Lana Del Rey – ‘Love’, Lust for Life and Guilty Pleasures

It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come

There are few more disingenuous or faintly pathetic pop concepts than the Guilty Pleasure.  Pop is all about pleasure, no guilt necessary. Love what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law of pop. Love is the law of pop, love under will.

A Guilty Pleasure used to mean “something I’m embarrassed about liking because people I disrespect – like teenagers or women – also like it”. Then it evolved to mean “something I pretend to be embarrassed about liking so you think I’m even cooler than the people who dislike this stuff because they think it’s uncool”. There is no place for the guilty pleasure in pop.

And yet.

Sometimes you can’t help but like something that runs straight against what you believe to be your better pop senses.

When Lana Del Rey slunk sultrily onto the scene back in 2011 with ‘Video Games’ it was oh so easy to fall in love. Washed out ’50s/’60s romanticism  with an oh-so modern twist. Yes, there was an element of pastiche and almost (self-)parody to the whole thing, but hey, it just worked.

Then came album Born To Die, and it was half mesmerising, half utterly laughable.

There were a batch of just brilliant songs sprinkled across the record, like  ‘National Anthem’,  ‘Off to the Races’ and title track ‘Born to Die’ . But all rubbed up against each other, track-after-track-after-track of that ’50s/’00s ingenue pining for “daddy” over and over and over again was exhausting. It went from a touch of pastiche to the full French and Saunders.

I mean, you can’t really argue with that, can you? Summertime. Sadness. Summertime Sadness.

I’m feelin’ electric tonight
Cruising down the coast goin’ ’bout 99

The deluxe cash-in “Paradise Edition” of the album just underlined the whole problem.  Some good new songs like ‘Ride’, a great one in ‘Cola’, but all that over-the-top sultriness just suffocated. The cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, did more than make the Lynchian vibe explicit, it made it laughable. Recorded for an H&M ad, listening to it made you feel like a schnook for ever enjoying a single note of what LDR has ever put on plastic.

So Lana Del Rey became a guilty pleasure (if not a Guilty Pleasure). I still get a kick from her songs – though follow-up albums Ultraviolence (2014) and Honeymoon (2015) came and went without too much of them even faintly sticking in the brain.

So to ‘Love’, the teaser from LDR’s fourth album (that “debut” recorded back in 2008 when she was Lizzy Grant doesn’t count). And… just when I thought I was out… she pulls me back in.

It’s far from her most catchy song. Nowhere near her best actually. But for perhaps the first time ever her music doesn’t seem so painfully, artlessly, affected.

I’d always hesitate to use the word “real”, because there’s no more vacuous, contradictory concept in pop. Hell, it’s even worse than “Guilty Pleasure”. It’s more that despite all the welcome fluff and dazzle, ‘Love’ actually manages to connect on an emotional level.

The only song of hers that previously managed that was maybe her very best – ‘Young and Beautiful’ – her bit for the 2013 soundtrack of The Great Gatsby.

Since I started writing this, Lana announced the name of her next record, the second-hand Lust For Life, with a typically over-the-top black-and-white and-splashes-of-colour video about being “an artist” trying to “create something”. Eurgh.

The awful spectre of Lady Gaga’s self-conscious “I am an artiste” shtick looms awfully large. It’s absurd, ridiculous, clichéd and downright embarrassing. She lives in the H of the Hollywood sign for god’s sake.

And yet.

The thing is, LDR wears this mashup of The Twilight Zone and Bewitched a hell of a lot better than the crumpled Blue Velvet, which has long since faded to tedious, dull grey.

In actually embracing and outing the full-on artifice and fiction of the whole Lana Del Rey character, maybe she’s finally found a way to make it fun once again. Here’s hoping.

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