Thursday 7 July 2016

dreaming away your life: lana del rey and the art of escape

so here's how it happened. after finally deciding to write my dissertation about how our ideas of glamour have changed from the golden era of hollywood to the present day, my mind naturally gravitated towards lana del rey, an artist i've loved ever since i stumbled upon her homemade video for video games back in 2011, just like the rest of the world. for more comprehensive analysis of lana, from her image to her sound and what this says about our society today, i highly recommend the new inquiry's series of essays entitled ms. america

my favourite essay in the series is titled the fake as more and i will totally be referencing it in my dissertation when it comes to discussing modern interpretations of glamour. in my opinion, nobody does it better than lana, even if she is seen as an outcast by her peers for supposedly being "fake" and "trying too hard", in reference to her breakout hit video games. author sarah nicole prickett describes her beauty as "laborious and ad hoc", and as someone who "rejects upwardly mobile feminism and/or high-class femininity in favor of fatalistic glamour and ­female-to-female drag". in short; lana likes to spend time on her make-up and people think this makes her a "bad" feminist, a critique that should be brought into question in itself by comments she made in an interview with the fader, where she voiced her disinterest in feminism, then later clarified in another interview. but if she doesn't consider herself a feminist, can she really be "bad" at it? 

feminist critique aside, i love the artificiality of del rey's sound and image. if the girl wants to spend two hours in front of the mirror perfecting her eyeliner, why shouldn't she? in fact, her long-awaited video for single honeymoon (we'll get onto that in a minute) is basically just one big make-up tutorial in which she applies eye-shadow in front of a mirror, and even though she feels like "nothing really happened in it", i personally love it. this probably stems from my love of youtube make-up tutorials as i spend an unhealthy amount of time watching other people put on make-up.

though in this age of insta-famous make-up artists, should her preference for artificial glamour really be such a talking point? many of our favourite make-up tricks, including contouring and baking, originated in the drag community, and there's nothing natural about their painstakingly applied faces. that's why it doesn't seem totally absurd for prickett to make the connection between lana and the drag scene; both parties indulge in their own form of escapism when they take to the stage. 

lana is an outisder, and that's why her brand of laborious glamour appeals so much to me. i too love to spend hours getting ready, be it a night out or just a lecture, something people don't seem to understand, meaning i spend 95% of my life feeling horrendously overdressed compared to my friends. i can't help feel nostalgic for times i never even lived through, be it the glamour of old-school hollywood or the mid 80s when the club kids would spend the whole week planning what to wear to the blitz club night every weekend (though getting rejcted at the door by steve strange is something i don't think i'd ever get over). i'm determined to stick to my guns though, adorning myself with every glitter product i can find for my face, whether people like it or not. i've spent all my life feeling like i i was different from my peers, so why not embrace it?

though unlike lana, who's performance is described by prickett as a "full time job", i don't choose to undertake such a ritual every single day. that's why her music serves as the perfect escape. when i'm looking or feeling bad, she transports me to a place with golden sands (though truth be told i actually hate the beach), neon lights and pink flamingos. 2012's born to die will forever be my favourite lana del rey album, with songs like summertime sadness, dark paradise, national anthem and without you holding a special place in my heart four years later. seeing her live in 2013 only cemented my love for her, with all my scepticism about her vocal ability (following her SNL appearance) falling away once she appeared onstage. critics had plenty to say about her transformation from lizzy grant to lana, but all the great artists of our time - bowie, prince and madonna to name a few - have undergone several transformations as it's what keeps people interested. 

needless to say, the lana del rey of 2012 is markedly different to the artist we see today. this new york times review of 2015's honeymoon sums it up pretty well; "the more famous ms. del rey has grown, the more obscure she's become", and "what was something of an elaborate performance has become merely a simple being". we first began to see a more stripped-back version of lana with the release of 2014's ultraviolence. the cover depicts her standing beside a car in a plain white t-shirt, a white bra defiantly on display. again, prickett sums it up best when she says that "no-one has ever looked less comfortable in a t-shirt". it's certainly a far cry from the elaborate gowns and flower crowns of the video for born to die, in which she sits atop a throne, flanked by a pair of (real) tigers. it should be a powerful image, but when the camera goes close-up on her elaborately made-up face, there's a fear in her eyes, a need to please, a desperate, yet silent, plea for approval. it's all of these things i see in myself, which is probably why born to die resonates with me the most out of all her albums. 

on ultraviolence, that same cinematic brilliance remains, and is particularly prevalent in songs such as old money, black beauty and money, power, glory. the tempo is distinctly slower, the pace more laid back. i can almost see lana hanging up her floor-length gowns and lace negligees and instead reaching for a black leather jacket and a worn-out pair of chuck taylors, but her it's all in her face. in the video for west coast (another favourite from ultraviolence), her face stays impeccably made-up, lashings of kohl around her eyes, nails as pristine and polished as ever as she takes a drag on her parliament. when she looks down, her fake eyelashes fan out, as full and luxurious as ever, but the mask is slipping. she's letting go, both literally when she frolics on the beach, arms outstretched, wind in her hair, but also of what people think of her. she experimented with elements of psychedelic rock and blues, but i missed the decadence, the splendour, the over-the-top performance she put on in born to die. 

so i was pleasantly surprised when honeymoon saw her going back to her roots, or rather dying over them so as to maintain her impeccable image. when the album first came out, i must admit it did pass me by, and after giving it an initial listen, i metaphorically tossed it to one side, though the video for high by the beach never left my mind (side note: the video for freak is also one of her best; i got literal goosebumps the first time i watched it). much like rihanna, whose exploration of violence has garnered much controversy in the last year or so, lana's video also saw her shoot down a helicopter that dared interrupt her chilled day by the sea. we see her sprawled out on a bed, the long flowing dresses of born to die making a reappearance, but instead of languishing on a luxurious bed covered in lillies, she collapses onto a fairly basic futon with only two pillows. it's as if she's finally done trying to prove herself to the world, no longer needing to hide behind the luxurious image presented in her earlier work. she's proved herself, she's made her money, and now she just wants to disappear for a while, and there's nothing wrong with that. the fear in her eyes is gone, replaced what could be contentment, or perhaps just contempt. the new york times describes honeymoon as "the first great prison album of the 21st century, her jail being celebrity and the scrutiny that comes with it". she seems to be trapped in a prison of her own making, but also finally at one with the loneliness that has followed her throughout her life. i always think back to the interview where she proclaimed that she wished she was "dead already"; even the notion of dying young is glamorous to her. 

it was my own melancholic feelings towards life after a difficult week that drew me into the bored indifference of honeymoon. lana's voice continues to oscillate from the smoky, sultriness of mariyln monroe to a dizzyingly high pitch, and despite her disillusions of the fame and fortune awarded to her as a result of her successful career, there's still a sense of urgency, a desire to perform and to do it well. i feel this in myself, constantly unmotivated while watching other people around me succeed and wishing i could be a part of it. one song i can't stop playing is art deco, with its lyrics that are just a little too close to home. you're so art deco, out on the floor / shining like gunmetal, cold and unsure, goes the chorus, and it feels like a sharp jab in the chest, like she's poking me with her pointed nail, looking right into my soul, getting right to the heart of how i feel. cold and unsure, that's me, with my inability to make a decision and stick to it, the hard exterior i put up to stop myself getting hurt. you put your life out on the line, she scolds later on, and again, you're crazy all the time. i know, i know, but unlike del rey i haven't managed to make peace with it yet. 

her voice reaches ludicrously high octaves by the end of the song as she trills a little party never hurt no-one / we were born to be free, and i think of my best friend and me, of our spontaneous nights out since he's been back from new york, and how my mask slips away when i'm with him. i just hope that one day i can free myself from this need to please and simply be, but for now all i need to do is press play on lana del rey and feel the breeze of the west coast in my hair, no matter where i am. 

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