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

One thought on “Lana Del Rey, Lolita, and Sexual Predation

  1. 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?

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