Perhaps one of the keys to understanding the album as a whole is Del Rey’s cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman” at the end of the album. In many ways Del Rey (either autobiographically or as her persona) views herself as an outsider, an interloper in her various relationships with men. To me that is the connecting thread, how lonely, unsatisfied and powerless one is being in that position of the other woman and the very human ways she tries to find satisfaction and gain power over her situation.
This identity takes various meanings and forms on the album, from actually being the other woman in “Shades of Cool” and “Sad Girl”, conflicted as to who she is in “Ultraviolence” (is she deadly or submissive), one of many women in “Cruel World” or the woman who is other (“I am a dragon, you’re a whore”) because she “passed the test” in “F*cked My Way Up To The Top”.
The album begins with her giving herself up to a man (“Share my body and my mind with you”) but when we come to the end she is alone (“And as the years go by the other woman will spend her life alone, alone, alone”). The journey from surrendering herself to these relationships to isolation plays out in dichotomies between power/weakness, submissiveness/femme fatale, violence as beauty/using beauty for violence, spiritualizing relationships and self/dismissing God, trusting in money/money doesn’t satisfy, etc. I can relate with Del Rey because I have given all of myself to someone before, felt the multitude of conflicting emotions that Del Rey has and used language about God in the context of that romantic relationship while refusing to seek out God.
I’m not ashamed to admit as a 34-year-old man that I love Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It is beautifully animated, has some fantastic songs and Belle, in my humble opinion, is the best Disney princess. As the beautiful daughter of a eccentric inventor, she is more than a pretty damsel in distress but a strong, independent and intelligent woman. She refuses the advances of Gaston (the prototypical “prince” character, who is actually the villain), self-sacrifices her freedom to save her father, chooses to fall in love with the hideous Beast and in the process she saves him from himself. Disney with this film laid the groundwork to question through creative narratives the tropes of fairy tale romances, a subversive move, I believe, only now coming to fruition with two recent Disney films, Frozen and Maleficent.
However, Beauty and the Beast is not without its flaws, despite the positive trend towards a more complex and assertive female character. For instance, many have suggested that Belle is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with her abusive and violent captor. My own personal issue is that while the film starts to chisel away at the typical fairy tale narrative, in the end it still adheres to the idea that romantic love fixes everything. All one needs is true love’s kiss to live happily ever after. Cue music. Sprinkle pixie dust. Ride off into the sunset with your new found love. The End.
But let’s be honest here, who of us can claim any innocence when it comes to believing that finding “the one” will make our lives more fulfilled, meaningful and plain better? Isn’t that the dream we all secretly hope for? That finding love would be true for me as it was for Belle, Cinderella and Snow White? As Michael Novak, Catholic philosopher and journalist, writes at First Things: