Lana Del Rey: Playing on Prefix

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Like the Hollywood Golden Age starlets from whom she draws inspiration, Lana Del Rey adopted a self-styled glamorous persona in order to kickstart what promises to be a really rewarding career.

Only a few years ago, she was Lizzy Grant from Lake Placid in upstate New York, moving to the big city to start a career under the more-elegant pseudonym Lana Del Ray (she later swapped the “a” with an “e”). She released her debut “Kill Kill” at the beginning of 2010, but it wasn’t until this summer that she captured the internet’s slippery attention with three excellent songs.

Del Rey’s cultivated an entire aesthetic to accompany her music, videos being the chief component. Even in an age where music videos are waning a bit in perceived importance, these carefully curated visuals are an integral supplement to the songs.

Each video is a carefully curated compilation of pop culture ephemera, snippets of film noir movies taking up residence next to Warner Brothers cartoons, sandwiched between old home movies. The snippets seem to be mostly selected for their literal reference to the lyrics in the songs, a tactic that sounds super ham-fisted but works much better than you’d think. And the strategically-placed Veronica Lake and Jessica Rabbit clips are an apt fit for “Kinda Outta Luck“‘s brassy attitude and girl group chants.

Diet Mountain Dew is the fluffiest of these three tracks, and the one that most eschews vintage stylings in favor of modern production styles. True to the song’s highly caffeinated, Yellow #5-addled namesake, it begins with the line “you’re no good for me” — and features a catchy chorus over a beat that channels trip-hop.

Of her three new tracks, “Video Games” is hands-down the most mature, fully-realized expression of Del Rey’s talents and aesthetic — and a perfect showcase for her smoky voice. The video for “Video Games” is as arresting as the song, a perfect complement to the sound that Del Rey herself termed “Hollywood sadcore.”

It’s a descriptor that sounds like it might best fit a meek, shallow version of Joan Didion, gazing across the hills with heavily eyelinered, incisive eyes. But in truth, “Games” comes across more like a tech-savvy Lucinda Williams or Chan Marshall tune, sadness and desire filtered through a self-aware lens and spit back as a series of love axioms and femme fatale come-ons.

Millennial pop music has a strange relationship with the past. Even newer artists seem to have their eyes trained backwards rather than forwards, pillaging the archives rather than wiping the slate and starting anew. Certainly someone like Del Rey fits that bill.

But it’s telling that one of her greatest strengths as a songwriter (especially on “Video Games“) is her ability to paint a picture of a situation like a scrapbook: An assemblage of snapshots, presented in chronological order with little commentary, no over-explaining or unnecessary details. It’s something like a participatory experience, where listeners can fill in the blanks or even write their stories into the lyrics. And if you’re going to crib from the past, providing an outlet for a new story is the way to go.

— by Susannah Young