Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album, Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, has caused quite a stir among her massive fanbase due to the spoken-word interlude by Churchome mega-church preacher Judah Smith in a track titled “Judah Smith Interlude.” Smith’s anti-abortion and homophobic stances have been criticized, and his presence on the album has confounded Del Rey’s fanbase, a large portion of which identifies as queer.
However, it’s essential to examine the context of the song within the record. Del Rey has always been an artist wholly committed to her own self, pouring into intricate, aloof songwriting. “Judah Smith Interlude” appears immediately after “A&W,” a song that finds her examining herself in the past, present, and future, twisting those parts of her identity into a mangled investigation of the eras of her career.
Examined against “A&W,” “Judah Smith Interlude” plays as wholly ironic. Del Rey is precisely the type of person who would attend a celebrity-studded mega-church, both for a cleansing of the soul and to lambaste its intrinsic flamboyance with her friends. Throughout Smith’s sermon, Del Rey and her pals can be heard laughing as Smith winds around his point.
But what really drives this home is how Del Rey uses the interlude as a means to an end. The excerpt of Smith’s sermon ends with the preacher discussing his career in a larger, existential setting: “I used to think my preaching was mostly about you,” Smith says. “I’ve discovered my preaching is mostly about me.”
This ending point frames the song not just within the context of Del Rey’s new record, but her entire career. Ever since her first album, Born to Die, was released in 2012, the singer has taken control of her own career and harnessed a cult fanbase into carte blanche for her entire artistry. Del Rey’s preaching is no longer about speaking to anyone else’s sensibilities or relating to the masses. It’s about finding a grounding point for herself.
While “Judah Smith Interlude” has caused controversy among fans, it’s ultimately an ironic and inflammatory sendup of commodified spirituality and a reminder that Del Rey’s artistic ethos is about pleasing no one but herself.