Lana Del Rey’s Coachella performance has become the music festival’s most talked-about set this year — and for all the wrong reasons. 

On April 12, the singer put on a dazzling performance, complete with a cinematic entrance via motorcade and a surprise appearance by Billie Eilish. The entire affair evoked her signature Old Hollywood-meets-the-Midwest aesthetic, a look she hasn’t strayed from her entire career: She wore a diamanté sundress and retro Jessica Rabbit waves, sang under a weathered pergola dotted with ivy, and pole-danced as Jon Batiste, featured on her 2023 song “Candy Necklace,” played the piano.

This genre of theatricality — vintage glamor mixed with kitschy Americana — has been core to Del Rey’s musical persona since she released her breakout single, “Video Games,” in 2011. Yet reaction to her Coachella set seems to suggest that somewhere along the way, Del Rey abandoned her original look and style. “WE ARE SO BACK,” one popular Tweet captioned photos from the artist’s festival outing. 

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Back from what?

Do a little digging, and it becomes clear that onlookers’ aren’t referring to a shift in Del Rey’s music or performance style — instead, they’re referring to her changing weight. “i think Lana del Rey’s glow up is an auspicious signal. i think this signifies that we are so back culturally and memetically,” one Tweet declares. On a TikTok video of the artist’s Coachella set, another onlooker commented: “I need Ozempic bad” (the remark has over 4,500 “likes”). It’s not that Lana Del Rey is back. It’s that Lana Del Rey’s body is back to meeting culture’s thin ideal.

For context, this isn’t the first time Del Rey’s body has been the subject of public scrutiny. For the past few years, the internet has taken no pains to hide its disappointment with the fact she has, at times, appeared heavier than she did when she first entered the spotlight 12 years ago (that a person’s body changes over the course of a decade is unacceptable, it seems). It wasn’t until 2023 that people began questioning the body-shaming directed at Del Rey, including one particularly cruel tweet describing her weight gain as “worse than 9/11.”

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At Coachella, Del Rey appeared to have lost the weight she was so relentlessly criticized for gaining, sparking snarky quips and earnest speculation about whether or not she’s on prescription weight loss drugs. These comments are clear examples of fatphobia and misogyny at work: Female celebrities are all too often picked apart for gaining weight, and picked apart for losing it — they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. 

Perhaps more insidious, though, are the comments proclaiming that Del Rey is “so back.” At face value, these remarks don’t seem directly connected to Del Rey’s weight — one Twitter user defended the statement as a reference to the singer resurrecting her “old” aesthetic and mannerisms. 

But did Del Rey ever really leave? Over the course of her decade-plus-long career, her style hasn’t wavered, sartorially nor musically. She hasn’t undergone a “rebrand” or entered a “new era,” at least to the extent that her fellow pop stars have. 

And this isn’t to mention her consistently busy schedule — just last year, she released her ninth studio album, Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard, and embarked on a tour promoting the record (the tour is still under way; the last concert is scheduled to take place in the UK this August). The album, and its accompanying visuals, are all classically Lana Del Rey: melancholic and self-mythologizing, with glimmers of girlish optimism. 

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To say that Del Rey has suddenly returned — to reduce the work that she shared between 2021 and now to a blip in a radar — seems inextricably linked to her appearance. She never disappeared, we just didn’t want to look when her body was larger.

Del Rey’s fans may not realize what they’re insinuating when they praise her “new look,” her “glow up,” and her “return” (whatever they want to call it). I’d like to think that the majority of these onlookers don’t mean any harm — that said, when the only thing that has changed over the years is Del Rey’s weight, it’s worth digging deeper: Is she really “back,” or does she just look different?

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