It’s not just that she has a song on Born to Die called “Lolita”—there are many other pop songs named after the character. (Or, rather, the pop culture idea of the character. And pop music is awash with the Lolita archetype—most infamously, perhaps, Britney Spears in a schoolgirl outfit in the music video for “Baby One More Time”.) It’s that three other songs on Born to Die also contain direct references to the novel, and elements of Lolita echo through other songs. (I had considered walking you through them all in a giant, David Foster Wallace-style footnote, but I’ll spare you.) And it’s that her entire oeuvre is an ode to the same beautiful, self-destructive, damaged, unstable, sexually precocious, young American girl. It’s all “good” young girls falling for “bad” men. They know he’s bad but they just can’t help it. They’re seductively submissive; they conflate love with a kind ownership. They have big hair, red nails, short shorts, white bikinis, bare feet, and they know they’re hot. They like ice cream and chewing gum. They’re lost, reckless, doomed, “crazy”, and—in the music video for “Born to Die”—dead. But don’t worry, it’s a sexy dead.
I’m not trying to complain that Lana Del Rey is setting a bad example for “Today’s Young Girls”. She probably is, but that’s not the point, and that’s not the interesting thing. There are plenty of things and people setting bad examples for children. Del Rey seems to be a symptom of something larger that already existed—a cultural Lolita obsession, stemming from a preoccupation with youth and beauty; a fascination with relationships between young women and older men; a fear of women and their sexuality; and a tendency to blame the victims of sexual violence and characterize them as temptresses."
“Nabokov wrote that his first inspiration for the novel Lolita came from a newspaper article he saw about an ape at a zoo that had been taught to draw—the first thing the ape drew was the bars of his cage, and from that we get Humbert Humbert writing a book about Dolores Haze. Perhaps when Lizzy Grant created Lana Del Rey, that’s what she was doing: drawing the bars of her cage.”
I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure babe.
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