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Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence - Grantland review - plus Shades of Cool and West Coast music videos

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Steven Hyden of Grantland loves Lana Del Rey's new album Ultraviolence:

If there’s one thing we know about Lana Del Rey, it’s this: Whatever we think we know about her is probably wrong.

Take me, for example. Two years ago, I removed myself from all conversations regarding the 21st century’s most famous nightgown enthusiast. I was convinced that Lana Del Rey was essentially an empty vessel for those looking to ruminate on “authenticity,” “identity,” “indie,” “hype,” “feminism,” and/or “Tumblr culture.” Lana Del Rey did for thinkpieces in the early ’10s what Farrah Fawcett did for bedroom posters in the late ’70s. She was reduced to a two-dimensional signifier, and then commodified and multiplied across endless platforms for the self-indulgent whims of others. But for me, there was no there there. Lana Del Rey seemed to require an excessive amount of work on my part as a listener, and I didn’t have the mental energy to supply whatever her music needed to mean something. The conversations she inspired did not interest me; worse, her debut album, Born to Die, was a bore. Why were people arguing about her “realness” when Born to Die’s true failure was one of imagination? To me, that album wasn’t contrived enough. The only questions Born to Die prompted in my mind were (1) Shouldn’t a song called “Diet Mountain Dew” be a lot more fun than this?, and (2) hold up, does this mean Kesha or Andrew W.K. can’t record a song called “Diet Mountain Dew” now?

Looking back, I still believe I was sort of right about this, but also sort of wrong. Del Rey is an empty vessel, as all pop artists are and must be to carry the hopes, fears, theories, and conspiracies the public projects on them. But what Lana Del Rey is, first and foremost, is a set of unresolvable contradictions. She is the thing and also not the thing. Del Rey exists at the nexus between life and death, “real” and “fake,” modern and retro, smart and dumb, earnestness and irony, good and bad taste, aggression and submission, power and powerlessness, “stay away” and “come closer,” twitchy depression and medicated haziness, and I’m sure there are plenty more seemingly opposing poles she transcends. “I want one of two things,” Del Rey told the New York Times last week. “I either want to tell it exactly like the way it was, or I want to envision the future the way I hope it will become. I’m either documenting something or I’m dreaming.” The point is that when you listen to her records, you’re never quite sure which is which, or why you should care.

My mistake two years ago was in thinking that Del Rey wasn’t in control (or aware) of her contradictions. And, truth be told, I’m still not sure she was fully in control of them back then. Born to Die is a clumsy record, and that disastrous Saturday Night Live appearance (the “Beatles on Ed Sullivan”–goes-to-hell moment of the shriveled-up blog-rock era) practically screamed, “I do not know what in the hell I’m doing here.” But that was then: On Del Rey’s stunning sophomore release, Ultraviolence, there’s no doubting the intentionality of her music’s textual and subtextual murk, or the skill with which she navigates her many paradoxes.

Whatever people want to say about Del Rey now, I suspect she’s already anticipated it and conspired to manipulate those reactions in advance. If you’re still convinced that Lana Del Rey is some kind of cold, calculating, fame-hungry harpy,Ultraviolence sardonically confirms this perception on “Fucked My Way Up to the Top,” where said supposed harpy coos quite coldly and hungrily, “I am a dragon, you’re a whore / don’t even know what you’re good for.” If you’re inclined to see Lana Del Rey as a victim in need of rescue from a sea of mean, rockist, cred-obsessed monsters,Ultraviolence has that Lana as well. On “Shades of Cool,” an operatic, Edith Piaf–style ballad about trying to get cool people to like you, a faceless social-media horde is reimagined as an aloof lover.

No matter your perspective going into Ultraviolence, you might finally be able to step back and marvel at how both Lanas (and many more) can exist simultaneouslyYou may also notice that she’s (maybe) a little defter than you realized, and that (maybe) you were suckered into your previously held sense of superiority. Because in order for Lana Del Rey’s art to work, she needs to be either worshiped or hated, though both would be preferable. Her existence doesn’t make sense otherwise. It’s like a boy band being created expressly to play basement shows — with this kind of enterprise you either capture the public’s imagination or you’re history. There’s no middle ground. Had Born to Die not sold 7 million copies worldwide, I assume Lana Del Rey would be a plume of smoke by now.

A devotee of dead pop icons, Del Rey has crafted Ultraviolence as a preemptive eulogy for a life of awesomely alluring spiritual corruption. It’s very dark and somewhat (and somewhat not) disapproving of its own decadence. (For those who found Yeezus to be irredeemably sexist, Ultraviolence is your #truedetectiveseason2 with a strong female character in the lead.) The album’s triumph is that, unlike Born to Die, it doesn’t just allude to things you like (or find maddening) about trashy showbiz autobiographies and old Behind the Music episodes, but also marks the culmination of a long-germinating signature aesthetic. Love it or hate it, Ultraviolence is unmistakably Lana Del Reyesque.

Lana Del Rey knows what she's doing.

Shades of Cool:

West Coast:

Ultraviolence (audio only):

Lana Del Rey has won the Billboard 200selling 182,000 copies ofUltraviolence. That’s the best sales week for a female artist since 310,000Beyoncés were bought in the last week of December 2013. Despite the love-buzz/hate-buzz that swarmed LDR when she first blew up, 2012′s Born to Die debuted at no. 2 with 77,000 copies. Additionally interesting, and apparently unusual: “Ultraviolence captures the no. 1 slot even though Del Rey hasn’t performed on American TV in more than two years.”


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