The morning after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian influence during the 2016 election, Lana Del Rey posted a video on Instagram.
“When you're chatting through the verses but snap back into it for the chorus,” reads the caption below a black and white video in which a casually attired Lana Del Rey & co. chat through the verses on a ‘60s-style rehearsal set, then snap back into it for the chorus.
The post was likely meant to promote that upcoming performance (“See u Saturday”), or to tease a slice of her new album (“Darlin’–darlin’–darlin’, I fall to pieces when I’m with you”). Or maybe she just liked the look of the video. But the whole scene, particularly in the context of that latest chaotic morning (Trump tweet — “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” — followed by attendant commentary about everything from the special counsel’s legal powers to who’s really been most persecuted in American political history), produced this weird thought:
Now here is a person who’s living life free of the weight of this whole ordeal.
The new music may be good, the new music may be bad — but unlike possibly everyone else alive right now, Lana Del Rey seems relaxed, serene, having the time of her life, publicly unencumbered by the fraught, endless argument about Trump, Trump opponents, Trump supporters, the role of government, the state of diplomacy, the idea of America, etc., that could snatch you up on any given day.
So why is she floating above it all? What makes her different now than before? Something has clicked into place to marry her aesthetic with the moment, because she really doesn’t seem to have changed.
There’s still that otherworld quality to her music, like she was secretly born 200 years ago and is sometimes visible in the back of historical photos, like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. That plays out in a specific way in her music: Unlike the arch self-examination or ‘80s earnestness of most current pop, nobody ever falls out of love in a Lana Del Rey song.
The premise of every Lana Del Rey song is usually a combination of the following: a. I am crazy, b. I am high, c. I am great, d. Our tragic love endures. Lana Del Rey does not lay awake in the early hours, interrogating her own motives and worrying about wanting a little too much. In Lana Del Rey songs, there is but one doomed, eternal romance. People laugh “LIKE GOD” in Lana Del Rey songs. You may fall into a life of drugs (“he loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart,” “Off To The Races”) or crime (“caught up in the game, that was the last I heard,” “Blue Jeans”) or literally die (“there’s no remedy for memory,” “Dark Paradise”), but you will forever be in love with the protagonist of a Lana Del Rey song.
Case in point: On Lorde’s excellent new album Melodrama, she notes, “I love you ‘til my breathing stops; I love you ‘til you call the cops on me.” Delivered with some irony, the line is a self-aware (and ostensibly more relatable) admission that beneath whatever cool, controlled exterior Lorde may project, she can come undone, heart of hearts, in the face of this heartbreak. Well, you wouldn’t hear such talk on a Lana Del Rey album! First off, Lana Del Rey tells you upfront, guns ablaze, all about her deal. (“Everybody knows that I’m a mess — I’m craaaaazy,” she informs the listener on the opening track, “Cruel World,” of Ultraviolence.) But more to the point: A line like that would imply imbalance — that Lana Del Rey had been left unwanted. (“You’re craaaazy for me,” Ibid.) Will you still love Lana Del Rey when she is no longer young and beautiful? She knows you will.
Despite the fact that she is nearly always dressed up like Bobbie Gentry on her way to the Summer of Love, the aesthetic is current and not especially nostalgic. There’s this tendency to place her in the tradition of the disaffected famous American woman, ranging from Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays to the characters in Sofia Coppola movies. But Lana Del Rey is a little weirder than that, and she’s also more corporate than that. The combined effect is that she is more... fun than those kinds of characters. She wraps all that 1960s capital-r Romanticism in conventions of modern hip-hop and indie rock — string arrangements, guitar reverb, and the kind of drum-machine beats that sound like muted explosions. Sure, the songs sometimes forget to have beats or hooks and it’s just ethereal ooohs misting over you. And sure, you can’t listen to some of her catalogue during daylight hours because it might throw you into a hazy trance. (“Ultraviolence is the perfect soundtrack,” Molly Lambert once wrote, “for a strip club in hell.”)
But it all flows from one premise, the one that seems to be the origin point of Lana Del Rey’s Nice Year: The Lana Del Rey persona operates on the idea that it’s all already over. When she posted the track listing for Lust For Life, her new album — (“LOST FOR LIFE” had been crossed out for effect) — she set the location as the “The End of the World, Venice, L.A.”
Instead of getting bogged down in the political stuff, though, Lana Del Rey seems ready to ride this thing out. And, sure, it’s possible her new album will involve some anti-Trump broadside, but the early going seems to be the same as ever. Tops, you could argue that “Coachella - Woodstock In My Mind,” in which she asks the one to think of the children, is a protest song, except that it seems to be about tensions with North Korea. And even if it is a protest song, it’s the most Lana Del Rey protest ever: “On my way home I found myself compelled to visit an old favorite place of mine at the rim of the world highway where I took a moment to sit down by the sequoia grove and write a little song,” she wrote in the Instagram announcement, before ultimately signing off: “Hope everyone has a nice day.”
In the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which details the LSD exploits of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the 1960s, Tom Wolfe describes them “grooving with this whole wide-screen America and going with its flow with American flags flying from the bus and taking energy, as in solar heat, from its horsepower and its neon and there is no limit to the American trip.”
Lana Del Rey’s been operating for years like the world is ending, and that premise enables her to live like so: She’s practicing witchcraft; she’s not a feminist; she’s filming herself singing in her car to her own tracks; she’s Instagramming Father John Misty shows like a regular person; she’s putting out songs that are roughly 80% her and The Weeknd dreamily instructing listeners to take off their clothes; she’s filming Bewitched-on-acid videos in which both a telephone floats by her head and she sensibly offers that “even though these times can feel a little bit crazy, they’re not so very different from other generations have experienced at one time or another before”; she’s “Slytherin,” as Perfume Genius recently put it, “but in a really dope way”; she's responding on Twitter to say she's actually a Gryffindor, but has dated many a Slytherin.
Lana Del Rey grooves with this whole wide-screen America.