A Case For “Ultraviolence”

Lana Del Rey is my favorite single recording artist in music but she’s also very controversial. Many of her songs are implicitly or explicitly dark and have to do with themes of violence, pride, suicide, among many others along that line. However, what her music is, is real and unique…And I appreciate that. One of my top three songs from her is the title track from her 2014 album “Ultraviolence”. While the album was popular overall, the song has been most panned by critics, but has a huge “cult” following.

UltraviolenceĀ is a simple song with not much interpretation or exegesis required. The song is about a woman infatuated with a man named “Jim” who is physically abusive to her to the point of having either cops or ambulances called to rescue her from the violence he inflicts on her.

She sings in the chorus:

With his Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
I can hear sirens, sirens
He hit me and it felt like a kiss
I can hear violins, violins
Give me all of that Ultraviolence

I bolded that one line in the chorus because that’s the nexus of the criticism against the song. Essentially, people say Del Rey is glorifying violence without holding “Jim” to account in her lyrics by basically saying his violence felt good. I feel this criticism is shallow and ignores Lana’s intent. She’s doing a couple things here, one she’s displaying the reality of “Stockholm Syndrome” (for the lack of a better term) which applies when people sympathize with their abusers. This is a heartbreaking, unfortunate, part of abuse and while it might be more comfortable to us as listeners if Del Rey ignored the fact that women (for a variety of reasons) stick with an abusive relationship – it wouldn’t reflect that many abusive relationships do continue, at least for a period, despite the violence.

Also though, with her lack of explanation she’s efforting to not be preachy with her listeners. She’s presenting the scenario of this woman being abused, which is really unsettling:

Jim raised me up
He hurt me but it felt like true love
Jim taught me that
Loving him was never enough

She’s bold; however, in that she’s not telling her listeners what to conclude either – she’s letting them come to a conclusion about this relationship and what should have been done. This elevates it to the level of art, because what is art (or beauty) if not interpreted in the eye of the beholder?

The song leaves us to make our own conclusions of what should have happened to Jim. Personally, had this been a real situation and I knew about it I would have called the police on him – and make sure those sirens, sirens, rescued Lana. Other’s might have been more subtle, arranging a meeting to talk to her and implore her to leave Jim. Others might want to buy a gun and shoot Jim, others might have left her to fend for herself as she’s (ostensibly) choosing the abuse. Look, I’m not saying which of those options are right or wrong, I’m saying there is boldness in Lana Del Rey leaving the conclusion of this story open-ended so her listeners can ponder and make up their own damn mind.

For the boldness of this song, the melody (Lana’s dreamy drawl is on full display), and how she crafted it I’m give the song a solid A rating.

If you’d like to ponder this for yourself I’ve linked the music video:

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