Promo image from “Tropico”
“That she had so completely recovered her sanity was a source of sadness to her. One should never be cured of one’s passion.”
– Marguerite Duras, The Ravishing of Lol Stein.
I remember seeing my first Lana Del Rey music video: Video Games. Jokes were made about her later on, even before the SNL performance. I’m sure you may know of her SNL performance, or perhaps you laughed at an Internet meme that read LLAMA DEL REY where a llama pursed its lips mocking hers? Whatever you’ve heard about Lizzie, especially after this last weekend of everyone worrying for her and further perplexed by her Laura Palmer-esque air that she exudes, she’s probably heard herself magnified by 300x. She’s not your average Instagram or Twitter girl, spilling her feelings out every 35 minutes. That’s not Lizzie Grant’s style. She’s a songwriter and tells stories, real or not.
With her latest album Ultraviolence, Lana has bigger plans for the masses, as well as her peers. (Juliette Lewis once criticized Lana via Twitter saying, “Wow watching this ‘singer’ on SNL is like watching a 12 year old [sic] in their bedroom when they’re pretending to sing and perform #signofourtimes”. That changed later on when Lewis came to social media with Lana Del Rey posting a photo with the caption #twistedsisters, realizing how significantly talented her songwriting was.)
Wicked and oozing controversy, Lizzie Grant (aka Lana Del Rey) is pushing buttons with her latest lyrics, referencing heroin, guns, and the apathy that comes with being misjudged by a depraved world of people who hide behind their computer screens, cruel men, and herself. After Ultraviolence, everyone will walk away with yet a different opinion and a stronger one. This juicy material isn’t what the Top 40 was built for, so it’s quite obvious that Lana isn’t here for the hits across the radio. Summertime Sadness, remixed by Cedric Gervais, eventually grabbed the radio’s attention and skyrocketed on the Billboard charts. Of course, only in America, her song hits the radio charts once the tinge of EDM became infused with Lana’s vocals. In regards to everyone suddenly singing her music after the mediocre remix, Lana said, “It just reinforces the fact that…not that nothing really matters, but that other people’s opinion don’t really matter because it can change on a dime. And if people are so ready to change, maybe they don’t have the strongest character”.
Previously, she’s maintained a solid foundation for the internet savvy, dropping mix tapes and leaking tracks, while providing a connection to her fans via social media. Video Games, her breaking track depicting a young and innocent love was a moving ballad that felt so vulnerable that you might just cry listening to it the first time. The album Born to Die, in contrast to Ultraviolence, was the bubbly and committed effort that grew more and more viral, capturing the likes of glorified public figures today, like Kim Kardashian and Angelina Jolie. Its vocals ranged high pitch and baby-like, and immediately drew a mixed response from critics. This was also her first and foremost step into the limelight. Ultraviolence is an album that ultimately feels like Lana’s deliberate ambition to not prove anything to others, but just to herself.
Pitchfork had previously compared Born to Die to “faking orgasm,” a rather strange statement that almost feels sexist, so surely writers will speculate many things about her and continue the nasty behavior that floods the web, spreading rumors about the singer’s mental health or personal life. She’s smart and knows that. She’s practically poking fun at all of the guilty parties with Money Power Glory, a new track that blatantly states the desire for all three attributes, something this world reinforces with Top 40. In past interviews, Lana has been quoted saying that the “criticism” she faces from the media isn’t necessarily constructive but that it’s personal, specifically targeting her as a rich man’s daughter and robbing her of any talents that are merited. Now, in the wake of the haunting Ultraviolence, Lana has spoken of her death wish, telling the Guardian, “I wish I was dead” in a recentinterview, causing the interviewer to become somewhat concerned. Fans immediately reacted online, supporting her and telling her that they don’t want her to die. Ultraviolence certainly sensationalizes her inner demons and her conscious efforts as an artist, as a woman of a turbulent generation in the strangest of times where luxury is worshipped, working as some sort of emotional catalyst for her career. The mysterious nature of such statements and lyrics that Lana Del Rey professes to the public allow an existential conversation that touches upon our confused times, where viral content is shared and hoax deaths occur on a seemingly daily basis. When the listener plays the entirety of the album, there’s a strong sense of escapism, ironic awareness, and, yes, bitterness, as one would expect after facing the hardships she’s faced.
Lana’s vocal range on this album goes to places that you couldn’t imagine from hearing her two previous albums. This is angrier, more aggressive; it’s nasty, it’s sweet, it’s desperate, and it’s deliciously enticing, like a good fait divers or New York Post headline that makes you stay one minute longer in the bodega. It’s also delicate and fragile, allowing listeners to relate on a more personal and human level.
While America was certainly quick to judge Lana, Europe graced this provocative starlet with a massive platform of devout fans — mostly younger and hormone-ridden, but also the older and wealthy, bridging generational gaps in the modern landscape she’s created for us to fantasize about or perhaps interact with. Not only that, Lana’s platform exists within the realm of glamorous city life, occasionally performing at intimate events in Los Angeles or Paris clouded with city dwellers, or at weddings where the bride and groom are two people you may know from the media: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The first time I ever saw Lana Del Rey was at Soho House, the members only worldwide club chain, at the New York location. The crowd was diverse, ranging from that one ex-A$AP member I used to smoke weed with when I lived on Chrystie Street, to Swiss Bankers and their younger, gold-digging girlfriends sipping martinis. There were people lounging on the floor next to the piano, leisurely awaiting their Madame Lana. As with the first time I saw the music video for Video Games, I fell in love with Lana Del Rey all over again. Her shimmering presence validated by her star struck audience, and her crooning voice shining as she shared her laughter, sheer coyness, and occasional sound check accompanied by a hair flip.
The lyrics Lana sang, which nearly everyone in attendance had already memorized, weren’t robbing her voice, as seen in the now viral video of her breakdown while on tour in Dublin. Everyone was crowded around the sight, the vision, the Lana Del Rey. Seemingly, every track was an anthem that we had known since we were children. We made her an icon and she felt beautiful. It felt personal and it made us happy to see her happy.
Ultraviolence is entirely different territory and will certainly grab attention because its Brett Easton Ellis plot points feel so believable, her voice often fragile, especially on “Pretty When You Cry,” a track in which she allows her voice to shake and loses herself. The opening track titled “Cruel World”, provides a maddening introduction to the damaged characters she portrays on the exquisitely deranged Ultraviolence, an album that invites you to voyeuristically become enchanted with the artist’s lyrics for those to examine, ridicule, or praise. With lyrics such as, “Got your bible, got your gun/And you like to party and have fun/And I like my candy and your women/I’m finally happy now that you’re gone” there’s one thing here that’s clear: this album marks the new chapter of a pop star’s life.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Lana Del Rey will certainly gain the respect of those who previously mistook her for a generic product, a Russian doll, or perhaps the cruel world’s theory that Lana’s “hoax career” was arranged by her wealthy father. Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence‘s tones shift from biting sarcasm (“Fucked My Way Up to the Top”) to confidence as she sings about nihilistic sex-fueled Miami nights (“Florida Kilos”). The limits of her sexually-charged persona are pushed to its acme here and feminists can say whatever they want to say. Just don’t listen to the album if you don’t want to explore the tumultuous relationships she’s experienced. It will make people feel uncomfortable and its revealing nature should make some feel uncomfortable. Why should feminism even be brought to this conversation? This is art. She’s simply expressing herself through the power of music and it’s working. Art imitates life, right? Maybe the joke’s on you, or maybe we just forgot that lyrics are more expressive than flashing cash in Porsches, or another pre- programmed boy band where authenticity feels less than zero. I regard this complex album as a transgressive tour-de-force of the modern day pop star, the younger generation faced with exulted reality TV stars, gun culture, city dreams, and drug-fueled nights. Lana sings, “They judge me like a picture book/By the colors, like they forgot to read” on the track titled “Brooklyn Baby”.
The emptiness and vapidity of such a superficial world, reflective of our own, that Lana has portrayed in her music is certainly a crafty and very performative concept to tackle, integrating into her image through a well-curated presence infiltrated with snapshots of old Hollywood and celebrities, icons, typically the tragic ones. It’s the drama audiences live for, isn’t it? It’s also not just this generation she’s part of that’s confusing, dark, and disturbing it’s the country she lives in; America’s ideals and dreams are forever challenged by our Miss Lana Del Rey, as money becomes power and the rich become richer, while the poor become poorer. She should be proud of herself, for this beautifully produced album (produced by the talented Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach) achingly calls our attention to the time we live in. I cheer for Lana Del Rey and believe her music career to be exciting and refreshing, actually groundbreaking, in its daring efforts for someone who’s become mainstream yet not radio played to maintain her own creation and artistic integrity.
A lyric that seems to cross my mind now, “I’m talking about my generation/Talking about that newer nation” which continues to “If you don’t get it, then forget it/So I don’t have to fucking explain it”. Yes, Lana, I feel you, too. I felt that way as well in a toxic relationship, facing judgement and ridicule for my youth and my mistakes. I’m working on that right now, preparing my artistic journey, even when I thought I learned everything already and when he told me I wasn’t good enough. Your music is like a Marguerite Duras novel, tragic and beautiful connected with themes that recur in your work, and play cinematically in our imaginations yet endearingly so. The drama we yearn for, the beauty we want, the money and power that those that are young aspire for…You bring the mirror to us and our American culture. With Ultraviolence, there’s a milestone in American culture that remains uneasy, unstable, beautiful, schizophrenic, and seductive. Your words, melodies, and image have stayed with us and will continue to do so. You have become an icon and this time you’ll reign. Had you listened to those critics and assholes, Lana, you would have let them win. This is your time. Well done. Give me a bit of your Ultraviolence.