(In pretty much every video featuring this guy, she winds up dead.)
Lana Del Rey is a Romantic with a big R: the stormy love, tossed by fate kind of Romantic, and I like her music for the same reason I like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. When life seems dull or I feel numb, I borrow emotions from the artists who express them wildly and vibrantly.
When a lot of girls I know communicate more by texting their boyfriends than they do in person, there’s something romantic and alluring about Lana Del Rey’s retro heroines who hang on the telephone like Blondie: something to crave about a vintage rendition of love where you’re together when you’re physically together and truly apart when you’re not. There’s mystery and vulnerability in not keeping tabs on each other’s every movement. It doesn’t make her song’s heroines happier or more secure – often the opposite – but it makes their romance feel more real. It’s hard to tell, from her lyrics, if her songs really belong in a pre-cellphone era; but their feelings do.
And when she’s not being retro, there’s something sad and true about “Video Games,” in which Lana sings in a minor key about the pleasure of a lazy afternoon with her man playing video games, but gives the sense that the TV is really between them.
Lana Del Rey appeals to good girls because she’s the quintessential romantic bad girl: sultry, pouty, with thin white tee shirts and tiny denim shorts, the kind of girl who’d be leaning up against her boyfriend’s hot rod in the school parking lot. And what makes her most appealing is her vulnerability – that hidden sweetness, and softness, that gives her a kind of frayed innocence beneath that bad girl image. Critics have dismissed this image as highly calculated; but having a calculated image never stopped the same critics from praising Lady Gaga. I think the real reason they despise Lana Del Rey’s image is because it challenges the feminist idea that women should ball up their vulnerability and stuff it in the back of a dark, dark closet because it’s totally useless and also highlights gender differences, which are verboten. Women don’t have a special kind of vulnerability that’s different from men’s – stop singing about it! You’re just pretending, putting it on for a show.
What’s she singing that upsets them so much? She’s singing about women who still miss the men who wronged them. She’s singing about regretting the loss of innocence. She’s singing about bad choices — and she’s calling them bad, not “alternative.” She’s singing about vulnerability and femininity and putting her man’s favorite perfume on. She’s singing:
This is what makes us girls
We don’t look for heaven and we put our love first
Don’t you know we’d die for it? It’s a curse
Don’t cry about it, don’t cry about it
This is what makes us girls
We don’t stick together ’cause we put our love first
Don’t cry about him, don’t cry about him
It’s all gonna happen
And she’s not singing it as a cultural statement or a tongue-in-cheek critic of gender roles or a condemnation of women who crave the company of men; she means it.