I follow Lana Del Rey on twitter. It’s because as discussed before, I like her, and I think she’s interesting. She doesn’t say much there.
Last week she put up a link to her new video. The video is for the song National Anthem.
I said to Kat, I’m a little embarrassed by how clever I think it is. I think it uses existing iconic imagery (the Kennedys and their showbiz circle) to construct a multi-dimensional support for a(nother) song about a relationship in peril; I think it’s a pretty excellent example of semiotic re-appropriation. This is about as far as you can get from gratuitous referencing!
As writing, I haven’t looked up anybody’s else’s analysis yet. If I do mine will get clogged up (I just finished and I am off on a hunt. So far, only something on tumblr relating the song to one of her ex-boyfriends and the video to another, with this up next..).
The video starts: Lana is onstage, her hair is a terrific curtain of great weight. She’s singing Marilyn’s Happy Birthday Mr President; a man (A$AP Rocky, I learn) smiles from the dark and you can tell she’s singing to him. He’s black; he has a modern detailed hairstyle but he’s filmed and dressed like king of the Rat Pack. The “but” happens because in filmed fiction today, men with the hairstyle he has are extremely uncommon in white media, outside of a gangsta context. So that’s the first real success of the video: a modern-looking black man who is, if he’s anything naughty, a gangster. Class discussions to be had, racism discussions to be had. In this video, JFK is black. Commentary about modern black role models doing iconic, wondrous things for those they inspire despite possibly shady background dealings but not getting the same mainstream adulation as Mr Rich White F-for-family Kennedy? Commentary about commentary on Michelle Obama’s hairstyle?
Next: Lana is Jackie. But– Lana was just Marilyn! So in this case, in the song-world, this is a first-look better relationship than the Jackie/JFK one; if the woman singing is wife AND mistress then there’s a rounder health to their partnership. He loves her domestically and wildly, she’s virgin and whore. Cheating, or whatever voter-pleasing arrangement Mr Kennedy and Ms O had, won’t be a problem in this relationship.
Which is a theme, actually, from Lana Del Rey. None of her singles have featured cheating – they’ve been about a more basic relationship failure. She never blames anything on outside sources, there are no bitch ex-girlfriends or girls who wear short skirts whilst Lana wears a t-shirt (not her style). When things go wrong in Video Games or Born to Die or National Anthem it’s about “I” and “you”, or “I” and “he”.
It’s the same again here. The song holds a general sense of unease and the video ends with the assassination: a symbolic point of no return. Maybe she’s genuiely singing about a woman who lost her love to death and maybe she’s not – either way it really, really works. If it’s for someone caught in the oh-god-no of tough love times by bereavement then that’s fine compassion and if it’s for someone who can just see or feel that they can’t get back to when the love was good.. that’s no less important a story.
A relationship can fail or tail off or feel like it is or could on its own terms, and that hurts. Or on the flip side, placing “cheating” as the first or only sign of trouble is a poor public model for romantic relationships. Some songs make that point, but how many use a video to construct it in such a lush way? By using the american-mythological Kennedy/Jackie/Marilyn triangle and then immediately demolishing it we’re DIRECTLY told no, it’s not always all about cheating. Using the Kennedy assassination to unhappy-ending the relationship without closure was smart because it’s one of the only public deaths available that is so much not about ‘one man dying’. I live in England, and I have heard “The Kennedy Assassination was the end of America’s whatever” like ONE MILLION TIMES. Picture an average music video where the boyfriend dies in the middle of a troubling time. It’s shit, isn’t it? Everyone’s weeping and clinging, and it’s all fake-fairytale glittery-dark, and the singer’s voice is sobbing and we all roll our eyes. Symbolism, dude. It always wins.
Of course, it works that much better because LDR is already spinning that dark 60s vibe, “gangster(or was it gangsta?) Nancy Sinatra” self-comparisons and all.
Somthing that doesn’t scream I’m an image full of secrets but does really appeal to me is the inclusion of all the shots of Lana + children. Carrying wee offspring about, wearing shorts and silk blouses, always languid and elegant but appearing genuinely maternal. It’s grown-up, is what it is – it’s so easy to forget these days that we are all ADULTS, you know? Maybe that is part of the symbolism; the Lana Del Rey approach to sorting out your feelings about boyfriends is to confront, consider and take responsibility for. Going out of your way to be gracious about a break-up is good advice that we-as-a-culture don’t often get. We love juvenile nonsense.
At the start of the video she has her hands all over her husband’s (actually – I didn’t check for rings) knees. At the end, his are on her’s. Think gender roles. At the start it’s establishing a relationship where people think the world of each other but at the end we’ve heard the whole doom-laden song and we know she’s not completely happy with some of the social goals in play. A black man doesn’t have white privilege and a white woman doesn’t have male privilege, but when the man is also the president he maybe has the handle on the public power relationship. SO: His status is keeping her clutched? Social demands are keeping her clutched? To him, or to the role she’s expected to play? Or is he clinging to her despite the way that everyday demands are prizing them apart?
Is the song specifically about an inter-racial relationship? If it isn’t, what does it mean that it chose to use one in the video? Is it identity theft, using a black/white relationship to write large the ways that adult relationships can be hard? Is it progressive to make the point that inter-racial relationships can a) be wonderful and b) hard? Am I missing all sorts of points and talking out of turn because I have never been in one?
The children in this video are so cuuuute, and I appreciate so keenly that Lana-Jackie wears goldenrod instead of pink. Such a better idea than straight interpretation.
I really want to read an analysis of this video from someone with a much greater familiarity with “how America show(s/ed) black people”.
I just read on tumblr that “lana del reys ‘national anthem’ video is the shit hipsters dream of”..
Whatever. Sign me up to the hipster list. I love looking for clues!