Author and NYU lecturer Kathy Iandoli tells Dazed what we can learn from the queen of ‘sad girl pop’
Who said that stanning Lana Del Rey wouldn’t be a solid investment in your future? This autumn, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute will be urging fans to put down the video games and enrol on its new course, “Topics in Recorded Music: Lana Del Rey”, where an obsession with the Norman Fucking Rockwell! singer could be the key to graduation.
The two-credit course will apparently span Del Rey’s contributions to 21st Century pop stardom, her complex relationship with feminism, her musical influences, and her own influence on contemporary pop. More controversially, it will also delve into her politics (see: that time she told Kanye West his support for Trump was “a loss for the culture”) and her connection to social justice movements including #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #TimesUp (see: the bizarre statement she released alongside the album cover for Chemtrails Over the Country Club).
Of course, it’s not the first university course to break down the art and career of a famous musician in recent years. A course dedicated to Kanye West himself was launched earlier this year (we spoke to lecturer Yassin Alsalman about what that entails here). Then, it was announced that Harry Styles was getting the same treatment. So what does a course on Lana Del Rey, specifically, have to offer?
“Over the course of eight critically-acclaimed albums, the six-time Grammy nominated artist has introduced a sad core, melancholic, and baroque version of dream pop that in turn helped shift and reinvent the sound (and mood) of mainstream music beyond the 2010s,” reads the course description. “Through her arresting visuals and her thematic attention to mental health and tales of toxic, damaged love, Del Rey provided a new platform for artists of all genders to create ‘anti-pop’ works of substance that could live in a mainstream once categorised as bubblegum.”
Of course, none of this is news to existing Lana fans, including the American author and journalist Kathy Iandoli, who developed the course and will lead classes from October 20 to December 8. “There’s been incredible excitement,” she tells Dazed, “which has me even more excited to teach it.”
Below, we talk to Iandoli to get a better sense of what “Topics in Recorded Music: Lana Del Rey” has to offer, and what makes Lana Del Rey a cultural force worth studying.
What initially inspired the Lana Del Rey college course?
Kathy Iandoli: When I first started putting this course together, I thought about what Vice writer Duncan Cooper said about Del Rey in 2019: “It’s hard to imagine an Eilish, a Lorde, or a Halsey without her first.” I feel like in order to examine any other artist of this generation who travels along a similar vein as Lana (mental health, toxic love, addiction, privilege, anti-pop stardom, etc.), we must examine Lana Del Rey first, which is why this course now exists.
Why does Lana Del Rey hold a special place in the modern music industry?
Kathy Iandoli: I feel like Lana Del Rey tested the limits of subject matter in pop music, which provided a whole series of changes that altered the pop music landscape. She inadvertently became her own movement, and while many have taken umbrage to her approach, she has galvanised a fan base who would beg to differ.
She’s also courted some controversy in recent years. Why do you think she’s so polarising?
Kathy Iandoli: I think any high profile celebrity is subject to scrutiny, so I wouldn’t necessarily file this under solely a Lana Del Rey issue, though it may have to do with her brand of honesty in her lyrics.
“I feel like Lana Del Rey tested the limits of subject matter in pop music, which provided a whole series of changes that altered the pop music landscape” – Kathy Iandoli
Do you know if Lana herself is aware of the course? What would you like her to know about your approach to studying her art and career?
Kathy Iandoli: I am pretty sure that she is aware. My main hope is that [she knows] while we are examining her place in the music industry, I do recognize that she is an artist before she is a business, and am handling that respectfully.
Why do you think that studying pop culture in an academic setting is so important?
Kathy Iandoli: Well, an institution like NYU, especially [the] Clive Davis Institute, doesn’t create courses in pop culture that are just breezy and one note. There is a lot of extensive research and care and concern, considering we are teaching future leaders in the music industry. That being said, when that level of care is presented to dissecting aspects of popular culture, you are providing students with a panoramic view of the learning experience, which can be applied to any facet of the music industry once they leave the university’s doors.