I’m the worst at staying current with Pop Music. Some have chalked this up to my being a “hipster,” one close friend even blaming my Fella for being a “popular culture shield.” While the truth of these statements has yet to reveal itself, my learning curve is most definitely steep and slow. For instance, it took me two years to put a face to the name of Lady Gaga, a connection that was made only because I went to the Castro bar Toad Hall which plays music videos.
This is a long way of saying: I just jumped aboard the Lana Del Rey Train! While I knew about her (I don’t live underneath a rock), I paid her no mind until her track “Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby soundtrack incited an addiction. The underpinning of my obsession is two-fold: firstly, she looks like a mash-up of every vintage movie starlet that ever existed–a fact she plays up well in her video for “National Anthem;” secondly, she covered a song by Leonard Cohen (“Chelsea Hotel No. 2”) which instantly endears me to an artist.
But this goes deeper than a historically-nuanced video and a cover song. I find her fascinating as an American Studies specimen with the way she uses a sexualized approach to denude classic American imagery and tropes such as “Blue Jeans,” the “National Anthem,” “Cola” and “Summer Sadness” which call to mind movies like Grease and American Graffiti, if both of these films featured more adult content. While my snobbery precluded me from wanting to like songs with titles such as “Diet Mountain Dew,” I was seduced by her pairing of that clarion call voice with commentary on a scenario familiar to any red-blooded heterosexual female: loving the bad boy. Lana continually repeats this potent combination on her album Paradise and, god help me, I sure as hell relate to her motivations in songs like “Gods & Monsters.” Additionally, her song “American” is enchanting in its adolescent framework–a phrase that can easily be applied to American culture at large. The teenage linguistics of “American” are delivered in atop a fairydust hail of accompanying music that, for some odd reason, reminds me of instrumental tracks from the 1995 movie Casper, as does the song “Bel Air.”
All intellectual persuasions asides, Lana Del Rey’s music is catchy and allows us the opportunity for role-play. I’m not a Las Vegas club kid. My nether-regions do not taste of pepsi cola. I don’t date rich older men who like to party. However, when I’m folding laundry and singing my heart out to “Video Games,” suddenly I’m a coquette in a sundress instead of an archivist in leggings and an oversized Santa Anita Racetrack sweatshirt–a little naughtier, a little less up in my own head where I over-think everything. This last only a moment until my Fella or roommate come home, but in that moment I have released an entire week’s worth of stress simply by being outside myself.
Lana Del Rey is neither the pantheon of feminist empowerment nor the mascot of the new Americanism, but she is damn addictive. Her music and her personae make me question both of the aforementioned: what it means to be a woman in a woman’s skin, and what it means to be an American in an American’s skin. Not bad for a pop star, if you think about it.