society. 

As a generation, we are accused of narcissism and of not having enough social skills, of being dreamers and of wasting our money on smashed avo on toast. We’re not practical enough, and our standards are too high, we’re nicknamed the ‘me’ generation or defined by social media platforms owned by people much older and much richer. 

Lana Del Rey laments the loneliness and superficiality of the contemporary epoch, a period defined by intensified consumerism with a decline in genuine belonging. Together her 1960s style and sultry tone grieve a loss of connection, true culture – a loss of anything that gave people a strong sense of security and grounding. 

“The whole idea of authenticity is elusive,” writes pop culture expert Robert Thompson. “It is in many ways a complete illusion”. Recalling the artifice of our daily lives – our identities, our behaviours, our socially-constructed ‘dreams’ – I am inclined to agree. 

I’d like to think there are elements of truth behind Lana Del Rey’s music and that her lyrics represent how she experiences the world, but given the commercialised nature of the music industry, I know that authenticity is hard to come by. Despite this sobering fact, the thought of her realness gives me a sense of connection in an increasingly fragmented world. 

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