Friday, 27 January 2012

The Honey’s Revenge: Lana Del Rey, Adele and the Vilification of Beauty

Back in July 2011 I stumbled across the mesmerising video on Youtube called ‘Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey. I fell instantly in love with the melody, Lana’s voice and the kooky imagery in the video and the track climbed up my most-played iTunes list and muscled in on my iPod airplay. I was very confused as to why some reviews of her new album Born To Die, due for release on Monday, were so critical. And I was doubly confused as to why there appeared to be a problem with her pouting, girl-next-door-turned-gangster-moll character. I suspected, unfortunately for Lana, that even if she sang like a cherubim on God’s right hand her fatal weakness is this - she is a woman in the public eye who is prettier than the norm and not afraid to flaunt it.

It all started a few years back when it become cool, socially acceptable (and even encouraged) to ridicule women who had gone to extreme measures to alter their appearance and make themselves look more attractive, whether it be through breast implants, botox, surgery etc. Prominent public figures like Katie Price and Jodie Marsh bore the brunt of the public aggression while ‘ordinary girl on the street’ celebs like Lily Allen, Adele etc could do no wrong. You could be the sweetest woman on earth, but once you passed a certain level of prettiness it was assumed that you were a fame-hungry harridan hell bent on burning the earth to the core. The trickledown effect has over time fed into the wider society with this derision being directed at any woman, celebrity or not, who is even mildly attractive.

On the flip side to this ‘honey vilification’, I caught Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall a few weeks ago and cringed so hard that I had to switch off after the first ten minutes. Yes, she’s a good singer and she’s knocked out some good tunes (well, we’ve been brainwashed into liking them at least), but I was shocked by what was, essentially, the sight of a chavvy fat lass slurping on a cup of tea and swearing like a trucker. It was over-the-top, exaggerated chaviness on a monumental scale that almost felt like it was put on for the cameras. Get some decorum girl! And yet she’s lauded by, well, everyone. Why are we not trying to clean up her act? Is this the kind of cringingly awful chaviness that we view as the societal norm? I suspect that we adore and foster this type of crass personality because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Adele is safe, familiar, unthreatening, resembles every other ‘girl on the street’ and slurps tea and curses like the rest of us. Perfect, she’ll do, stick her on the radio. Lana Del Rey, on the other hand, is a larger than life character who is different, pretty, classy and edgy (a pseudo-edginess that Adele tries to emulate by swearing her way through a setlist) and that is very unsettling to your average ‘girl on the street’. And before you say it, looks and size are irrelevant. It’s true that beauty is predominantly a state of mind– it is classy, refined and has self-respect. That certainly isn’t on Adele’s stage. Take a step back and consider which singer you would prefer to act as a role model for your daughter…

As a disclaimer at this point, I must say that I consider myself to be pretty average looking and by no means a ‘honey’, but I have some friends who are very easy on the eye and they regularly encounter anti-beauty discrimination in their everyday lives. One recently remarked to me that she would feel much more accepted in society if she had tracksuit bottoms surgically attached, swore/drank/smoked like a docker, tried her hardest to resemble a man and took no interest in her appearance whatsoever. Then, and only then, she felt that she would be accepted by society for who she is rather than belittled and disregarded for how she looks. We must remember that taking a dislike to a woman because we consider her to be more attractive than us is equally as offensive as taking a dislike to a woman because we hate her skin colour, weight or age. I would like to think, in an ideal world, that our veneration of the crass and vilification of the beautiful plays no part in forming opinions with regard to new faces such as Lana Del Rey, particularly as some critics appear to have formed an opinion before she even opens her mouth. I would honestly love to believe that, but I have one eye on the seething anti-beauty subtext that is bubbling beneath the reviews whenever a pretty face hits the headlines. We really need to keep this in check before it becomes a problem…

1 comment:

  1. I do love Lana Del Ray. Your point is a fair one. I would simply like to add that you are being equally prejudiced against thick people. Most people are not capable of doing anything other than believing what they read, and in fact, their cynicism toward the beautiful shows a cheering independence of thought in that every celebrity since... well, ever, is prettier than average. The public, having a dim impression that this is a form of false advertising, have rightly formed a suspicion of any pretty person they see. It is unfortunate then when someone like Lana comes along who is a very different kettle of fish to Pixie, Beyonce, etc etc. Bless Lana, I hope she does well. But if this is a form of racism, its one we've been conditioned to have.