I said a while back that I would follow-up on my original post about Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Lust For Life, and I guess life got in the way. I was reminded of this post and my promise however when I tagged on Facebook about a bit of LDR news: she is retiring the song “Cola” due to a line in the song referencing Harvey Weinstein. “Harvey’s in the sky with diamonds and it’s making me crazy” is the line. I always thought she was saying “honey” not “Harvey,” but the more you know. Gross.
I spent a lot of time thinking about Lana Del Rey’s intentions behind her work and her image, her brand, the imagery she chooses, the symbolism she wraps around herself: is she pulling our leg? Is she being sincere? It’s hard to tell.
What if she’s not pulling our leg? She’s not blue collar and never was, but she’s been idealizing it for as long as she’s been making records. Perhaps she sees herself like a Princess Diana, where she’s not really of the people but kind of wants to be and uses her music to bridge the gap between herself and the kind people she sings about. That’s just a theory.
Lana del Rey is a persona, not an actual person. She is the embodiment of so many things in our zeitgeist. Lana Del Rey is not a real person, it’s a stage name. Every movement LDR makes is a stage performance. It’s a put-on, but it’s still so good, and I don’t think she’s ever been shy about just going full-on with the persona and embracing all of the loudness and all of the stock imagery that she stitches together to feel like something all of her own.
I think every thing she does is carefully crafted, and maybe even if it needs editing it is still intentional for one reason or another. I am pretty sure she knows exactly what she’s doing.
I was talking with my friend Rachel recently about Britney Spears, who I have a newfound appreciation for after re-watching her 2007 VMA performance of “Gimme More,” her lead single from the album Blackout (which I adore), and her first major reappearance after a series of bizarre public incidents. The performance is strange, self-conscious, and it seems like she may be counting the dance steps in her head. She doesn’t look like she’s having fun, but she pulled it off regardless, and Rihanna loved it enough to invite Spears on stage the next year for a duet on Rihanna’s song “S&M.”
I’ve been consuming a lot of Britney Spears content recently and in the conversation with Rachel we talked about female artists and the idea of “natural talent,” how audiences don’t really consider the work and thought that these women put into their art. Great female artists are treated as if their talent is innate, as if they themselves have nothing to do with their greatness they just came that way. I think maybe the general public dismisses the work of female artists in this way, not lending enough credit to the thought and work, but easily giving accolades for a “beautiful voice” or “natural grace” or whatever. I don’t want to do this with LDR and that is why I have taken so much time in unpacking everything that LDR embodies and emphasizes.
I really love how LDR can just say the name of a color in a song, or reference some bit of nostalgia-infused pop culture, and how it immediately creates its own mood. She does this a lot, and also the opposite: using sounds to make this kind of synesthesia. “13 Beaches” is this for me. It was the first song on the album that really drew me in, with the sweeping violin intro and the scratchy recording of a poem (?) being spoken. We’ve got spooky music, beaches, loneliness, memories dancing across “the ballroom of my mind” and then building up with drums to a driving melancholy melody with lines like “I’d be lying / if I kept hiding / the fact that I can’t deal.”
Then we have “Cherry,” the sad pop tune sopping in low-fi richness. “Cherry” is probably the song of her career. The first time I listened to it I liked it but laughed at the emphatic and snotty “fuck” and “bitch” ad libs but now I really see it as this immensely clever piece. “Cherry” is pure, contemporary Americana. Ruined peaches. Fuck.
The night of Lana Del Rey’s album release, I watched her instagram live feed of the release party, where she performed some songs from the album. I happened to tune into the broadcast right as she was starting “White Mustang” and it shook me. when she whistles at the end everyone goes wild and it kind of does something to me, too. It’s so simple, but it’s alarmingly haunting and beautiful in its simplicity.
When “Summer Bummer” came out as a single, I remember my friend Cassandra texting me a link to the song and saying it would be our summer anthem.
“In My Feelings” is a bad bitch anthem and I am happy she had at least one of those on Lust For Life.
Some of the songs that I feel are subpar are saved somewhat by the ad lib vocals underneath the main vocal tracks. 2017 was the year of the ad lib.
The Coachella song is just bizarre to me. As if “Coachella” wasn’t already a code word for being rich and white and out of touch. Is she trolling? Or did she really think this would resonate? That whole stairway to heaven bit is pretty embarrassing, but I do find myself humming this song sometimes.
I think “When The World Was At War” is a better song that touches on similar themes without such oblivious-sounding lyrics.
The Lust For Life trailer, in my own very humble opinion, needs some editing. It is too long, and it reveals too much. When she went off in Tropico and did that long poem monologue, it was just too long. I wonder how she edits her work, what her process is like.
I like the idea of the trailer and I think she is a good writer, but I don’t think she needs to over-explain the components of her style and sound as much as she does. Her fans know these things. In the trailer, LDR talks about working on her album and describes how she took refuge from the world inside the Hollywood sign to create Lust For Life. I’m in love with the idea of shutting oneself off to the world in order to produce art, but that’s also a very privileged fantasy: one that requires time (money) and space (money).
I see her continuing to craft this image of herself as the Hollywood starlet of yesteryear who is really just a rich girl slumming it who hangs out with The Weeknd and sometimes practices witchcraft and turns bitter false memories into bittersweet false memories. Maybe I don’t need to know why she is the way she is, what made her develop this particular persona. Maybe she figured out what sells. Maybe she just wants to share the feelings she gets when she thinks about her favorite things. Either way, I’m still listening.