The singer echoes the late academic's distaste for the US's narcissistic culture
Recently, Lana Del Rey, revealed the artwork of her upcoming album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ on her Instagram page, including a black and white cover showing Del Rey and several of her friends seated around a table.
Anticipating blowback from naysayers, presumably for being insufficiently ‘diverse’, the winsome chanteuse proclaimed: “yes there are people of colour on this record’s picture and that’s all I’ll say about that.” In a BBC Radio One interview, she further bolstered her stance: “I got a lot of issues but inclusivity ain’t one of them…I just feel like if that’s really what people are gonna say, I have an answer for them.”
When the interview moved onto the subject of Trump, Del Rey revealed that she isn’t in total lockstep with the dominant progressive narrative. While progressives saw Trump’s presidency as the recrudescence of fascism, Del Rey, in contrast, viewed it as something that “really needed to happen”. “The Madness of Trump”, in Del Rey’s eyes was a “reflection” of the greatest plague of our world: “not climate change, but sociopathy and narcissism…it’s going to kill the world. It’s not capitalism, it’s narcissism”.
Interestingly, in her momentary fixation on narcissism, Del Rey, wittingly or not, echoed the heterodox social critic Christopher Lasch, whose 1979 magnum opus, The Culture of Narcissism, attempted to investigate the roots of this plague. He argued that the spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy of mass culture and consumer capitalism, the acidification of traditional forms of authority and the colonisation of family and communal life by therapy culture had produced psychological deformities that coalesce around the narcissist. Lasch defined the narcissist as, among other things, primarily, “wary of intimate, permanent relationships, which entail dependence” and always obsessed with “consumption of novel sensations”.
Now, ‘Laschian conservative’ isn’t the phrase one would instantly grab to label Del Rey. Her songs are full of lines about getting drunk, doing time in prison and her rosebud tasting of “Pepsi-Cola”. But, paradoxically, there is a conservative sensibility that shoots through her oeuvre. She appropriates the American flag and the iconography as well as nostalgia for vintage America in her art. Her persona shamelessly adopts the trappings of traditional feminine beauty: red lipstick, high heels, diamonds, beehive hair etc, which rankle her progressive and feminist critics for supposedly glamorising the falsehood that is the American Dream and the “myth of beauty”.
Del Rey and Lasch perhaps converge on the importance of family, home and finding tranquillity in romance over profit hunting and upward social mobility.
In ‘Born to Die’, as they walk through the city, she asks her boyfriend if he can “make it like home/if I tell you you’re mine” because she often feels alone. It would be easy to dismiss this as her slavish desperation for a man to ‘provide and protect’ her. But she wants something deeper: a soulmate, a family, a home, a cosy palace, a haven in a heartless world, something more holistic and spiritually satisfying, that seems so elusive in our commercialised age.
She desires exactly the “intimate, permanent relationships, which entail dependence” that Lasch lambasted our narcissistic culture for stifling, to solve the modern riddle that is the pursuit of happiness. It is something many people, young people included, yearn for, but don’t yet have an adequate language to express.