Lana Del Rey Reveals Her Dark Side of ‘Paradise’
The past 15 months have been a whirlwind for the illustrious songstress Lana Del Rey, the New York-native who rose from relative obscurity to worldwide fame after releasing a self-made music video for her hypnotic single “Video Games.” Few emerging artists have produced such polarizing responses from the world of music and pop culture as Del Rey did: from attacks at her authenticity to the media frenzy that followed her performance on SNL, Del Rey had more than her fair share of bumps on the road to stardom.
But Del Rey’s successes have, for the most part, outweighed her trials and tribulations: her debut album as Lana Del Rey – she released an earlier album under her given name Lizzy Grant – has sold over 2.8 million copies worldwide; she received the BRIT Award for “International Breakthrough Act,” the GQ Award for “Woman of the Year,” and a prestigious Ivor Novello award for excellence in music writing; and, most visibly, Del Rey commands a cult-like following of fans (from which I will attempt to extricate myself for the sake of objectivity).
The Paradise Edition represents
more than just a rehash of
Born To Die’s overall message.
In her new EP, Del Rey presents her version of Paradise, which often comes across more like the Fall of Man than the Garden of Eden itself. On The Paradise Edition, Del Rey expands on the themes that dominated the original release of Born To Die, namely the highs and lows of a toxic romance and the exploration and self-discovery that accompanied what Del Rey refers to as her “wilderness years.”
The Paradise Edition, however, represents more than just a rehash of Born To Die’s overall message: interestingly enough, the thematic nature of The Paradise Edition is darker than its predecessor’s, at times painfully so. In Ride, the EP’s emotionally-charged lead single, Del Rey pleadingly sings: “Been trying hard not to get into trouble / but I, I’ve got a war in my mind.” The song reaches its emotional apex when Del Rey proclaims: “I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy.” In this line, her voice, at times low and somnolent, achieves an impressively emotive height that would elicit empathy from even the most cynical of her critics.
As she did on Born To Die, Del Rey draws on more than just her own personal romantic experiences as she croons through the nine tracks on Paradise. Del Rey consistently evokes American imagery and incorporates literary references into her tracks, which, oddly enough, are inextricably linked in her dark version of Paradise. Del Rey’s use of Americana manifests itself most saliently on the L.A.-inspired track entitled – you guessed it – “American.” Over a slow and percussive backdrop, she sings such lines as “Play house, put my favourite record on / Get down, get your crystal method on it” and “Your skin, so golden brown / Be young, be dope, be proud / Just like an American.”
On “Cola,” an exercise in shameless sexual expression containing the provocative line “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola / My eyes are wide like cherry pies,” Del Rey once again purrs patriotic-driven words to her listeners: “I fall asleep with an American flag / I wear my diamonds on Skid Row / I pledge allegiance to my dad / For teaching me everything he knows.”
And yet, her love for
America is, at times, unrequited.
For Del Rey, America and her own sexuality are intimately connected by her own conception of freedom. It’s no coincidence that, in the ten-minute long music video for Ride, Del Rey utters “I believe in the country that America used to be” and “Are you in touch with your darkest fantasies? … I am fucking crazy, but I am free” in the same minute. The freedom so engrained in American culture seems to mirror Del Rey’s personal exploration of her sexual relations, which is why America factors so strongly into her musical themes.
And yet, her love for America is, at times, unrequited: Del Rey has greater success with her European audience than she does with her American one; the media backlash against the singer after her performance on SNL took place largely within the American arena; and she currently has no plans to tour within her own country in the immediate future, although she has a fairly extensive European tour planned. Thus, her reliance on Americana and her reception by the American public seem to contradict each other to some extent.
But contradictions are never too far from Del Rey’s music and, to some extent, the entire artistic persona that is Lana Del Rey. Indeed, it’s telling that on Paradise Del Rey draws directly from American poet Walt Whitman– someone who also frequently explored the themes of American freedom and overt sexuality, and who, at times, got into trouble for doing so. On the hauntingly dark “Body Electric,” taken directly from Whitman’s poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” Del Rey sings: “We don’t need nobody / ‘cause we got each other / or at least I pretend” and “Whitman is my daddy, Monaco’s my bother / Diamonds are my bestest friend / Heaven is my baby, suicide’s her father / Opulence is the end.”
Del Rey is just as conscious of
her contradictions as her critics are.
Wealth and material goods frequently make appearances in Del Rey’s lyrics, as she often vacillates from this material obsession to the simplicity of pure human love (a particular line from “Blue Jeans” comes to mind: “We don’t need no money / we can make it all work.”) Del Rey constantly struggles with this battle and tends to contradict herself as she travels through her albums.
Make no mistake, though: she’s just as conscious of this contradiction as her critics are. It’s all a part of the “war in her mind,” and its complicated appearances in her lyrics are what make Paradise such a fascinating EP. Here, too, we find another link between the tragic vocalist and her literary inspiration: In “Song of Myself,” a poem from the same collection (Leaves of Grass) that gave us “I Sing the Body Electric,” Whitman famously wrote: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then, I contradict myself / I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Ultimately, Paradise triumphs, not in spite of its contradictions, but largely because of them. The EP is an emotional rollercoaster that, quite starkly, explores the addictive relationships (both romantic and material) that, in many cases, we’d rather not discuss publicly. Del Rey’s vision might not be a traditional view of Paradise, but rather one that reflects an artist who is familiar with and who, at times, embraces her inner demons. Paradise, for Del Rey, is true love, no matter how tragic and lethal it may be.