Lana has navigated society and fame “looking for [her] own version of America” and has taken on a persona that pays homage to past generations–“Springsteen is the king don’t you think”–but is grounded in contemporary culture. Like a drunken coed enveloped in a monologue about her used film camera at a frat party, Lana’s values and intentions are often overlooked as a result of her appearance and approach.
It’s not that I feel the need to defend Lana Del Rey, it’s just that…
I would argue that Lana is misunderstood by those who have not yet been pushed to “reeeeeaally” listen to one of her songs and delve into the lyrics which, out of context, could be mistakenly assumed to be Lil Kim’s. “My pussy taste like Pepsi-Cola,” “Be young, be dope, be proud,” and “Fame, liquor, love- give it to me slowly” are just a wetting of the palate. It’s only when the words are recited in Lana’s angelic snarl that they take their true form and her cultural relevance comes to fruition.
Where Lil Kim paved the way for female lyricists to own their sexual prowess, Lana has followed, adopting the “sex sells” formula with a shift in vernacular that reflects the transition from the MTV generation to America’s contemporary youth. The MTV generation “grew up watching a President resign, watching 2-mile lines at gas pumps, watching a nation in decline,” culture critic John Kenney reflects. “Madonna and MTV and Springsteen, that stuff has an influence, but the world ha[d] more of an influence.”
The line dividing entertainment and politics has since blurred in American society, like the vision of a teenager with a forty ounce in one hand and a blunt in the other – it is no longer clear whether Hollywood or Washington DC has more of an influence on our generation. Not to mention the ubiquitous presence of social media and Silicon Valley (a hit of Salvia for the already crossfaded teen, perhaps). Everything is fucked up and those who fight against any intoxicated state tend to bend and break.
I recently described someone as “bad at being human” which led to an extensive discussion of what dictates “the human scale.” After ranking friends, celebrities, and foes, I found that this ambiguous phrase ultimately pointed to one’s ability to effortlessly exist in any given state or setting…to avoid acting incongruously. Consciousness at its core?
Lana exists so god damn effortlessly and I’d argue that now, more than ever, it is difficult to do so. By drowning her public persona in national pride, unapologetic hedonism, and nostalgia, Lana stays afloat. “[She] fall[s] asleep in an American flag, wear[s her] diamonds on Skid Row, and pledge[s] allegiance to [her] dad for teaching [her] everything he knows.”
“I mean, I’m happy when things aren’t bad,” she says. “I’m happy when things are just kind of calm. I love going to the ocean. I love driving. I love going to shows. Just being with people I really have fun with. I love the summer. I’m happy in the summer. Love hot, hot weather. I’m happy when I’m making a record, most of the time.”
Lana Del Rey discarded the American flag props and visuals in 2017 when Trump was elected and is “fresh out of fucks forever.” Her upcoming album “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is named after an American artist who illustrated both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, as well as pseudo-realistic portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Despite a paper trail of influential work and notable achievements which set the standard for commercial artists, many contemporary artists view his work to be “bourgeois and kitschy”.
I wonder if Rockwell’s critics simply have not yet been pushed to “reeeeeaally” look at his pieces.
Norman F*cking Rockwell is out in its entirety on all streaming platforms on August 30, 2019.
All photos sourced press.