Being sad with Lana Del Rey
August 27, 2019
Lana Del Rey is an Ambien swallowed poolside, a sunny day when you pull your blinds closed and don your silk bathrobe midday. She’s the queen of Americana kitsch, a pop star indulging in performance and cliché, so overdramatic that she could be a joke.
Lana Del Rey is one of the most divisive figures in pop. Music journalists accuse the solemn songstress, born Lizzy Grant, of being inauthentic, a try-hard, and overly calculated. They are, in effect, accusing her of being a pop star: the exaggeration of a mood, a vibe, a feeling easily imbibed. It’s easy to swallow Lana’s glamorous melodrama, but her red lips and killer cat-eye are carefully drawn. Jessica Hopper’s iconic 2012 SPIN profile, “Deconstructing Lana Del Rey,” depicts the pop star as architect of her own fantasy. In the article, 5 Points Records founder David Nichterm, who originally signed the fledgling artist before she left for a bigger label, sums up Lana’s intentions: “If she’s ‘made up’—well, she is the one who made herself up.”
What does it mean to design yourself as a tragedy? In Born to Die, she refers to herself as a baby, a harlot, a china doll. In the song “Off to the Races,” her voice lifts to a vaudeville squeak as she croons, “I’m your little scarlet starlet singin’ in the garden, kiss me on my open mouth.” It’s a story of objectification from the perspective of the objectified. Lana says, Choose your archetype, and I will embody it. Give me an outline, and I will fill it with my own need. Behind these frameworks, Lana defines her mythology: if you’re a “Summer Bummer,” it’s better to own it than to deny it.
I’m obsessed with this performance of “Without You” at Amoeba Music from 2013. She sways and simpers, gestures with her acrylic nails as she sings, “All the dreams and all the lights mean nothing without you.” At the end, she pouts, her eyes cartoonishly large with feigned sorrow. “I love you,” she gasps to the packed record store, looking like she’s about to sob, “Thank you.”
At the start of last summer, I got my heart stomped on. Heartbreak didn’t suit me. What’s the point? I wondered. So I leaned hard into the Patron Saint of “Summertime Sadness.” The lyrics of fellow muses of melancholy Lorde and Mitski are complicated, overly self-aware, too concerned with personal reckoning and growth; Lana’s sadness has no nuance. That season, she was the only one for me. The sixth track of her third studio album Ultraviolence is called “Sad Girl;” the chorus is, “I’m a sad girl, I’m a sad girl, I’m a sad girl.” I listened while I walked slow circles around my neighborhood and thought, Yes. This is my shit. The next track on the album is called “Pretty When You Cry” and has a chorus that goes—well, you understand.
Now, Lana has entered a new era. I know because she smiles more and she has begun to wear neon green. Norman Fucking Rockwell, her sixth studio album, is out this Friday. “Mariner’s Apartment Complex,” the lead single, begins with an accusation: “You took my sadness out of context.” When I first heard that line, I flashed back to last summer, when I was drowning in my need to analyze, isolate, and dismiss my emotions. In the new ballad, Lana yearns, she waits, she stares dramatically out to sea. The joint video for “Fuck It I Love You” and “The Greatest” finds Lana killing time oceanside, pouring beers in a blue-collar bar with sudden cuts of her “surfing” in front of a green screen. It’s a collage of tragedy and parody, scenes of loneliness and longing interspersed with a beauty queen veneer. If sadness is a performance, then happiness is too. —Megan Kirby, Digital Marketing Associate, MCD×FSG