Lana Del Rey is a piece of American pie that’s been laced with cyanide. On the cover of her third album, Ultraviolence, she almost looks like a Manson girl with her long brown hair and menacing eyes. Whether or not there’s anything sinister about a girl who grew up wealthy in Lake Pacid, New York, is beside the point. Lana is whoever the fuck she wants to be and it’s your job to sit back and watch the show.
What I love about Lana Del Rey is that she’s a pop star who refuses to make pop music. She sold eight million copies of her album, Born To Die—a number that’s practically unheard of in today’s music industry—and she did it all without producing a solid hit. (A remix of “Summertime Sadness” exploded but Lana had no hand in that.) Instead, she used herself to sell records. She presented as a “gangsta” Nancy Sinatra (unclear), a femme fatale, a California dreamer, and a Brooklyn baby. None of these identities seem totally accurate but it doesn’t matter. We’re past the point of needing our pop stars to be reliable narrators. If the music is interesting and you have a point of view, that’s enough to keep our interest—for a while, at least.
Ultraviolence was released on June 13th, 2014, which also marked the start of my summer vacation. The show that I work on is in-between seasons, which means that for the first time since college, I have unlimited free time on my hands. Fortunately, I live in a city where doing nothing comes easy. The days in LA drip by at a delightful, languid pace. The sun coats your brain and turns it into a liquid-y soft-serve. Your limbs become wet spaghetti. Sure, there are conversations with friends, there are important meetings, there are dates with potential boyfriends, but who can remember them? This summer, I only have room for Lana.
Lana said a lot of controversial things while promoting Ultraviolence. She told The Fader that she was more interested in talking about spaceX and Tesla than feminism, she told The Guardian that she wished she were dead, she kicked a Rolling Stone reporter out of her friend’s West Village townhouse when things got too real. That’s fine, though. Celebrities say silly things because they are usually silly, damaged people. I mean, let’s face it, fame has never made someone a better person. How could it? You go through life with all of these issues and shortcomings and then you get famous and are told that these flaws are perfect and to never change a thing. So you don’t. You go on your merry way with a pack of enablers and enter a permanent state of arrested development. It’s a strange existence and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s Lana’s life now. The only way to be a normal famous person is to have a strong foundation, a real sense of self, but, uh, that’s not something many people have, hon.
Truthfully, I am more interested in Lana’s music than what she says in interviews. After Ultraviolence came out, I listened to it at the gym. I listened to it while writing. I listened to it after bad dates. I listened to it after good dates. The album was never far from me. It became a security blanket, an easy way for me to define this period of time in my life. I tweeted something a few weeks ago, “All I’ve been doing this summer is getting drunk and listening to Lana Del Rey”, and I wasn’t kidding.
My favorite memory of listening to Ultraviolence came after having a terrible night out with some friends. The next morning I woke up and went over to my girlfriend’s house, hoping that her company would zap me out of my post-party fugue.
“I know what we’re going to do,” my girlfriend said. “We’re going to make a fort out of pillows in my living room and we’re going to lay down, drink a bathtub’s worth of wine, and listen to Lana.”
It sounds juvenile but it worked. Listening to “Shades Of Cool” while the sun bled through the windows made my life feel like a hazy Lana Del Rey music video. I’d like to think that this is how Lana would want someone to experience her record. This is the point of her image and career, to evoke these feelings of dreaminess and melancholy, but I’m probably wrong. In all likelihood, Lana doesn’t give a shit.
This is how I picture Lana: a cool, disaffected girl who would smoke cigarettes with you in the parking lot of your high school, a girl who was the first to lose her virginity in her group of friends, a girl who was never particularly ambitious but things just happened to her, things that everyone else wished for and worked so hard to get but couldn’t.
This is how I think she really is: a cool, disaffected girl who learned how to be cool and disaffected from listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, a girl who lied about losing her virginity to appear edgy, a girl who was ambitious and always knew she was going to be a fucking star.
I like both versions.