Lana Del Rey Can’t Save the World, and She’s Sorry About It.
Lana Del Rey is here. She’s here, she’s worried, and she wants to help but feels powerless to make real change in our fucked up new world order — which as relatable as it is uninspiring. What’s remarkable about this development is that, for the first time, Lana is in our reality. Her latest singles “Love” and “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind” are still simple, still dreamy, still Lana — but they’ve been written in 2017 instead of 1964. Rather than guiding us through the Americana daydreams that lined up from Born to Die to Honeymoon, she is speaking directly to us. Or rather, to her largest fan base — the youth.
What sparked her to leave her castles in the sky (which probably has a star-spangled flag hung up in the window, a furry white blanket strewn across a chaise where she sleeps — nude but with lipstick on — and marijuana steadily wafting off the balcony even when no one’s home) and come to us now? Guilt. A sense of responsibility for her influence on youth culture — particularly on a generation whose fate as a society is largely up in the air — combined with an awareness that pop songs only provide a balm and not a solution.
Recently quoted saying she feels that she no longer needs her persona, Lana’s latest single “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind” is her most self-aware work to date. (She even owns the fact that she started the flower-crown craze). Throughout the song she struggles with her human limitations and a sense of artistic responsibility, asking herself what her contribution could be. Her feelings of helplessness in the face of global turmoil is what, well, everyone feels like when they read the news in the morning.
Since discarding her alter-ego, it seems Lana has stepped into a new role, one that resembles an understanding older sister who’s acutely aware that she can’t protect her young fans from the evils of the world. In “Love”, she encourages them, singing “You kids, you’re the coolest,” followed by “This world is yours and you can’t refuse it,” which calls to mind the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith, in which a mother tries to sell her kids on the world, as if they could finally be the generation to fix it. The song’s final refrain is a repetition of “don’t worry baby” which lead us to believe that Lana is, in fact, incredibly worried.
Because she doesn’t have the answers herself, Lana doesn’t attempt to steer anyone in the right direction — or any direction. Instead, her hope for our disappointed youth is that they can find contentment, or at least occasional relief, in spite of everything going on. While ‘young and in love’ has been the theme to ultimately every song Lana has written, the carefree sentiment no longer fits the cultural landscape she’s delved into, and she seems to be aware of this. In “Love,” her drawn-out melodies begin to sound like pleas, as if to say: “please be content with being young and in love in this big world we ultimately don’t have control over, no matter how much we picket or protest!” Whether or not this sad sentiment was intended, it resonates — the bouts of hopelessness that come with resistance can easily turn to complacency.
If strife breeds art, Lana’s response is hardly an anthem of resistance. Instead she’s taken us into her signature chilled-out, hip-to-be-depressed state. Should we be surprised? Although it’s not advisable or inspiring, it’s at least honest. To shame her for this would be to say that not having the right answer is worse than not acknowledging the issues at all.
A headline on the cover of this month’s Atlantic asked ‘Can Satire Save the Republic?’ Doubtful, but it goes to show that these days, everyone is searching a way to find meaning in their craft, and perhaps a way to turn things around. Pop music can’t save the world, and Lana knows this. So instead, after a career built on writing love songs, she’s now writing them to her fans.