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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Students are excited for Summertime Sadness this Spring Quarter

Illustration by Luis Castañeda
A new Northwestern course is looking to tackle how Lana Del Rey’s discography and controversies implicate her listeners in U.S. Settler Colonialism.

When Lana Del Rey first came onto the scene with her breakthrough song Video Games, Ph.D. candidate in performance studies Madeleine Le Cesne was 16 years old.

Le Cesne said the artist came into their life at a pivotal moment. As a young “Black queer femme,” Le Cesne said seeing someone post about Del Rey on Tumblr at the time was a sign they were queer. At the time, Le Cesne said, Del Rey was regarded as a “critical joke” –– but not for the queer community.

“I was falling in love and living queer out in public,” Le Cesne said.

The New Orleanian poet scholar will be teaching Northwestern’s first course on the artist, “Humanities 370: Lana Del Rey: Emotional Landscapes of U.S. Settler Colonialism.” 

Le Cesne said they were expecting the class to have three to four students in total. But, by Wednesday of registration week, the class had hit 16 students and the waitlist exceeded 40 students.

“By 9 a.m. Monday, the emails started to come,” they said. “I guess Lana is on people’s minds.”

According to its description, the course explores how pop music like Del Rey’s implicates people in the “settler-colonial state” and also helps listeners work toward “decolonial futures.”

Communication junior Naya Hemphill will be taking the course in the spring and said the connection between Lana Del Rey and U.S. settler colonialism doesn’t take long to understand, given Del Rey’s imagery of golden-age Hollywood and tragic romance and longing. 

“If you think about Lana Del Rey, you think of Americana, and if you think of Americana, you get to colonialism,” she said, “The connection is definitely there … it’s so deeply rooted in her music.”

Hemphill said she feels that her Black identity conflicts with her fandom for the artist. She added that the course being taught from a “non-white perspective” was a big part of why she chose to take it.

The artist has seen controversies ranging from the misuse of a Native American headdress in her “Ride” music video to allegations about romanticizing domestic abuse and appropriating Latinx and Black culture. 

Le Cesne said despite her pitfalls — and possibly because of them — Del Rey means a lot to them. They said that while Del Rey’s music spoke to them, they felt excluded as a Black femme by the “whiteness” of Del Rey’s personal politics, a feeling that continues to this day.

The Rolling Stone said Lana Del Rey’s ideas were “before their time” and introduced a new era of artists like Lorde, Halsey and Billie Eilish who are “young, moody and sad.”

Le Cesne said their course intends to tackle the emotions of loneliness that Del Rey’s work shares. 

“With Born to Die and her thinking about the West Coast as this safety valve, she’s evoking feelings of manifest destiny,” they said. “We identify with this art, with this violence precisely because we are settlers and settler colonial subjects ourselves.”

Le Cesne said it’s important to recognize that identifying is the first step and then you have to work through your own settler colonial desires. They also said they have a responsibility to teach pragmatic approaches like Land Back seriously. 

Kadin Mills, a Medill senior, Indigenous student and former Daily staffer, said he’s glad so many people are excited to take the class.

“There’s no required Native history class. I think that’s something that’s really lacking,” he said. “I hope that looking at Lana Del Rey will interest people enough to take a step back from their settler lives and really assess their positionality as occupiers.”

Mills also said it’s important to look at Del Rey’s role in society, even if she may not be as politicized as her counterpart, Taylor Swift. Mills said even though Del Rey is idolized, it can’t be forgotten that she’s still part of the rich elite. 

He also said that encouraging white faculty members to teach more about settler colonialism is important in taking the load off of BIPOC professors, “so that they can teach things like Black and Indigenous excellence instead.”

Email: [email protected] 

X: @Luis_Casta220

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