BY Rosanna McLaughlin in Opinion | 28 APR 20

Lindsay Lohan’s Eternal Return

Can her new single, ‘Back to Me’, resurrect the career of Hollywood’s favourite fallen idol?

BY Rosanna McLaughlin in Opinion | 28 APR 20

It’s April 2020. A listless dread has stolen into the homes of billions sheltering from a deadly pandemic. What better time for Lindsay Lohan, child star turned Hollywood wraith, to attempt another resurrection of her career. ‘My life is full of ripped up pages, I’ve been weak, contagious, but I’m coming back, I’m coming back to me,’ she sings over the electro-pop backing track of Back to Me, her first single for over a decade. Best known as a fallen teen movie queen, Lohan has run a side-hustle as a pop star since her 2004 debut album, Speak, her crepitate voice adding unexpected rawness to a largely mediocre discography. Sung by anyone else, Back to Me would be one more cliched assertion of female self-love, destined for the playlists of commercial radio before disappearing into oblivion. Sung by Lohan – a woman symbolically and psychologically broken by the entertainment industry – the promised return to a lost self is the latest chapter of a ghost story worthy of Edgar Allan Poe.

I Know Who Killed Me, 2007, production still. Courtesy: © WKM Productions; photograph: Tracy Bennett 

Now 33, Lohan first appeared as the precocious 11-year-old star of Disney’s 1998 film The Parent Trap, performing twice as identical twins Annie and Hallie. Separated at birth when their parents divorced, then thrown together by fate, the two Lohans pool their smarts to reunite the family. If the plot sounds like an impossible fantasy of a child attempting to hold together a doomed marriage (if only there were two of me; if only I could perform twice the emotional labour), perhaps in some way it was. Her parents’ turbulent relationship inspired the pop-rock ballad Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father) (2005). In the music video, a little girl despairs as her father abuses her mother; an audience gathers, but nobody intervenes.

After starring in the hugely successful comedies Freaky Friday (2003) and Mean Girls (2004), Lohan repeated the twin trick for the 2007 slasher movie I Know Who Killed Me, playing teenagers Dakota and Aubrey. Only this time around, her doubling felt less like a celebration of a kid with enough charisma to be two leading ladies and more symbolic of the self-alienation and psychic injuries typical of childhoods sacrificed to the box-office. When Aubrey is kidnapped and dismembered by a serial killer, her sister develops identical stigmatic wounds. ‘Maybe that’s why ghosts are restless. Because there’s nothing left of what they were except for the pain,’ Dakota says, musing over the discomfort in a phantom limb. The credits roll over the two Lohans lying in the dirt by an open grave, mutilated, barely alive.

Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, 2019. Courtesy: MTV

I Know Who Killed Me was a commercial and critical bomb. By the time of its release, Lohan’s public persona had also begun to transmogrify from Disney golden girl to the protagonist of a gruesome but predictable Hollywood noir. She spent the next 8 years in and out of court and rehab, her turmoil repeatedly exploited by strangers and confidantes. Disgraced photographer Terry Richardson took a shoot of her holding a gun to her head; her father secretly recorded her desperate drunken phone calls and gave them to the press; paparazzi stalked her hoping to capture every car crash and midnight meltdown. ‘Are you addicted to chaos?’, a sanctimonious Oprah Winfrey asked in 2013, when Lohan submitted to the ritual humiliation of the US talk show circuit. ‘Yes,’ Lohan replied, visibly distressed. Ultimately, it would have been a question better put to the entertainment industry that Winfrey is a part of, too: one that produces vulnerable women then profits from their public debasement. 

When her probation ended in 2015 Lohan left the US and has since been based between paparazzi-free Dubai and Greece. Her most recent on-screen appearance was in short-lived reality show Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, which aired on MTV in 2019. The programme depicted her as a self-proclaimed ‘bitch boss’, presiding over a hellish VIP resort in Mykonos. Contestants flown in from the US to compete for jobs as ‘Lohan brand ambassadors’ were expected to fulfil every wish of her clientele, from escort services to childcare. Lohan is mesmeric in the role, lying on the beach in an electrocution suit (a quick way get abs), dancing wild-eyed in a silver jumpsuit, treating the show as an opportunity to reenact the psychodramas of her past upon would-be employees. She turns up unannounced at their accommodation, shames them for their messy relationships and excessive alcohol consumption, and lashes out any woman she suspects of trying to steal her limelight. Lohan’s bizarre outbursts are as notable as her frequent absences – often it seems as if she is hiding from the cameras, leaving the supporting cast to fill the void. 

The Parent Trap, 1998, production still. Courtesy: © Walt Disney Co.

Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club was cancelled after a single season. The resort is now shuttered. Like many child actors, from Judy Garland to Macauley Caulkin, Lohan discovered that the reward for growing up early and publicly is finding yourself trapped in the ghoulish terrain between lost innocence and premature old age, unable to settle into adulthood. No doubt aware that her appeal has long since lain in the spectacle of a promising career imploding, Lohan has engaged in marketing the wreckage. Back to Me was announced in March with a video trailer on Instagram in which archival news footage of Lohan’s chequered past flashes up on a monitor; as if from an intolerable build-up of pressure, the screen shatters. During the song Lohan repeats the central refrain, ’I’m coming back to me,’ thirty times. By the end of the track it sounds less like an act of self-acceptance and more like a perpetual lingering over what is lost. Back to Me is the song of a woman who has established a morbid pact with her audience. She’ll keep haunting the ruins of her youth, and we’ll keep watching.

Main image: Lindsay Lohan, Back to Me, 2020. Courtesy: the artist and Casablanca Records 

Rosanna McLaughlin is a writer and editor. Her novel Sinkhole: Three Crimes is out with Montez Press.