For much of her musical career, Lana Del Rey and her lyricism have again and again come under fire for sending out problematic messages. Some accuse her of romanticizing abuse, while others say her work is simply an artistic expression of the harsh realities women face. The title of the upcoming album was revealed back in May of 2020, but was overshadowed by this ongoing controversy. The album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, has now been released, and despite its new change of subject, it is really not revolutionary.
In the new album, the themes of abuse and female disempowerment are much less apparent than in her older music. The decision to stray away from these topics could be intentional, as a preventative measure against further backlash, or a personal change in tone she was ready to make. Her recurring lyric, “No more candle in the wind,” even emphasizes her version of “empowerment” by declaring that she is no longer fragile. Regardless of the intention, Chemtrails Over the Country Club focuses on Del Rey’s experience with fame and her desire to flee the public eye and its scrutiny.
The album tells her story partially in chronological order. The tracks “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” and “White Dress” illustrate stages of her past, about growing up in wealthy suburbia and later as a 19-year-old waitress, both expressing romance and nostalgia. Moving forward in time, the songs “Wild at Heart,” “Dark But Just A Game,” and “Dance Till We Die” depict her struggles with fame and self-identity. Del Rey expresses a desire to disappear and return to her old life.
Del Rey’s past albums have commonly focused on being passive or submissive, dependency on men, and physical violence. The most well known example of this is from the song “Ultraviolence,” when she sings the lyric, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.” Other songs’ lyrics tell stories of feeling insignificant without a man or being afraid to lose him. When criticized for perpetuating sexist ideas, Del Rey has opposed this by saying that in modern feminism, a woman should have the right to choose to be submissive. She argues that feminist ideals shouldn’t exclude women who don’t have the privilege to be empowered or assertive.
Del Rey’s point is essential to the feminist movement, especially when it comes to helping women in the abusive circumstances she portrays in her music. However, her credibility when it comes to conversations about feminism in music must be questioned. While defending herself against allegations of glorifying abuse, she attacked several female artists of color for sexualizing themselves in their music. If she advocates for women who are submissive to be included in modern feminism, it is completely unethical to judge women for owning their sexuality, let alone target successful artists who lack her white privilege.
Still, there is no denying the beauty of the new album. Del Rey maintains her characteristic vintage, slowed, and soft tone in vocals and instrumental accompaniment. The majority of the tracks are melancholy or intimate. However, she remains a complex figure for young feminists. The new tone of Chemtrails Over the Country Club still maintains a somewhat outdated depiction of femininity. There is nothing wrong with having a vintage aesthetic, but if she wants to label her music as feminist, Del Rey must support inclusive and intersectional feminist values, as both an artist and a person.