Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Perverse Appeal of Lana Del Rey

On the heels of my post about Betty Draper, I'd like to devote some time to full-time singing sensation/part-time daddy fetishist Lana Del Rey.

Lana is certainly a polarizing figure, and her persona inspires both rabid devotion and utter repulsion. She's been branded as weak, boring, and anti-feminist due to the content of her lyrics and music videos. I can definitely see where people are coming from with that argument, but I think it's important to understand that Elizabeth Grant the musician and Lana Del Rey the performer are two different people. Much like Alice Cooper or Donna Summer, Del Rey has adopted an image and persona that is more about performance art and characterization than confessional songwriting.

Elizabeth Grant has constructed and concocted a very clever, very interesting character with her Lana Del Rey persona. She frequently alludes to Nabokov's Lolita (in highly unsettling, romanticized terms) and classic Americana figures like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Her video for "National Anthem", in particular, explores the trope of the "American dream" by re-creating the lives of John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie in a lurid celebration of money and excess.

Lana Del Rey's obsession with nostalgia and the dark side of the American dream makes her one of the few retro-inspired starlets who goes beyond aesthetics and actually examines the social and historical context behind her inspirations. She doesn't just dress like Priscilla Presley- she also explores Priscilla's mindset and assumes the role of a young girl who gave up her whole life and changed her image to be with an older, famous, successful man.

You could compare her to Adele, who has a decidedly retro feel in both her musical style and aesthetic, similar to that of '60s chanteuse Dusty Springfield, but is well known for penning her own lyrics and speaking about her relationships in a way that evokes more empowered female singers, like Alanis Morissette. Del Rey, on the other hand, adheres completely to her dark Stepford Wife/Lolita image, both sartorially and lyrically.

She's making a statement about the fetishization of days gone by and sickly-sweet nostalgia, forcing us to look at the dark core behind the appealing retro aesthetic. It's certainly not for everyone, but I find her fascinating.

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