Lana Del Rey’s debut album, Born to Die, proved to be something of a feminist ink blot: To some observers, the aspects of traditional American ideals of feminine subservience she’d woven deeply into her personal aesthetic, as well as her frequent use of Kennedy-era cultural signifiers, were a postmodern statement about her independence as an artist and a person. Others took it all at face value and simply saw a woman embracing dangerously retrograde ideas about how a woman should act, appear, and express herself.
If nothing else, Ultraviolence has doubled down on this ambiguity with its running theme of submissive relationships with men, and nowhere else on the album does that come through as strongly as on the title song, with its lyrical juxtaposition of a woman who’s “blessed with beauty and rage” and a lover who she calls her “cult leader,” not to mention its prominent but ambiguous reference to the Crystal’s “He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss.”
Its video pushes things even further, with Super 8 footage of Del Rey in a postwar wedding dress sucking on the cameraman’s thumb and kneeling at the altar of a seemingly abandoned chapel. Is it a commentary on outdated gender roles? Is she just playing nuptial dress-up? Is she maybe just trolling us at this point?