Stars, stripes and serenading the President are all in a day’s work for the 2012′s First Lady of Pop as she delivers another note-worthy all-american visual.
LANA! Just like that little man in the background who shouts her name on practically every song off her album, Lana Del Rey is perhaps this year’s most polarizing new popstar. From indie hyped singer to overnight sensation to THAT SNL performance it’s been a massive rollercoaster for the New York native. Her album and breakthrough single Video Games have both done extremely well but Born to Die (the single) and Blue Jeans have struggled to really get anywhere (besides in the UK) so it’s an awkward crossroads here for her. So many artists have blown up with their debuts only to falter and fade afterwards, Duffy being the most recent example of this in terms of female singers. There have been calls that she’s ‘fake’, ‘manafactured’, ‘can’t sing’, ‘vacuous’ but in fact a lot of these things are either false or wouldn’t have been an issue if she hadn’t come from indie/alt stock who prize the whole world on ‘authenticity’. Where to go, what to do to prove oneself in the harsh world of mainstream…
It seems ironic in some ways then that, for an artist not particularly respected in the USA, that Lana should release National Anthem as her next single – a song completely and utterly adherent to American culture with lines like ‘red white blue is in the sky’, ‘take me to the Hamptons’ and ‘I’m your national anthem, boy put your hands up, give me a standing ovation’. Then again it has some potentially satirical statements in there too (depending on how you want to play it Miss Del Rey) like the gloriously blasé ‘Money is the anthem of success so put on mascara and your party dress’ as if it’s a call to arms for all the wannabe WAGs out there.
Stepping away from her own montage videos and Yoann ‘Woodkid’ Lemoine’s artistic, animal-laden wonders (Born to Die & Blue Jeans), directorial duties go to Anthony Mandler who’s done tons of videos for Rihanna, Starships for Nicki Minaj and Cheryl’s Call My Name. Before you start worrying that we’ll be seeing Lana gyrating on a beach like a deranged ballooned fembot or taking to the sewers for hip-hop dance-offs, I can assure you this seems to be quite a serious affair. Storyline? Well it’s the 60′s JFK and Jackie O template and the Americans will no doubt will be ready to tear her to shreds if it’s anything less than super patriotic and spectacular – 4th of July is coming up after all, she doesn’t want them burning effigies of her for pop treason like we do of Guy Fawkes on Fireworks day here in the UK…
If you’re going to start a video centred around the 1960′s you may as well start it with Happy Birthday Mr President in black and white film grain with the American flag visible in the background. You may as bloomin’ well. Lana smiling and happy but she clearly doesn’t know how all this is all gonna pan out in the end. Poor (DOOMED) starlet. In the stalls there’s A$AP Rocky, the first president to have dreadlocks and grillz. Dope as Will.i.am would say. Incoming the glitchy retro shots of the USA flag a fluttering, the JFK car rolling along the street and flowers (Lana playing hide & seek there) and before you can say ‘DOOMED’ we’re on to the actual song with a lovely bi-racial family snapshot between Lana & Rocky. Aww. The firework noises in the song’s intro on the other hand sound make it sound like there’s a rifle range just out of shot. Not so aww.
What follows is a masterclass of facial expressions from Lana perhaps proving those plastic surgery rumours are far from right (they’re wrong). Filmed to look like family home videos, it’s really quite sweet and affecting when the kids are around – it’s only Rocky who ruins the mood by constantly grabbing Lana’s thighs/bum like a horny teenager. I hoping the kids were too busy eating giant birthday cake to notice… Asides from the happy family life we get to see a few cracks in that glossy veneer courtesy of Lana Del Beehive-on-Rug (who looks more than depressed throughout) and a couple of scenes with just Lana and Rocky on the private yacht where she isn’t the laughing and joking mother she was before. Still, she knows how to work that cigarette & toast combo more than anyone else in the music industry. WERK.
Still torn between hiding amongst the flowers and laying on dead animal rugs, the song finishes and we’re lead slowly via regal yet brooding strings to the moment we all know is coming. People are cheering, The Voice of Lana is emoting, Lana O is smiling in the sunshine, Rocky is a-waving and in one more slo-mo shot of inner thigh grabbing a gunshot goes off. Bam. Done.Lana is stood up in the car, wind in her air, grimacing as The Voice of Lana repeats ‘I loved him, I loved him, I loved him’ over a montage of happy family moments. Usually I’d try and make an unfunny comment about her lips or something but it’s an emotional ending that deserves more than that. Ok it’s not a sob-inducing one but it’s hard to mock something that has been so beautifully crafted and expertly thought out. If anything the last 2 minutes of monologue is the perhaps the best bit of the whole video (and that doesn’t happen very often with extra-long music video – yes, GaGa i’m looking at you).
The first time I watched this I thought ‘meh, she looks pretty’ and then I re-watched it and BAM it clicked. It’s actually really really sad and a truly stunning video (especially the end monologue). It’s the kind of visual that makes me want to put my media-student-analysis hat on and start spouting ideological intent and delving in to human emotions & semantic fields and what not which can only be a good thing. Ok the whole Marilyn Monroe section didn’t really need to be as long as it was and it’s not the whole ‘some 2015 shit’ that A$AP Rocky said it was going to be but that’s because it’s not a forward thinking video – it all about nostalgia, memories, life, love and loss.
It’s an interesting take on an iconic period of history considering the parallels (in some respects) to modern america. I bet if the film grain and deliberately 60′s/70′s attire hadn’t been used, it still would have made sense as a modern day portrayal. Nowhere near as powerful but still it would have been fine. If people have moaned about A$AP taking the JFK role (as a couple have on youtube) then just remember that Obama is president now – it’s a very current portrayal (even if Barack doesn’t waltz about smoking cigars supporting dreadlocks). Del Rey looks phenomenal and her acting is suprisingly accomplished, it’s a role she clearly knows how to play and just as well considering it is THE persona of the whole album.
I preferred the more upbeat demo version of National Anthem originally but I think this video makes the most of the new more forlorn version and bolsters it upwards. It wouldn’t have worked the same with the old version at all and for that Lana should be commended. Will it set the charts alight? Perhaps but probably not considering the Blue Jeans underperformance but if it does provide a breakthrough then it is much deserved. Get ready for the Summertime Sadness video soon but in the meantime, rejoice in a national anthem that everyone can actually remember the words to.