Lana Del Rey, Lolita, and Sexual Predation

Lana Del Rey is a pop icon for teenagers everywhere who relate to her emotional, romantic, nostalgia inducing songs. Her songs consist mostly of love, drugs, teenage struggles and loss. Her music is self described as being influenced by Elvis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, which nods to the classic Hollywood style of her music. Del Rey is an award winning artist that shaped the generation I grew up in and was huge influence to my friends and I as 14 year old girls. Although her music is awe inspiring and never gets old, one thing that often comes to mind when thinking of Lana Del Rey is her controversial topics that she covers. Everyone sings about sex and drugs. It’s not a secret. Del Rey takes it further by referencing relationships that, to the audience at least, carry clear tones of domestic violence. Specifically, she references to a relationship of herself with a much older man in several of her songs, which has been confirmed as an actual relationship in her early life. This is not a crime. Her song called “Lolita” might be.

“Lolita” is an anthem for the good girls gone bad, and it praises sexuality, femininity, and seduction. The lyrics are about kissing boys and playing in the dark- again, this is not out of character for a pop artist (some may argue Del Rey is alternative, not pop, but that’s subjective). The song paints the image of a girl who is “growing up” and recognizing her own sexuality, but with words like “fruit punch lips” the song also nods to youth and childlike characteristics. Another reference to childhood is the line “No more skipping ropes, skipping heart beats with the boys downtown.” This lyric yet again ties in childlike games in with what seems to be a euphemism for hooking up with “the boys downtown.” The problem with the song, along with the questionable lyrics, is the name.

The name Lolita is also the name of a well known book, also called Lolita, written by the author Vladimir Nabokov in the 1950s. The book is a tale of lust and flirtation, but the relationship the book focuses on is between a 37 year old man and a 12 year old girl. In the book, Humbert Humbert (a pseudonym for the author) and his stepdaughter Dolores, known as Lolita, become entangled in a complicated and very abusive relationship. Humbert is obsessed with Lolita, and although she does show him affection in return the fact that their relationship began when she was 12 years old is hugely problematic, disgusting, and illegal. The novel itself is critically acclaimed and has been praised for decades, but in recent years people are finally realizing that maybe it’s kind of fucked up to write a novel about a sexual relationship between a man and a child. It’s also disturbing to realize that Lana Del Rey chose to name a song about kissing boys after a book with such predatory themes.

There is something to be said about the content of Lana Del Rey’s songs and the audience that she influences. Although the artist cannot control who enjoys their art, Del Rey’s music is very much the holy grail for teenagers everywhere. That being said, Del Rey’s other songs such as “This is What Makes Us Girls” have lyrics that describe sixteen year old girls dancing on tables at dive bars and drinking with their bosses. Nabokov’s Lolita and Del Rey’s “Lolita” both do one dangerous thing- they make light of predatory relationships. The prevalence of older men getting the hot, younger girl is not a new narrative nor one that will go out of style, but actual predatory relationships depicted in books or songs cross the line. This promotes the grooming, or the building of false trust between a predator and a victim, as well as the sexual exploitation of children.

Child trafficking and child abuse has been a toxic plague in our society for too long, and normalizing it in any way through books or songs blurs the much needed line that divides this kind of behavior from acceptable behavior in our society. Obviously people can and will do what they want, but we definitely should not be promoting this type of relationship described in Lolita. Awareness is essential, but one can make art that brings attention to a problem without at the same time glamorizing the topic. We cannot afford to let this concept of abuse be recognized for anything other than it is- horrific, dangerous, and evil.

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Makena Gordon

25 thoughts on “Lana Del Rey, Lolita, and Sexual Predation

  1. Im not sure if Lana del Rey meant to romanticize Lolita in her songs. It might have been her way of talking about her past trauma. However, Lana’s songs and aesthetics romanticize every other negative aspect of her life. She writes songs about drug abuse and abusive relationships in a beautiful way. So it was obvious that her fans would not have seen Lolita as disgusting. As a result, I’ve personally seen her fans make strange and sexual fan edits of the movie Lolita and talk about how Lana influenced them at a young age to want older men.

  2. There is no doubt, that Lana Del Rey and her work has been a hot topic of debate because of her promotion of not just sexual predation but abuse as well. For many young girls like I once was, Lana Del Rey sung about things like love and sexuality that we all wanted to attain the feeling of just as she does in her melodic songs. The way she dressed and looked was something that influenced a whole generation. These influences however romanticized many of the dark things that are associated with love such as abuse, with one of her songs saying,”he hit me and it felt like a kiss.” As an artist she does not dictate who listens to her music or what the effects of it could lead too. However, it is undeniable that a generation of young girls feel into the beauty of drugs, smoking, older men, and toxic relationships from her art.

  3. I think the controversial topic about the Lolita album and songs are debatable and I can definitely understand why people are uncomfortable with the lyrics and background behind them. Lana Del Rey has a specific music style that caters to girls finding their sexuality as they grow older, praising them for their bodies and exploring their femininity. Her discography caters towards this type of genre and it is important to note music is art. It is possible the lyrics she sings is a story of her experiences and it would not be right to invalidate her life. In general, many artists rap or sing about controversial topics. We should just appreciate the music and melody without overthinking the basis of the songs.

  4. I’ll be honest in that I have listened to some Lana Del Rey and was aware of some of the controversy regarding her dealing with taboo topics such as sex, drugs, and abuse, But I had never looked into it in detail, especially not the connection between the book “Lolita” and her song of the same name. It makes me feel icky knowing I have listened to her songs and enjoyed some of them. I agree with the author of this post in that we can talk about these topics but we have to make sure that we are not glamorizing these issues for a young, impressionable audience. I also think it’s important that we should make sure we are not blaming the victims in talking about these topics. Especially in the case of grooming where the victims are young people who do not know any better. That being said, we should not be condoning or accepting this as common experience because at the end of the day, it is a crime and should be considered as such.

  5. I’ll be honest in that I have listened to some Lana Del Rey songs and was aware of some of the controversy regarding her dealing with taboo topics such as sex, drugs, and abuse, But I had never looked into it in detail, especially not the connection between the book “Lolita” and her song of the same name. It makes me feel icky knowing I have listened to her songs and enjoyed some of them. I agree with the author of this post in that we can talk about these topics but we have to make sure that we are not glamorizing these issues for a young, impressionable audience. I also think it’s important that we should make sure we are not blaming the victims in talking about these topics. Especially in the case of grooming where the victims are young people who do not know any better. That being said, we should not be condoning or accepting this as common experience because at the end of the day, it is a crime and should be considered as such.

  6. I’ll admit that I am a fan of Lana Del Rey’s music and I knew that some of her songs dealt with more taboo topics like drugs and sex, as well as glamorizing domestic abuse. I had also heard people talking about the “Lolita” connection to the book, but had never done any research of my own into what the book’s plot was about. To be fair, my exposure to LDR’s discography has been limited to a few select songs that I really liked, so I hadn’t really listened to her more controversial song’s lyrics. This article does make me rethink listening to her as much. I agree with the author of this post that there is a way to talk about these very real issues without making them seem acceptable. I also think its important to make sure that we are not blaming the victims here. Especially in situations of grooming, the victims are minors who don’t know any better and we should make sure they are comfortable talking about their experiences. At the end of the day though, we should not be glamorizing abuse, period.

  7. I wanted to read and leave my comments on this article as somebody who is a big fan of Lana Del Rey. I know people have approached Lana with the same concerns and criticisms, and she has said that music is the way she expresses herself and that she is not trying to glamorize the lifestyle she sings about. I can understand her point, but I do also understand why people may interpret her songs in a harmful way. Music is a very powerful outlet and so I think it is important for people to be able to express themselves openly. The women who find themselves prey to the Lolita aesthetic are often times groomed and victims themselves, so I think it is also important to hold the men accountable who are preying on girls.

  8. I remember reading about a celebrity praising the book “Lolita” when scrolling through twitter before, claiming it was their favorite book, and that this celebrity actually related to the main character. After reading the replies and realizing what kind of story “Lolita” was, it made me sad and disappointed. In the context of what this person said, they did not mention the blatant child abuse and inappropriate relationship between a man and a child. I completely agree with the idea that Lana Del Ray’s song “Lolita” is glamorizing the same themes written in the book. I find it very heartbreaking that these women are portraying such harmful messages. In any case, I would hope the only reason this was being brought up would be to bring awareness of its danger and to highlight it’s maliciousness.

  9. I agree with the emphasis on spreading awareness without glamorizing sensitive topics. Glamorizing such sensitive subjects can inadvertently undermine the true nature of the problem and detract from the urgency of combating it. Instead, the focus should be on promoting education, prevention, and support for victims. By fostering open and honest discussions, utilizing age-appropriate materials, and collaborating with reputable organizations, we can ensure that the message reaches a wider audience while maintaining the integrity and sensitivity required to address grooming and child trafficking effectively.

  10. Your post was very informative! I wholehearted agree with stressing the importance of spreading awareness without glamorizing the topics. Glamorizing or sensationalizing such sensitive subjects can inadvertently undermine the true nature of the problem and detract from the urgency of combating it. Instead, the focus should be on promoting education, prevention, and support for victims. By fostering open and honest discussions, utilizing age-appropriate materials, and collaborating with reputable organizations, pop artists like Lana Del Rey can ensure that the message reaches a wider audience while maintaining the integrity and sensitivity required to address these topics effectively.

  11. Your post was very informative. I whole-heartedly agree with the importance of spreading awareness without glamorizing it. Glamorizing or sensationalizing such sensitive subjects can inadvertently undermine the true nature of the problem and detract from the urgency of combating it. Instead, the focus should be on promoting education, prevention, and support for victims. By fostering open and honest discussions, utilizing age-appropriate materials, and collaborating with reputable organizations, pop artists can ensure that the message reaches a wider audience while maintaining the integrity and sensitivity required to address these topics effectively.

  12. As a fan of LDR’s music for a long time, I have always struggled with this aspect of her music. It always seemed creepy to me to flirt with older men and engage in relationships with such a large age gap, but at the same time, I have no right to judge her art or experiences. Knowing that she had potentially been groomed and did engage in these relationships makes me feel sorry for her, but she uses these experiences to shape her music in a positive way and makes money from it. Lolita culture is a very American thing, and since her music is supposed to mirror American culture and the 70s and 80s culture, it makes sense that she would speak about this and sort of glamorize it.

  13. There definitely was a lot of information that was highlighted in your post and honestly the way you explain is very great and it does raise a lot of questions. As we know people sometimes have their own subjective view of what “art” is and how it is expressed in light. From what I have seen and heard it is possible that the song and the book may have their own intentions and maybe not in a fully correlated way. Since it seems the book “Lolita” is more of spreading awareness about how older men can be extremely manipulative in comparison to the song. Which the song may have it’s message too but its kind of hard to say when the opinions are way too divisive. These two things definitely touch upon taboo topics and the only ones that know what real message was trying to be conveyed are the authors themselves.

  14. I’ve been an avid fan of Lana Del Rey since I was a teenager and her career was starting and it’s because of her song “Lolita” that I read Nabokov’s book. It’s not difficult to imagine this effect impacting other young girls who admire her and follow her music. Whatever the implications of this reaction may be, and they make me cringe just thinking about it, I would say that LDR gave me space to grow and explore my sexuality and femininity. I’ve long grown out of this phase and a quick listen to Del Rey’s music will reveal a similar development and will show you that her intention (however retroactive) is to empower women through her music, without Lolitas or men or hypersexuality.

  15. I don’t understand why people are so eager to restrict women on what they should do. How people are more okay with the book, written from the perspective of a honey-glazed pedophile, and are more likely to be read by adults, potential predators, than a song written by a woman, possibly portraying a victim. Children should be protected by the law, education, and their guardian, if the system didn’t fail them, no song could possibly hurt them. And if it does happen(and it does), it’s hard for me to imagine any sane person would blame a song and the kid, rather then the actual pedophile.

  16. Regardless of intention, it’s difficult to determine whether the novel Lolita and the song Lolita are spreading awareness or promoting abusive relationship dynamics. Both the book and song are disturbing in their illustration of inappropriate relationships, but it’s difficult to say whether they make light of the dynamic, or if they bring light to the issue at large. In Del Rey’s Lolita, she takes the perspective of the underage girl in the relationship, she emphasizes this role throughout the song with lyrics that spell out simple words, by saying that she doesn’t listen to the warnings of others, and by saying that she doesn’t want to play anymore. While these lyrics are upsetting, they portray the immaturity of a young girl in an inappropriate relationship. In this way, I think that Del Rey’s Lolita may be intended to be more precautionary rather than promotional. However, I do agree that Del Rey’s delivery of the song Lolita seems to glamorize the issue, and may be misleading to younger listeners. Rather than focusing on the harm that is brought about from a victims interpretation of their inappropriate relationship, I think we should consider the harm caused by the predators in these relationships.

  17. Hi Makena!

    Diving deeper into the reference of Lolita, I agree with “rose” who asserted that Vladimir Nabokov wasn’t intending to glamorize pedophilia and relationships but rather attempting to show the manipulative side of men who prefer young girls or “nymphets” and portray Humbert Humbert as an unreliable narrator. A question that arrises with Lana Del Rey’s reference to him and his novel is whether or not she is misunderstanding Nabokov’s intentions. I wouldn’t be quick to assume that she misunderstands him; instead, consider the possibility that she’s creating another narrative through her music. Instead of demonstrating the unreliable nature of the narrative of the male abuser, she could be demonstrating how the power of manipulation can affect young girls, making them seem like they want an older man.

    However, whether or not she is creating and contributing to the “Lolita/Nymphet” aesthetic, child molestation should never be seen as desirable; it should always be problematic. I think it’s up to the listeners of her music to determine how they let the music influence them and what they desire. I don’t think her music should be censored, but I think the artist should be made aware of what their music and words is contributing to. I think the right course of action is civil discourse and open discussion. I also think if a parent is uncomfortable with the lyrics of her music and how they might influence their adolescent, then it’s within their discretion to either allow their child to listen to it or not. I think her music discusses problematic themes, but ultimately it’s up to adults and parents to either use the music as a talking point or not allow their child to listen to it. Either way, cancel culture is not the answer.

  18. I didn’t know what the title of this song was referencing; I definitely found this explanation very insightful. I’m generally not a huge advocate of policing what songwriters/singers put in their lyrics, because we all have free speech and can choose to simply avoid those songs, but I do think this is interesting to think about. Ideas like the ones in this song have become very ingrained in our society, where it’s seen as desirable to be a young girl with a much older man, which can lead to much worse consequences. Stuff like this shows how we just listen to the song and don’t give it a second thought until the lyrics are displayed in front of us.

  19. Even as an LDR stan I can’t help but cringe when I see Lana Del Rey’s lyrics written out in that way. Although she has some great and more appropriate songs in her earlier discography, even those on the same album as “Lolita”, it has become hard to ignore how Lana has in the past pushed a narrative with young girls regarding hard drugs and underage sex, event statutory rape, that she did not necessarily live through herself. That is to say, she is rarely writing about her experiences in her earlier music and is mostly using her lyrical talents to write songs that fit an image. I have always thought about this part of her career as the result of a myriad of publicists, her own lack of maturity, and the fact that she was coming from being an out of luck artist for a very long time who had suddenly found a topic that would sell her songs. Her later music focuses much more on her actual experiences in life, her parents, religion, and has since migrated away from the glamorization of “daddy issues”. Ultimately, yes she is at fault for creating music that tells young girls they can be validated by getting into relationships with older men, should be taking drugs with them (arguably the prime steps to be vulnerable to sex trafficking), but I would also argue that she is no one’s mother (not literally anyway). Convicted pedophiles themselves say they tend to target kids who don’t have community around them, don’t have active and involved parents, specifically involved fathers. So maybe we should be focusing less on some 26 year old’s music and more on supporting, being involved in, community programs that support the young people in our communities and their families.

  20. Lana Del Rey was an integral part of the internet community in the 2010s. She had a huge influence over young girls. Now, I love Lana’s music and she really did shape my early teens- but as I get older, I question what that means and what effects she had on my perception of femininity. Not to mention, her weirdly conservative and micro-aggressive social media presence does not add to her reputation.
    LDR fully knew what she was doing when she established herself and her discography. Her whole brand: Hollywood glamour, lyrics about older men and domestic abuse, the 20s-and-30s-era look (pin curls, red lipstick), femininity, youth, beauty, and sex. She has branded herself to be this celebrity, which was incredibly appealing to young girls who were just recently discovering their own relationship to sex and gender. This isn’t just her fault- Hollywood and internet culture as a whole has the widespread issue of glamorizing youth and demonizing aging with women, and general pedophilic beauty standards. Her using “Lolita” as a song name was no accident- she fully knew what she was doing and how this was adding to her brand.

  21. LDR was photographed with Harvey Weinstein on numerous occasions. LDR has been photographed with Jeffrey Epstein’s child sex slave procurer, Ghislaine Maxwell (Getty Images). She has had an intimate relationship with non-lady’s man, 5x alleged rapist, James Franco (“James Franco and Lana Del Rey: All Over Each Other”-2014). LDR is a sexual predator and hangs out with her kind, while glamorizing rape and child sexual abuse (Lana Del Rey pretends to be raped in Marilyn Manson video of 2014). LDR sings of Ultraviolence and being hit “felt like a kiss”.

  22. I think you might have misunderstood one thing about the book. The character Humbert Humbert is definitely not a pseudonym for the author. Vladimir Nabokov was, himself, sexually abused as a child and is very clear about his disgust for the character Humbert Humbert. I think he empathized much more with Dolores, the child victim in the story, and did not write the story to condone child sex abuse but show the unreliability and manipulation of the abuser. Lolita is not the girls name but the name that Humbert Humbert calls her, and represents the invented sexualized alter ego he has made for her.
    I think that Lana Del Rey has misunderstood the book ‘Lolita’ and agree with you that it is wrong to act like a predatory relationship is anything but predatory and wrong. Nabokov also believed that it was wrong.

  23. I’m not really a fan of Del Rey’s—particularly considering some of the more racist and conservative opinions she’s recently espoused—but I do sort of take issue with putting her at the center of this critique. My biggest issue with this argument it is that while I do agree that Del Rey, now being an adult, has a certain responsibility in the narratives she perpetuates, I also think that what the author is missing is that at some point she, too, might have been the victim as the center of someone else’s narrative. Sometime within the last 20 years (maybe less), there was a resurgence in popularity of the Lolita films, novel, and what one might call “aesthetic”. It was a phenomenon that cropped up among young girls, and while I’m sure the rising popularity of Del Rey and her art helped somewhat, it preceded her in a way that I think she was probably influenced by it to begin with, and not the other way around. And among the girls who idolized the Lolita narrative and aesthetic, there was a feeling that these were girls who often felt themselves objectified and hypersexualized within the male gaze—maybe even sometimes outright abused within it—so much so that the only way to take back agency was to reclaim it as their own. Problematic and even ill-advised, to be sure. But I don’t think it’s productive to blame the girls and women directly at the center. Why are we focusing on Lolita, when we know that somewhere in the shadows, there lurks a Humbert Humbert?

    1. Woowwwww your explanation was incredible to read. I agree with that last statement, why are we talking about the things young girls do rather than the things older men do to us? I’m not going to lie, these songs : Off to the races, Lolita, and Cola have heightened my interest in older men. Thankfully in one incident I had with one, he wasn’t able to lay a hand on me. But at the same time, I don’t like how ‘Lolita’ the book is praised in this industry, it’s so demeaning and sad how us young girls are portrayed. Valdimir Nabokov is rolling in his grave rn!! Anyways Lana Del Rey seems to have changed her style,aesthetic and genre of music now. So I agree with what you said , in those past songs , maybe she was the victim in that narrative. Now she is changing as an artist, and I don’t think we will see that bad girl, daddy issues , taboo Lana ever again. 🤷

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