Lana Del Rey and the tenuous relationship between artists and their critics

LDR's latest album, Norman F—-ing Rockwell!
LDR's latest album, Norman F—-ing Rockwell!

Lana Del Rey is getting the best notices of her career for her new album Norman F---ing Rockwell! One of those effusive in their praise was NPR critic Ann Powers. She posted an exhaustive piece about the pop star's evolving songcraft and how her jaded-chanteuse persona reflects contemporary America.

Del Rey wasn't happy.

"I don't even relate to one observation you made about the music," Del Rey said. "To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will."

Is she suggesting critics hang out with artists before reviewing them? And isn't this an idiotic statement coming from a pop star famous for her persona? And what's wrong with having a persona? David Bowie and Prince made careers out of shapeshifting and play-acting, and no one would argue it impeded the emotional authenticity of their music.

The oddest thing about Del Rey's outburst is that Powers' writeup is obviously positive. Sure, she identifies some "B-plus poetics" and "uncooked" lyrics, but she praises the album's "seductive uneasiness," and finds Del Rey to be "at her most instantly compelling."

"I thank Lana Del Rey for making music that makes me think about what is truth, what does it mean to be a woman telling your truth," Powers later said on NPR. "She does that in beautiful ways. But she disagreed with the way I explored those ideas in my piece."

Artists lashing out at critics is nothing new. But now artists have armies of social media followers at their disposal, who go after writers like swarms of computerized drones. It didn't seem like most of them even read Powers' article. This is the kind of behavior Del Rey is wrongly attributing to the critic: Her superfans aren't treating their idol like a human who reacted impulsively, but like a victim whose honor must be defended.

Of course, this is a two-way street. Artists shouldn't be off limits from criticism, nor should critics. Cogent criticism should deepen the meaning of the art it's examining, whether it's positive, negative or indifferent. The ease with which any of us can post our opinions means that good criticism is as hard to come by as good art.

The job of a critic is not just to vocalize their opinion, but to meet the artist on their level — what are they trying to achieve, and do they achieve it? Powers' review does this. Any artist should be grateful to have a prominent critic take their work so seriously. Lighten up, Lana. ♦