Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, and the balance of persona and politics

When artists have the platform to move the direction of culture, their approach is in constant negotiation with their brand.

October 10, 2018

Whether a cult musician or an A-list actor, your favourite cultural icons using their influence to speak out on the issues they believe strongly in is a phenomenon that has only grown more prevalent—and necessary—in our divided world. Though there’s plenty to question regarding the amount of time it took Taylor Swift to come out as a political force, especially considering the country-fried right-wing contingent of her fanbase, she did so with a degree of facts and genuine conviction often lacking in other instances of stars mobilizing their persona for the political. To have any sort of influence is a form of privilege—and it’s this privileged point of view and the specificity that comes with it that more often than not leads to these political expressions struggling  to capture the whole picture, if at all. Just ask Lana Del Rey.

Lana Del Rey’s first steps across the muddy tightrope of the artist-as-political-actor were taken back in August after a similar period of Swiftian apolitical silence for the majority of her time in the spotlight, though Lana found things off to a far rougher start; her criticisms of Rudy Guiliani’s controversial statements on Meet the Press being largely undermined after she apolitically deflected criticisms regarding her choice to headline an Israeli music festival when called out on it. Though Del Rey has since changed her course and cancelled the show, since then, we’ve seen her deal with the contradictions between her artistic persona and her expressed politics

The recent emergence of Lana’s political side, especially next to Swift’s, illustrates that though the political intentions of an artist may be in the right place, when artists are grappling with their public voice on these topics for the first time, the potential likes for them to potentially lapse into inconsistencies, any intended message is significantly undermined.

Lana continued her streak of political outspokenness just a few weeks back following Kanye’s wet fart of an SNL appearance, condemning the rapper’s aggressive support of Trump—which included sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat during his appearance—as a “loss for the culture.” And hey, she’s totally right! For a moment there, it appeared as if the singer had properly re-routed her past failings and re-merged as a sound and legitimate political influence. And then, well, last night happened.

Azealia’s gonna Azealia, and that’s exactly what the rapper did, dropping her signature style of pot-stirring on Lana yesterday by urging her over Twitter not to “use Kanye for your own vapid attempts to seem politically aware.” While we’re more than familiar with Azealia’s slippery and chameleonic politics of provocation, the real issue here is how Lana Del Rey responded, that began with a misguided lean-in to the rap-like feud-ness of the whole ordeal that involved hitting back at the rapper in a faux-hood vernacular.

What this paradox of ideologies seems to highlight is an ignorance of the fact that all artistic statements, regardless of the explicitness or intent of them, are inherently political by virtue of the perspective they represent. And the perspective being represented by these contradictory statements, whether you’re juggling Israel and Giulani or Kanye and ebonics, is an uninformed one. What this leads to is a significant dampening of the political weight carried by any expression of the artist’s ideology, which seems to obviously be the opposite of what Lana is trying to achieve.

Though this may invite claims that “of course these artists are politically uninformed, they’re not politicians!” the influence carried by prominent figures of our media and culture speaking out, from Taylor Swift dramatically surging voter registration with a single Instagram post, to Hollywood actresses jump-starting the national conversation on misogyny by way of #MeToo to the peaceful–yet still controversial–national anthem protests that occurred at NFL games last season, is not only undeniable but wholly necessary for change in today’s world. And if these prominent figures– ot just Lana Del Rey–truly want to continue to change our world for the better, it’s their responsibility to remain informed by looking beyond their privilege.

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