This song is called “Blue Jeans,” and it is sung by Lana Del Rey, a woman with a baffling story— baffling, in part, because it hardly exists.
In the States, Del Rey hasn’t quite matched up to the likes of, say, Gaga in popularity. (Granted, I’ve been living the expat life for a little while now, but Facebook is a fairly reliable source for keeping myself in the American cultural loop, and Del Rey has yet to be mentioned. But I digress.) I first heard her voice a few weeks ago after arriving in Germany. Her music video “Video Games” was number one the German charts, not only matching, but beating Gaga’s “Marry the Night.” “Video Games” is the type of song that I imagine mermaids have on repeat as they float through Atlantis, and Del Rey’s voice simply obligates the use of the word “haunting.” The video itself is a compilation of old and not-so-old film clips interjected with stoic Del Rey, seemingly made up as a 1950s Barbie doll. Bouffant hair? Check. Pouty lips? Check. Long, dark eyelashes? Double check. The look certainly matches Del Rey’s self-designated nicknames—“the gangsta Nancy Sinatra” and “Lolita in the hood.” The song itself is subtle in nature, but the video screams nostalgia. And if you continue to pay attention, you might notice the effortless lyricism of the song. “Swinging in the backyard/Pull up in your fast car/Whistling my name,” it begins. It’s bound to capture your attention.
The song “Blue Jeans”—which I’ve included in this post, due to solely to the fact that I prefer it—has a similar relaxed-yet-evocative poetic quality: ”Blue jeans, white shirt/Walked into the room, you know you made my eyes burn/It was like James Dean, for sure/You so fresh to death & sick as ca-cancer/You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop/But you fit me better than my favorite sweater…”
So what’s the deal with Lana Del Rey? Well, having been born in 1991, the first thing I did was google her, and within .12 seconds, I ended up on her Wikipedia page. The first words on the page are “Elizabeth Grant,” followed by these words (not in this order, and paraphrased): or, “Lizzy Grant,” daughter of a multi-millionaire who attended boarding school is a singer who’s been trying to make it big for a few years now. Rich daddy marketed her first album, 2010’s Kill Kill, on iTunes, before it was withdrawn for unknown reasons. And that brilliant name, Lana Del Rey? Invented by a group of managers and lawyers over the course of five years.
“Ouch,” I thought. “Lana Del Rey isn’t real. She’s just an aesthetic, a product of marketing.”
Then, I returned to google, and in a completely uncharacteristic move, clicked some on links below Wikipedia. Turns out, Ms. Del Rey has been the object of some controversy. That album which mysteriously disappeared from iTunes? Evidently, it was a pop piece, a not-so-great imitation of the greats (think Britney Spears). But then her producers thought better of it, and turned her into a walking Urban Outfitters. “The vanishing of her old music online in place of the new has led writers to call her the ‘Frankenstein of Indie,’” reads the Telegraph in the best line I’ve found all night. Some say she’s injected her lips with collagen, and others say there’s a whole lot more plastic surgery to boot. She claims that that she was living in a trailer park and couldn’t afford cocoa puffs, much less those expensive procedures. Wikipedia reminds us that her father is a multi-millionaire. And perhaps it’s Jimmy Wales looking at me with those pleading eyes at the top of the page, but I tend to believe Wikipedia.
“So, maybe she’s inauthentic. That’s not a crime. That’s, like, 93% of the music industry,” I thought. “But it’s kind of heart-breaking, because she’s actually pretty damn good.”
But the criticism doesn’t stop there. Her image and songs have been ripped apart by the likes of Amy Klein of the band Titus Adronicus. Remember those few lines from “Video Games” I quoted? Well, here are some following lyrics from the same song: “I’m in his favorite sun dress/Watching me get undressed/Take that body downtown.” Further on: “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you/Everything I do.” Amy Klein was not impressed, and responded thus:
Lana Del Ray is sitting at home waiting for you to come home so she can fix you dinner and a drink. Lana Del Ray is waiting for you to come home so she can watch you play video games on the couch and ignore her all day until it’s time for bed. Lana Del Ray is waiting for you to come home so you can go to bed and act out all of your wildest fantasies which is exactly what she wants to do—what you want to do, that is. Lana Del Ray is waiting for you because she is your mirror.
So it doesn’t matter if Lana Del Ray is entirely sarcastic when she belts out, “It’s YOU, it’s YOU, it’s all for YOU.” It doesn’t matter that there is an edge to her voice that sounds something like rage and despair. Lana Del Ray has conquered America with plastic surgery, video games, a regression to nostalgia, and an appeal to the sex drive of every male music critic on the planet. It doesn’t matter if she has anything real to sell because Lana Del Ray has made us think about the relationship between selling fantasy and selling lies.
Lana Del Ray is the lie we like to tell ourselves—that America has always been, and will always be, this gorgeous woman who can make all our dreams come true. So it doesn’t matter if she loves you or hates you because she is going to take all of your money and you are going to let her get away with it. That’s the reality of who she is.
Consider, though. If Ms. Del Rey does write her own songs and has at least a part of creating her own image, then the “edge to her voice that sounds something like rage and despair” is significant. The importance behind words often lies in the subtext rather than the obvious meaning, and the vulnerability behind her singing evokes an image of simultaneous hopelessness and acceptance. Hopelessness because she is aware of her sexualized image and her love for that man who treats her like that 1950s Barbie doll, and a bizarre acceptance of this awareness. Why? Perhaps she remembers a time when her life was not so forgiving. Perhaps she’s simply given up. Sure, Del Rey’s image is contrived, and chances are, I’m giving this girl way too much credit. But that doesn’t make this tale any less frightening.
Lana Del Rey is a phantom. And friends, try as you might, you can’t find a more intriguing story than a mystery.