From Kingpin To Karen: How Lana Del Rey Became The Most Controversial Woman In Pop
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From Kingpin To Karen: How Lana Del Rey Became The Most Controversial Woman In Pop

October 30, 2021 Share



She’s one of the most talked-about artists of the 21st century – and not always for the right reasons. 

Following a turbulent 2020, Lana Del Rey made a recent return with the release of Blue Bannisters, her eighth studio album and second album release of 2021. Whilst there was plenty of excitement from fans surrounding the release, millions eager to see what direction the Born To Die singer will take next, there was trepidation, too – after all, wherever Lana Del Rey goes, a fall-out never seems to be following too far behind. 

It’s no secret that Lana has flirted with controversy throughout her career. Since the spotlight of the mainstream first found the singer in 2011, there has been rarely a period where Lana hasn’t found herself hitting the headlines for one scandal or another, whether it’s a simple case of ‘What did she say that for?’ or a story that leaves fans wondering whether or not she’ll manage to bounce back from it. 

Nevertheless, Lana does always seem to find a way back from controversy and return to the studio, albeit having suffered another chip in her reputation. In 2021, however, fans are tired – and it seems that her history of scandals, partnered with the changing social attitudes of recent years, may just be catching up with her.

Once pop’s ultimate ‘cool girl’ – confident, sensual and unapologetically hedonistic – Lana Del Rey has, scandal by scandal, painted herself as a much more problematic figure. In fact, many consider her to have made the worrying transition into ‘Karen’ territory – another wealthy adult white woman with a warped idea of reality and a sense of entitlement that’s long been out of control. 

Is this an exaggeration or is Lana Del Rey really one of the most controversial women in 21st century pop? Check out her timeline of scandals below. 

‘Industry Plant’ Accusations

Even Lana’s initial rise to fame wasn’t without its controversies, as her sudden prominence within the music scene following the release of her breakout hit Video Games seemed to leave listeners more than a little doubtful about the origins of this ‘self-made’ star.

Not only had the video for the woozy, dreamlike track been created to seem somewhat amateur and homemade, but Lana herself had already started to cultivate a very particular ‘vibe’ – she was the all-American girl next door, just with a little added grit and ambition, whose music just happened to reach all the right listeners. However, when she made her TV debut on Saturday Night Live just weeks after its release in 2012, it left people just a little suspicious… 

Lana’s performance on Saturday Night Live in 2012 is considered to be one of her worst

As one of America’s biggest and most popular shows, the musical guest slot on SNL is usually understandably reserved for America’s biggest and most popular artists. How did this rising bedroom pop musician, even with her newfound internet notoriety, manage to book one of TV’s most highly-coveted stages before she’d even released a record?

Needless to say, the self-made star image that Lana’s (clearly very well-connected) management had projected onto her – whether on purpose or not – wasn’t particularly rooted in reality. Thousands began referring to Lana as an ‘industry plant’ – an artist whose management very carefully cultivated their image to seem as authentic, self-produced and relatable as possible, despite their every move being considered in detail by a team of industry insiders. It’s an accusation that often leaves fans with a lack of trust in the artist themself. 

Things didn’t subside much when her lack-lustre performance on SNL flopped – and whilst we know now that Lana was ultimately able to shake off the ‘industry plant’ claims, she has never returned to the SNL stage since. 

‘Question For The Culture…’

Perhaps the moment that, in the eyes of many, best demonstrates Lana’s apparent lack of self-awareness is the ill-advised open letter posted to her Instagram account in May 2020, in which she questioned the public’s acceptance of sexually charged music by artists such as Doja Cat, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. 

Lana has deleted her Instagram account following several scandals

“Question for the Culture…” the post read. 

“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??????”

“Im fed up with female writers and alt singers saying that I glamorize abuse when in reality I’m just a glamorous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world.

With all of the topics women are finally allowed to explore I just want to say over the last ten years I think it’s pathetic that my minor lyrical exploration detailing my sometimes submissive or passive roles in my relationships has often made people say Ive set women back hundreds of years.”

The backlash was swift, with commenters criticising Lana for a variety of reasons. 

For one, most within the comments could agree that Lana’s music could very well be seen to be glamorizing abuse – lyrics like ‘He hit me and it felt like a kiss’ are all too prevalent throughout her discography to ignore. 

There were also questions asked over why this rant seemed to be targeted almost exclusively towards black female artists, with only one white singer mentioned in the post – especially given that Lana went on to accuse these ‘stronger women’ of taking away from her ability to speak out for ‘women like me’

“Let this be clear, I’m not not a feminist,” she continued.

“But there has to be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me – the kind of woman who says no but men hear yes- the kind of women who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate selves, The kind of women who get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women or by men who hate women.”

Whether they felt that the post was unnecessary or potentially even racist, one thing most users could agree on was that it made Lana look particularly privileged or entitled – and that her publicist was likely having a terrible day. 

COVID Controversy

With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw the behavior of celebrities watched very closely – and many found themselves receiving plenty of backlash as a result. Lana Del Rey was, of course, just one of them. 

The singer landed herself in hot water with fans in October 2020 after she was photographed wearing a mesh face mask to meet fans at a signing of her poetry book in LA. Given just how widespread the guidance on face coverings had been at the time, coupled with the fact that the pandemic had been ongoing in the area since March, many fans felt that there was no viable excuse for this decision. 

Lana Del Rey has worn her mesh face mask on several occasions since the initial backlash

When photos and videos began to spread throughout social media, fans took to the internet to criticise Lana’s controversial choice of accessory. The backlash grew even further when Lana’s sister claimed that the singer had been socially distanced from her fans throughout the event, despite photographs later emerging which proved this was not the case. 

For many, refusing to wear a face mask or expressing doubt over whether or not COVID-19 is truly dangerous are typical traits of a ‘Karen’, leading to accusations that she was turning into a prime example of the archetypal Karen character. 

With the release of a new album comes the likelihood that we’ll see Lana on the interview circuit a little more over the next few months. Whether or not she’ll manage to turn her image around or, instead, attract further controversy is the question on everybody’s lips. 

Read More: Dua Lipa: “I Don’t Like To Apologise If I Don’t Believe I Should Be Apologising.”

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Author: Betsy Barker
born to die
Lana del Rey
saturday night live