Though it’s only been 2 days, I am surprised that only a small portion of the media has attacked or questioned the astonishingly distressed track, of old soul artist Lana Del Rey’s, “Ultraviolence”.
While the word “ultraviolence” upon arrival is baffling (what exactly does it mean) it is in reference to the demoralizing novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Released to the public in 1962 and infamously made into a film in 1971, Burgess’ magnum opus, though treasured for its literary impact, is an overtly scary re-imagining of the underbelly of the self-destruction of a city, just this time under the rage of youths. Though the novel represents much of what a human being should never aspire to be (murderer, rapist, misogynist, overall disgusting), its affect long after its publication has been discussed to influential levels.
How this brings us to Lana Del Rey is that not only has she named her album Ultraviolence, a word coined by Burgess for flamboyant annihilation, it is also a single that with no hesitation is a tale about the psychological damage that occurs to a victim of domestic abuse. Del Rey has never or yet to reveal having experienced this herself, but she certainly was willing to sing about and she does so in chilling detail. It is easy to sing or talk about subjects like this a bit recklessly when one hasn’t been through it themselves. Though she sings the woozy track in her now classically husky tone, you can still here the storyline going from “He used to call me DN. That stood for deadly nightshade” to “This is ultraviolence…I can hear the sirens, sirens. He hit me and it felt like a kiss. I can hear violins, violins. Give me all that ultraviolence”.
This is going to leave both Del Rey and her fans in a tricky position. She undoubtedly will have fans that have experienced domestic abuse, and while time heals everything, this song could recall for many of how defeated and downtrodden the days that followed were? Will these song tear up previously closed wounds?
Once critics catch on to this track, Del Rey is going to get a tongue lashing from headstrong women journalists and enfranchised men writers as a non-beacon for women. She should be singing about using bravery against adversity and not excusing their repulsive boyfriends as “cult leaders”. Yet, towards the end, Del Rey sings, “I love the first time, love you the last time…’Cause I’m your jazz singer, and you’re cult leader”.
While the lyric of “love you the last time” offers hope that the abused woman she plays finds the green light to run away, by quickly reverting back to her old ways of being the sidewalk for her abuser, the song ends in agonizing uncertainty.
Del Rey sings “Ultraviolence” from a soapbox of no judgment, but in evaluating how love, no matter how damaging it may become, will have you do and accept crazy, and sometimes despicable things you otherwise in the life you previously lived were deemed non-negotiables. When listening to the track, it is uncomfortable and you kind of just want it to end as soon as possible. The experience that Del Rey sings of is an unfortunate reality, so it’s not so much her including it in her music that’s the disturbing factor. It’s the admission and reality that in many abusive relationships in which it is commonly the woman, they do not immediately leave after the first time. Del Rey singing about this afflicting truth is what makes “Ultraviolence” so incredibly sad to acknowledge.
I’ve described her music as “histrionic” before and in particular, her entire first mainstream album, the under-appreciated Born to Die. She remains as such which is evident in the three singles released so far this year including the first two “West Coast” and “Shades of Cool”.
I don’t believe as an artist and even as a person Del Rey means any harm, but she definitely placed herself on the table to be ripped apart in exactly what kind of message she’s trying to transpire to the world about domestic violence (and from the perspective of the abused). Is she indirectly trying to sway victims from these predicaments and detailing how staying with someone who treats you badly instantly makes him a puppet master? Or, is this just another epic chapter in the If I Can’t Have You, I Don’t Want Anybody Else paeans of love and lust according to Lana Del Rey. The first time she unleashed the brutal actuality of heartbreak and obsession on Born to Die, it felt genuine and honest to any that ever had a first love and definitely at one point, a “real” relationship with someone who nearly spent every day and night with. On its last track, “This Is What Makes Us Girls”, lyrics sum up the album’s beautiful yet melodramatic outlook on sometimes girls behave the way they do even if they know a relationship is not beneficial to them, or worse, the person they are in love with:
“This is what makes us girls. We don’t stick together ’cause we put love first. It’s something that we’d die for, it’s a curse. Don’t cry about it, don’t cry about it…”
In reading the lyrics from “Utraviolence”, you might have also caught the other pop culture reference which is the equally disturbing song originally sung by the ’60s girl group The Crystals and their track “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”. In using one of the members, Little Eva, as the real life story behind the music, “He Hit Me” is the musical analysis of the twisted foundation behind domestic abuse that is physical, mental, and emotional: you can never get anyone as angry as a volcano if they didn’t love you in the first place. A justification that works…until it doesn’t. Since 2014 began, some women have even taken to social media such as Facebook and Twitter and with photographic evidence of how badly their former boyfriends or husbands beat them during a violent altercation. Some of these women, before they had uploaded such pics, had even ended up in the hospital. When asked why they felt compelled to share a time so personal with the world, they responded in that they did so to raise awareness of the case of unreported domestic abuse. Though there was an upswing in 2009 following the “Rihanna effect”, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the numbers have gone down since then. Unfortunately.
Decidedly under the radar, with a fan base that devours her broody fare of instrumentals and words, Lana Del Rey’s enigmatic presentation, even when her lyrics are clear-cut tales of crushes gone wild and of-the-moment passion, with a heavy influence of old Hollywood, all makes her an anomaly of a gem in pop music. Her references are like nobody else’s, she’s the music equivalent of Scarlett Johannson in being one the few entertainers today that looks straight out of 1959, and her aversion to obtaining as many blow kisses as possible from the mainstream media, her early legacy is one that challenges the notion of playing alongside the media’s agenda in order to stay successful or gain a following. Her willingness to be honest about the female’s angle in why they sometimes try too hard to make things work or stay in the picture has already made her a public enemy when women are being told on the flip side to come on over to the new feminist movement and be a “girl boss”, but like in any case, all sides should be heard, even if disagreeable.
“Ultraviolence” may be, guaranteed, the most uncomfortable moment of her upcoming tour for this namesake album. For fans in the audience, will they want to sing along, and if so, what state of emotion is appropriate for a song like this? A room of sadness in unison? Considering some of the biggest hits in popular music from the past it wouldn’t be the first time.
Below is a clip from the 2002 film Enough in which Jennifer Lopez played a woman that’s gets revenge on her husband who found it plausible out of nowhere to start being abusive. She proceeds to get self-defense classes, and that’s shown here:
And here is a national hotline for help: http://www.rainn.org