Words by Laila Rumbold-Kazzuz
In the nine years since sultry melancholy-pop-ballad Video Games became a cult classic with the aid of its Hollywood-centric archival Americana music video, Lana Del Rey has been through career-defining transformations. Her seminal album Born to Die established Del Rey as Queen of Hollywood Boulevard and California trailer parks alike. Lana has never been afraid to fuse dichotomous versions of the American dream together. As her Twitter bio nod to Whitman suggests: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself; I am large – I contain multitudes”. Her most recent release, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, lives up to the claim.
The Lana-verse is one which harbours a version of reality that is centred on dizzying capitalist fame, as in 2012 track Radio,“Baby love me ‘cause I’m playin’ on the radio”. But in the same breath as “Pick me up and take me like a vitamin” comes provocatively Nabokovian suburban trashiness, as in Lolita– “Kiss me in the P.A.R.K park tonight”. Lana, after all, is most in her element whilst swanning between The Chateau Marmont and Skid Row. But whether she’s inhabiting a Sunset Boulevard hotel or falling asleep on an American flag in Downtown L.A., it’s a sure bet she’ll be wearing diamonds. There are even two versions of Hollywood Boulevard; the one where she’s in the pool, and the one where she’s on the street corner in stilettos, seducing through car windows.
In the decade between her debut and her newest album Chemtrails, Lana has become less bubblegum (“Sugar, sugar, how now?”) and more concerned with playing out personal fantasies of maternal and spousal love. Where she breathily pines “Let me love you like a woman/ Let me hold you like a baby”, she turns the tables on the more juvenile Lou Reed/ Jim Morrison glamourization of Ultraviolence, favouring the language of a woman setting the terms of her relationships and aesthetic experiences: “Talk to me in poems and songs/ Don’t make me be bittersweet”. In 2021, Lana gets to direct not only the mise en scene of her universe, but the very form other peoples’ language takes within it. Preferably all her peripheral characters will spare her their boring everyday speech.
When, in White Dress, she croons for her waitressing days “down at the Men in Music Business Conference”, she does it with the newfound safety of a femme fatale who’s found her feet. In the post-Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass era, when Lana expresses her more base compulsions and her desire to be admired, we know she’s nostalgically daydreaming amongst the cypress trees of one of her L.A. mansions. She employs the slide guitar and reverb of NFR! to carry off a dreamy retrospective of herself. She’s stopped asking us to believe she’s Marilyn Monroe reincarnated, instead “washing my hair/ doing the laundry”– imagery we can vibe with in the heightened domestic sphere of lockdown. The fact is, almost a decade in, there now exists a history of LDR. Instead of pure Golden Era and Sixties fetishization, Lana can get away with pining about listening to Kings of Leon before her career took off, and it’s welcome now as a form of post-modern LDR mythology. Chemtrails retains all that’s seductive about her American dream obsessiveness, while letting her listeners grow up too. We can be adults and fantasize about a hyper-art-deco America. Only now it’s implicit in references to Tulsa, a city with art deco architectural heritage, instead of as overt as “You’re so art deco”. Chemtrails is Lana at her most nuanced and multifaceted.