"I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin." - Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler
"It's you, it's you, it's all for you/ Everything I do" - Video Games, Lana Del Rey
It's not her real name. She's got a rich dad. Maybe she wasn't as self-made as we were led to believe. Does that bother you?
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It bothered some. When Video Games floated into view in 2011 the backlash came hard on the heels of the infatuation. This out-of-time chanteuse who comes in after the bells and sings numbly over doomy piano chords, fluttering strings and muted rolling percussion was fawned over and then fought over in quick succession. They're not even her own lips, some said. The question asked again and again was 'is Lana Del Rey a fake?'
And of course the answer is probably yes but does it matter? Was David Bowie an alien? Pop is pose. It's about reinvention. So Lizzy Grant gave herself a new name? So what?
The Janet-and-john nature of the debate about Lana Del Rey has now morphed into a more interesting argument, however. If she's playing a part - and she says she is (just this month she told Fader Magazine: "My public persona and career has nothing to do with my internal process or my personal life ...Literally has nothing to do with me. Most of anything you've ever read is not true"), does it matter about the part she's playing?
Video Games is in some ways a very 21st-century song, if only in the way it looks back not forward. Like Amy Winehouse or Paloma Faith, Del Rey's breakthrough single harks back to a pre-Beatles model. It's consciously - appealingly, I think - retro.
What makes it interesting and different is the sense of unease she imbues that with. She is channelling a film noir femme fatale glamour here. And that's partly what I like about it. The default description is to say there's something "Lynchian" about the song and in many ways you can feel in the lyrics and imagery a similar fascination with the warped and diseased vision of 1950s innocence you can find in Blue Velvet. And, troublingly, a pre-feminist vision of femininity that's frankly problematic now that we're well into third wave feminism.
In Video Games the narrator - is it Lana? Is it a role Lana is playing? - suggests that her life only matters in terms of the men in it. "They say that the world was built for two/ Only worth living if somebody is loving you." As Duncan Cooper argues in Fader Magazine. "The men change but sex is constant; Lana Del Rey embodies searching for yourself in someone else."
There is an element of provocation in this approach, something that Del Rey is embellishing as she goes on. In the aforementioned Fader interview she expresses a lack of interest in feminism: "I'm more interested in, you know, Space X and Tesla, what's going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities." (An argument archly summed up by the Jezebel blog as: "Stop boring Lana Del Rey with your struggle for basic equal rights. She's trying to think about living on Mars or something".)
Even more concerning though, is that on the title track of her new album Ultraviolence (itself a title some may have issues with) she references girl group The Crystals' notorious song He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss, prompting Time Magazine to ask the question: "Does Lana Del Rey's New Song Glorify Domestic Violence?"
So my own question might be, then, what am I buying into when I say I like Video Games? And is there a defence for that enjoyment other than "I don't listen to the lyrics"?
And the honest answer is I'm not sure.
One thing occurs perhaps. When we watch a David Lynch movie - Blue Velvet, say, or Wild at Heart or Mulholland Dr. - do we impose the sexual politics of the film on the actors taking part? Do we assume that Isabella Rossellini endorses her character's taste for sado-masochism? I'd like to think not. We know she is acting.
Is it arguable, then, to say that Del Rey is doing the same? Or does she have to take responsibility because the role she's playing is one she has given a name to?
We should be clear that Video Games is nowhere as dark a vision of sexuality as Lynch's film. It's a song about a girl being ignored by her boyfriend, yet who can't see herself living a life that doesn't require his presence and - possibly - approval. As a pen portrait it's sad, even poignant. You might say that makes it art.
The question is, I guess, is that enough?
I don't know. Do you?
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Midnight City, M83
Real Love, Factory Floor (Optimo Remix)
Rolling in the Deep, Adele (original single version and Jamie XX remix)
Ritual Union, Little Dragon
Trellic, Baxter Dury
Changed the Way You Kissed Me, Example
NME Single of the Year: Video Games, Lana Del Ray
Festive 50 Winner:Let England Shake, PJ Harvey
And the best-selling single of 2011: Someone Like You, Adele