Written by Emma Langevin
Usmar, P. (2014). Born To Die: Lana Del Rey, Beauty Queen or Gothic Princess?. M/C Journal, 17(4). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.856
Lana Del Rey’s style of lyrics illustrates common themes of Gothicism. I analyzed gothism’s role in our present day music, and more specifically, one of pop culture’s most famous and talented artists: Lana Del Rey. She is a 37-year-old American singer/songwriter and is best known for her album “Born to Die”. Personally, I enjoy a lot of her songs; she has a beautiful voice, and her songs are very different from other artists we normally hear today. She has a lot of passion in her voice and can get dark with her lyrics. Some of her song titles include Summertime Sadness, Born to Die, Sad Girl, Pretty When You Cry, Dark Paradise, and Ultraviolence. Her aesthetic is considered “Hollywood Sadcore”, but the gothic themes are sprinkled all throughout her lyrics.
Gothicism has become widespread in popular culture and continues to influence films, fashion, and songs. Lana Del Rey has created a very unique profile for herself, and the road she has taken is quite different compared to other artists right now. Del Ray’s songs contain a lot of uncontrolled passion, violent emotions, and obsession. Her big hair and elegant fashion portray the American dream, and as Usmar states, she has her “beauty queen style” as she says in her song Summertime Sadness.
There is a note of a gothic theme right within that song title: Summertime Sadness. We normally associate summertime with warmth and happiness, but to Lana Del Rey there is nothing to be happy about during that season. In Usmar’s article, he analyzes her lyrics and states that she depicts an excess of hedonistic consumption and love that knows no bounds, not even death. He states that Gothic in Pop Gothic cultural representation can become “post-race, post-sexuality, post-gender”. Usmar says that Lana Del Rey falls into the category of postmodernism, but the use of Gothic mode goes outside political debates and blurs clear lines of feminist discourse. He states that she also comments on consumerism, the emptiness of capitalist society, and a suicidal expression of hopelessness, which are undermined as she demonstrates conformity to subservient gender roles and her ambiguously ironic need to be “young and beautiful”.
The question that Usmar poses is whether or not Lana Del Rey is a Beauty Queen or a Gothic Princess. Ultimately, he comes to the conclusion that she is both. He states that Del Rey’s use of the Gothic is shown as otherness, darkness, and death. Usmar explains that it correlates to heteronormative gender representations, female body image, and how the male gaze plays a role in our society.
Death and loss are huge themes in gothic literature, so almost all the texts we read this semester could correlate to the themes from Lana Del Rey’s songs. I ultimately decided to compare it to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. I noticed there was a similarity between Lana Del Rey and Madeleine Usher. They have very similar features in the pictures attached; dark hair, fair skin, and sad facial expressions. With Lana Del Rey’s dramatic, passionate lyrics, she portrays the same qualities as Madeleine Usher. Del Rey’s album is called “Born to Die”, which in Madeleine Usher’s case, she was born to die with her Catalepsy.
Dark metaphors are used throughout Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. In “The Fall of the House of Usher”, dark romanticism is a very prominent theme. This theme includes mystery, horror, and madness. In Lana Del Rey’s song Dark Paradise, her lyrics express “Your soul is haunting me and telling me that everything is fine. But I wish I was dead (dead, like you)”. These are very dark and passionate lyrics, which can correlate to the love between Madeleine Usher and her twin brother Rodrick Usher. They both have diseases of hypo and hyper sensitivity that ultimately causes them to die. But the part that ties into Del Rey’s lyrics is the love that the twins have for each other. They love each other so much that they must die together. The only difference would be that Del Rey talks about a love interest in her song, but they still both come down to loving a person so much you would rather die than be without them.
From the research I did on Lana Del Rey’s aesthetic and Usmar’s article, I found that Del Rey’s music is much more gothic than I expected. Her elegant voice mixed with her dark lyrics makes for the perfect 21st century twist on our present day definition of Gothicism.