BY CHRISTINE WOLFE
A musicoethical standoff between Enya and Lana Del Rey.
For all of human history, conflict has spurred culture. Whether two empires at war, two political systems at odds, or two philosophies in gridlock, we must live in the presence of dualities. Just as dissonance and juxtaposition moved great thinkers like Marx and Kierkegaard to the page, I must address an inner conflict here. In the last year, I have felt a great rift between my intellectual and physical self, leaving my emotional self unhinged and lost. This divide comes from the effects art is meant to have on all of us, but never did I think this emotional movement would push me to such a profound identity crisis. There are two culprits here, one perhaps more guilty than the other: Enya, the Irish New Age musician/vocalist/bringer of spa-level spiritual peace, and — Satan incarnate — Lana Del Rey.
How could I serve as devotee to such different voices? In the Harvard classroom, we often discuss the remove between the mind and the body. Do we have a spirit, and, if so, how is it to be mobilized? What can motivate us, and what should? Art, of course, is one of the greatest mobilizers, used in all forms to promote a sense of belonging, terror, or calm — whatever environment needs to be made, art can facilitate. Music is particularly effective in promoting mood, observed most often in its complementary relationship with the visual arts. Music speaks to both the mind and the body. But sometimes there emerge artists that are capable of having a vice-grip on our souls. They are not only pleasant or profound: they reach into us, take hold of what is most fundamental, and make us look, feel, and taste it. For those of us who have had this experience, the artists who usurp our self-reign hold a special place in our iTunes libraries. For me, Enya has always been a comforting force, and of late, in times of need/napping, I turn to her semi-religiously. But last summer, when I first heard Lana’s voice, I knew I had wandered into that wild forest of indulgence I would not easily escape. And so began my ethical conundrum.
Lana Del Rey is probably the more familiar of my two influencers. She came on the national scene following the enormous success of Born to Die, the essence of which allows its proud display in the record section of Urban Outfitters. She followed Born to Die with an EP, Paradise, which is equally if not more unbearably absurd. According to that most accurate of sources, Wikipedia, Lana’s music can be categorized as “Chamber Pop,” a totally made up genre that has something to do with the equally non-existent “Lounge Revivalism.” I’d categorize Lana as a 40’s screen actress/singer who, just before her opium addiction was about to lapse her career, time-traveled to the most cringe-worthy depths of the Millenial consciousness.
Lana’s values are often abhorrent, touting a life lived in vice without recognition of consequence, neglectful of responsibility to anyone or anything but one’s own desires. She often comes close to promoting objectification and weird Daddy stuff (“Lolita” is one of the creepier tracks on Born to Die). She is the Queen of American-flag short-shorts, which is just part of her very strange form of nationalism (in the soul-sucking music video to “Ride,” she claims, “I believe in the country America used to be.” Given she had just finished running around a bonfire with a gun wearing a Native American tribal headpiece, that just can’t bode well).
But her voice.
Her deep and sultry timbre catches her listeners at all the right moments. We moan when she wants us to moan. Lana knows how to expose us at our most instinctual. I know in my body and soul that temptation sounds just like “Blue Jeans.” Lana wants to be desired more than anything, and she knows it. She even knows her urges — our urges — may lead us astray: “This is what makes us girls/we don’t stick together ‘cause we put love first/this is what we die for/it’s a curse.” But she owns her truth, no matter how damaging it may be. She lives for freedom — a freedom along the lines of Miley’s “We Can’t Stop,” but Lana’s freedom is bounded in a timeless human sensuality that far outweighs mortifying white-girl twerking. And in this, Lana becomes the young person’s greatest enemy. Do we give ourselves over to our bodies, living to be young and beautiful and dying for Dionysian pleasure?
On the other side of the valley of the soul stands Enya. Best known for her 1988 single “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away),” 2000’s “Only Time,” and her double-feature on the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack, most of us have probably heard Enya during naptime or elementary school art classes. While we all know anything that can put hyped up seven year olds to sleep must have something going for it, I think Enya’s musical talents are vastly underappreciated. New Age is often mocked, and I agree that fake chanting over nature sounds can be off-putting. But Enya’s knack for musical arrangement results in a truly beautiful sound (she calls the multitudinous arrangement of her own voice over itself the “Choir O’ One”), which is complemented by an Irish ballad-inspired lyric repertoire. It’s best to listen to Enya rather than describe her. Enya’s ability to rouse the emotions comes in part from her music’s calming influence: as opposed to Lana, Enya’s music affects a sense of peace in the heart and mind, allowing a distancing of the listener from the intensities of embodied existence. Separated from the corporeal, we can come to an understanding of ourselves as individuals rather than human bodies. But how can we extend this to our reality, in which we do exist as both bodies and minds? Is retreating to the natural odes of Enya a reaction against the emotional difficulties of feeling passion à la Lana?
Who can say? Only time will tell if we can escape our darkest paradise.
Christine Wolfe ’14 (crwolfe@college) can’t say where the road goes.