Opinion: NYU doesn’t need to offer a Lana Del Rey course

Lana Del Rey’s influence on music and culture doesn’t necessarily make her worthy of a course at NYU.

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Andy Lee

NYU should not offer a course about Lana Del Ray. (Andy Lee for WSN)

Afnan Abbassi, Contributing Writer

NYU just announced a new course covering the life and work of Lana Del Rey, and I couldn’t be more confused. Lana Del Rey is a great artist; her music has been in my “On Repeat” Playlist for months.  I do believe she’s an interesting artist, and I don’t deny that her fan base is powerful, even intimidating — but there are aspects of her career that I find troubling. Even if I wanted to take the course, I’m not allowed to — it’s only open to students at the Clive Davis Institute. 

After a controversy surrounding her alleged romanticization of abuse, Lana Del Rey has been hiding from the public eye. In the song “Off to the Races,” she sings “My old man is a bad man, but I can’t deny the way he holds my hand.” In response to the allegations, Lana Del Rey turned the blame on a list of predominantly Black female artists with similar accusations — including Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé — leading many critics to believe she is ignorant of her white privilege.

Nonetheless, NYU students are really excited about the new course, which is taught by entertainment journalist Kathy Landoli. Its focus is to study how Lana Del Rey “changed the parameters of baroque pop and now more specifically ‘sad girl pop.’” 

Other artists, like Taylor Swift, have also had their music captured into an eponymous NYU course. For some, Swift’s status as a cultural icon warrants a course on her career more than on Lana Del Rey’s, but others, like LS first-year Salma Abrego Amaya, say that her transparency about negative personal experiences sets Lana Del Rey apart from other artists.

“[Taylor’s] already an accepted image of women in society,” said Amaya, “But Lana, she breaks all those boundaries by embarking on her sexuality, trauma with gaslighting and abuse and reflecting on her own struggles.”

Swift’s music is a clear documentation of her life — do I really need to discuss “All Too Well?” — but with Lana del Rey, you never really know what she’s talking about. I do appreciate her take on breaking boundaries in the industry, but her music has followed the same themes since 2011.

It’s not that I don’t want artists to tackle sensitive feelings of loneliness and the loss of oneself, but if that’s all Lana Del Rey will sing about, her fan base may force this unnatural desire to be misunderstood onto everyone. It enhances this “I’m not like most girls” identity, and no one wants another one of those. Sometimes, young artists have trouble setting boundaries between inspiration and imitation, but music shouldn’t change your persona — it should enhance parts of yourself that connect to the music. 

“The course could be interesting but also dangerous in the sense that it can teach students to write in a certain way,” said Tisch student studying Performance Studies James Delaney, “I feel like especially in Tisch, [and] in creative settings, they teach a ‘right way’ to do something, and anything that falls outside of that is wrong. If there’s a course on Lana Del Rey, it could be helpful as long as students can retain their originality and authentic voice without trying to replicate her.” 

Let’s not fall for this perfect image of celebrities — just as art can carry many secrets, so can the artist behind the work. We are all subject to this loop of criticizing an artist but then indulging in their creations — I’m still going to listen to Lana Del Rey because I enjoy analyzing her unusual approaches to music. But why the sudden rush to prove that she’s great? Shouldn’t we sit back and let the art speak for itself? 

NYU shouldn’t offer a course on Lana Del Rey — she is currently trying to redeem her reputation and there’s possibly more to her career. Whatever comes next, it would be best to wait until she retires. What if Lana Del Rey suddenly switches to punk rock or jazz? 

The entire world doesn’t have to understand her now and NYU does not need to fit her career into a syllabus — that lessens her authenticity and uniqueness.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Afnan Abbassi at [email protected]