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The Problem of Over-Identification with the Things that Raised Us

The most obvious answer that comes to mind when I think about who raised me is my parents. But I’ve found that the art I consumed during my adolescent years was just as formative as my parents’ influence. Our first exposures to music, movies, and TV shows that are separate from the things our parents show us are a person’s first declarations of individuality and personality. They’re so deeply personal to us and distinct in our minds because they’re our real, first loves.

Growing up, our house was filled with classic rock that my mom was always blaring. By the time I was 10, I was well-versed in Led Zeppelin and Def Leppard. My first concert was in 3rd grade when my parents took my sister and me to see The Police at a stadium show in Dallas; we were the youngest attendees by a few decades. Since I had only been exposed to classic rock and the ubiquitous Top 40 hits that played on the radio, I didn’t feel a strong connection to music. I loved classic rock because my mom did, but it wasn’t necessarily my taste. I didn’t really know what my taste was until 6th grade, when my ambivalence to music changed seemingly overnight.

In 2012, I watched Lana Del Rey’s SNL performance in total awe; I had never heard someone like her in my life. I downloaded her album “Born to Die” the next day and played it on a constant loop. I would go on angsty walks around my neighborhood with Del Rey’s torch songs blaring in my cheap headphones. Something about her melodramatic lyrics resonated with my dramatic middle-school self. This was the first time I had a relationship with an artist that was purely my own.

During my freshman year of high school I was able to see her live for the first time, and it was a transcendent experience. Seeing my idol in the flesh was proof that this woman I kept on a pedestal was a human being; someone I knew and who knew me even though we’d never met. It was the best concert of my life at the time (no offense to Sting).

I continued listening to her music throughout high school, but her earlier work that I loved began to feel incongruent with where I was at in life. Those early songs that changed my life became a time capsule of where I was at during the height of my middle school years. This divide grew further once I reached college, as I delved further into riot grrrl and indie rock. Most of her music became stuff I “used to” listen to, and no longer aligned with the themes and ideas I was interested in hearing about. That was until she released her 2019 album, “Norman fucking Rockwell!”

Overnight, my fervent obsession with Del Rey was reignited. I listened to the album constantly, traveled to Oklahoma City to see her live, and talked about the album with my friends incessantly (I was insufferable). It was exciting to see that this artist I loved still had the ability to make music that I could connect to on a deep level.

When the pandemic hit last year, I found myself returning to her music often for comfort. In a time of intense isolation it was like catching up with an old friend. Then in May, she posted something on Instagram that changed how I felt in an instant.

Del Rey posted an incoherent rant where she made a white feminist argument about how much harder her experience in the music industry has been than bunch of WOC artists, who she went on to name. When people criticized Lana and pointed out the deeply white-privileged perspective of her argument, she doubled down, and told them not everything is a race issue.

To say I was horrified would be an understatement. How could an artist I loved and defined huge eras of my life by write something so ignorant and out of line with my morals?

When an artist you have an extremely personal relationship with does something out of line with your values it’s hard not to feel betrayed. I think a lot of people felt this similar crisis when J.K. Rowling came out with her transphobic rant last year. Harry Potter was so formative for an entire generation, and hearing the creator of such a huge fandom come out with something so hateful was extremely painful for fans of the series. Some people are able to separate the art from the artist in these situations, but there’s an undeniable veneer of hate that taints the art when a creator says or does something like that; you’re unable to enjoy the art to the same extent.

Our experiences with art are so personal, especially the art that we feel “raised us”, that it feels like we’re at odds with ourselves when the artist says or does something out of line with our morals. We often use these formative pieces of art as ways to define ourselves before we know who we are, so an artist’s transgressions can trigger a sort of identity crisis. When the people who shaped our worldview no longer align with how we see the world, it feels like we’re at war with a part of ourselves; how do you let go of something that’s been so impactful to you?

After Lana’s now infamous post, I had to take a long hiatus from listening to her. Every time I tried to listen to a song, a sense of guilt would drown out the songs I used to love. Eventually, I was able to listen to her again, but it wasn’t the same as before. In my mind, there’s no separating the art from the artist, and the person behind the curtain bleeds into everything they create. My relationship with Lana Del Rey has completely changed, and I’ve come to accept that.

In a weird way, I see Lana Del Rey and my parents as the people that “raised me” because of the sort of crisis identity I experienced with my connection to both of them. Living at home during the pandemic has shown me how vastly different my worldview is from my parents, and I’ve had to accept that we’re different people. Similarly, Lana’s comments over the past year have shown me that she isn’t the God I used to see her as. I think back to seeing her in concert when I was in 9th grade and the way I saw her as some sort of deity, and now I see that this idolization was a recipe for disappointment. The problem with celebrities, parents, or anyone you put on a pedestal, is that they aren’t the giants our minds make them out to be, and when they fall, they take us down with them.

The idea of being “raised” implies that we are no longer the people we used to be. There’s uncomfortable tension in reconciling who we are versus who we once were, but I think reflecting on the things that raised us is the best way to measure how far we’ve come. We may no longer connect to the people and things that raised us, but we wouldn’t be where we are without them.

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