Trigger warning: This blogpost dives into themes surrounding mental health, specifically depression.
“His Bonnie on the side, Bonnie on the side
Makes me a sad, sad girl
His money on the side, money on the side
Makes me a sad, sad girl”
Sad Girl, Ultraviolence
Unrequited love, broken souls, endless nights, and shattered dreams are all heartbreaking motifs and messages within the artist Lana Del Rey’s massive music treasury. Her infamous ballads, such as Pretty When You Cry, Born to Die, Brooklyn Baby, Lust for Life, and Art Deco, vividly and visually express intense emotions surrounding love, desire, loss, and sorrow; her image and voice are frequently metaphorized with sirens and witches. Moreover, she is an American singer and songwriter who reflects on experiences surrounding girlhood, nostalgia, yearning, and pain.
For several years now, I have noticed a rise in conversations surrounding the impact of Del Rey’s music on mental health. Individuals have begun to frame and assert that her digital presence has assisted in making mental health an ‘aesthetic’ instead of normalising discussions around this topic.
Furthermore, I believe that this romanticisation of the “Sad Girl” aesthetic has been entrenched within society for hundreds of years. For instance, Shakespeare’s female character Ophelia, in Hamlet, ultimately drowns herself in response to unrequited love and the loss of her father; her death is poetically glamorised and commonly sentimentalised in Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings, such as Ophelia by John Everett Millais.
Nonetheless, it is noteworthy to point out how through numerous contemporary digital mediums, the romanticisation of the “Sad Girl” aesthetic has exponentially increased due to sharing tools and accessible platforms. Simultaneously, this blogpost will also explore how Lana Del Rey’s music, and its increasing exposure through digital media, has also aided in the normalisation of discussing mental health and expressing our wide range of human emotions.
“I’m pretty when I cry
I’m pretty when I cry
Don’t say you need me when
You leave and you leave again”
Pretty When You Cry, Ultraviolence
Zoe Alderton, author of the chapter Sad Girls: The Internet and the Performance of Mood, immediately alludes to the accessibility of online platforms and their impact on spreading information and images, “The #sad girl tag on Tumblr takes viewers to a multitude of images of crying faces, lonely female figures, and desolate scenes”.1 These social platforms, such as Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, and TikTok, all share important and dominant tools that help to rapidly spread opinions online. These instruments surrounding sharing, posting, and archiving, help to highlight and bring attention to older mediums, such as artworks, photographs, and music. Therefore, Del Rey’s artistic discography benefits from social media’s mechanisms as her craft has been repeatedly spread and posted all over; in fact, when searching up “Sad Girl Aesthetic” on Google, the fifth result is a photo of Del Rey laying in a bathtub, and three out of the first seventeen results are black and white photos of the artist herself.
Furthermore, her song Sad Girl, with the lyrics “His money on the side, money on the side, Makes me a sad, sad girl” has almost 200 million plays on spotify.2 Another ballad that is currently digitally scrutinised, due to her lyrics appearing to romanticise pain and suffering when associated with love, “I’m pretty when I cry, Don’t say you need me when, You leave and you leave again”, has more than 200 million streams.3
Additionally, her music video for Summertime Sadness posted on Youtube, yet another platform that aids in the widespread access and sharing of different mediums, has more than half a billion views.4 This song and film, released ten years ago, visually and poetically explores and discusses themes surrounding love, mental health, and death. Moreover, it has been negatively examined and debated due to the growing belief that Del Rey’s lyrics and visuals do not help to raise awareness and create lasting conversations about mental health but instead glamorise and aestheticize such topics.
However, Zoe Alderton presents a modern and contemporary issue for women, “Women are expected to be strong, brave, and bold. Speaking about unresolved depression and feelings of inadequacy is not encouraged, as they form a crack of sadness or failure in the façade of a successful woman”.5 By spreading lyrics, visuals, and art online that shamelessly and blatantly reveal human emotions, individuals can identify and relate as they are able to easily access typically hidden narratives and stories.6 Therefore, Alderton demonstrates that Del Rey’s music and digital mediums help to normalise and raise discussions about topics that society normally conceals or obscures.7
This forces hundreds of questions surrounding digital platforms, such as: their heavy involvement in the spread of trends and aesthetics, the amount of responsibility that sharing tools and platforms have when discussing well-being, and their significant power in the purposeful growth of certain media (such as their ways of creating personalised ‘for you’ pages and their choices behind their algorithms). This also creates inquiries about the ways that numerous platforms create aesthetics and trends, and how they differ in terms of the reactions, spreads, and reposts.
This debate can be discussed about numerous artists and musicians online as they typically produce works of art that reveal their own experiences and emotions, meaning that art is typically personal and subjective. Therefore, this topic allows me to question more about the involvement of new media and its ways of spreading themes surrounding identity and mental health.
What are your thoughts about the sharing power of social media platforms? Do you think new media is responsible for creating controversial aesthetics? How do you think each platform differs when comparing their ways of spreading older mediums?
Please let me know in the comments!
Alderton, Zoe. “Sad Girls: The Internet and the Performance of Mood.” In The Aesthetics of Self-harm: Visual Rhetoric and Community Formation, 95-115. London: Routledge, 2017. https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.leidenuniv.nl/books/mono/10.4324/9781315637853/aesthetics-self-harm-zoe-alderton.
“Lana Del Rey – Summertime Sadness (Official Music Video).” Video, 04:26. YouTube. Posted by LanaDelReyVEVO, August 23, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdrL3QxjyVw.
“Pretty When You Cry.” Recorded June 13, 2014. On Ultraviolence. By Lana Del Rey. Vertigo Berlin, compact disc.
“Sad Girl.” By Lana Del Rey. Recorded June 13, 2014. On Ultraviolence. Vertigo Berlin, compact disc.
- Zoe Alderton, “Sad Girls: The Internet and the Performance of Mood,” in The Aesthetics of Self-harm: Visual Rhetoric and Community Formation (London: Routledge, 2017), 95, https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.leidenuniv.nl/books/mono/10.4324/9781315637853/aesthetics-self-harm-zoe-alderton.
- “Sad Girl,” by Lana Del Rey, recorded June 13, 2014, on Ultraviolence, Vertigo Berlin, compact disc.
- “Pretty When You Cry,” recorded June 13, 2014, on Ultraviolence, by Lana Del Rey, Vertigo Berlin, compact disc.
- “Lana Del Rey – Summertime Sadness (Official Music Video),” video, 04:26, YouTube, posted by LanaDelReyVEVO, August 23, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdrL3QxjyVw.
- Alderton, “Sad Girls,” 99.
- Alderton, “Sad Girls,” 100.
- Alderton, “Sad Girls,” 100.