By Katie Olson
When Lana Del Rey’s music video for “Video Games” started gaining momentum in the summer of 2011, people weren’t sure what to do. There she was, dancing and swaying across the worlds’ computer screens, crooning about adolescent entertainment and beer. Viewers didn’t know if they should hate her, love her, criticize her, or do none of the above. They also didn’t know that it was the perfect time for Del Rey’s popularity to bloom, and that she would be a full blown pop star within the next year.
But how? How did a woman who was otherwise unknown, whose self-titled album was pulled from iTunes because the independent label who produced it couldn’t fund it, become a household name? Music industry gurus, record heads, and music journalists have a myriad of reasons, but there are a few specifics that stick out.
Del Rey is an enigma. She isn’t a mystery in the way that some celebrities have vines completely covering their homes in the Hollywood Hills, or in the way that some choose to only date lead singers.
Del Rey is enigmatic in the simplest sense of the word. Her engagement was kept a secret, she writes all of the monologues that are performed in her music videos, her set at Coachella wasn’t streamed anywhere online, and hardly any of her interviews overlap in information, no matter how similar the topic.
When you think about the web of female pop stars, most of them can be accurately pin pointed or described in just a couple of words. Ariana Grande? Girly and sweet. Pink? Bold and certain. Miley Cyrus? Daring. Lady Gaga can always be counted on to shock an audience. Even more, many of these pop stars are interchangeable. Katy Perry could sing a Britney Spears song. Kesha could perform a song that was written for Rihanna. But Del Rey doesn’t quite fit into this rotation.
In her short film, Tropico, released last December, Del Rey illustrates perfectly and quite literally her enigmatic character. In the first scene, she plays the role of Marilyn Monroe, amongst Elvis and John Wayne impersonators. Then the film leads into a scene in the Garden of Eden, where the singer is strolling around nude, save for some plant life, eventually joining her Adam. Throughout the following minutes, Del Rey acts as a pole dancer, a “chola,” and returns to what viewers can grasp as her “normal self” for the last scene. Selena Gomez couldn’t take Del Rey’s place in Tropico and make it feel natural. Neither could Iggy Azalea, Lorde, or Christina Aguilera.
Secondly, Del Rey explores many different societal taboos in her array of music videos. Repeatedly, she returned to the theme of dating older men, most prominently displayed in the video for “Ride”. The opening monologue states, “I was in the winter of my life, and the men I met along the road were my only summer.” The video then shows Del Rey on the backs of motorcycles, with her arms wrapped around the beer bellies of men who are twice her age, if not older. In the music video for “National Anthem”, Del Rey stages popular rapper A$AP Rocky as former president JFK. In many of her unreleased songs that have leaked on YouTube, a daddy fetish becomes an expected song trait, crooning repeatedly about men taking care of her.
Also, where other female performers have a set career timeline that looks somewhat like release a single, climb radio charts, release an album, perform a couple shows in Los Angeles, release another single, announce North American tour, and so on, Del Rey has not conformed. The singer has just announced her first full tour, after three album releases, countless festival appearances, and a handful of red carpet debuts.
As her fame has increased in large increments throughout the past three years, Del Rey’s artistic endeavors have remained consistent. The original “Video Games” music video mirrors the same homemade, film grain-laden music video for “Summer Wine” even though the videos were released two years apart.
This is something that is rarely seen, because popular record labels begin to mold their newly signed artists into a certain image that will make them successful. Del Rey seems to have held onto the same aesthetic throughout her career. Something about her delightful ignorance of Hollywood’s stereotypes makes her seem unpredictable and almost aloof, but in the best way.
There is something about Del Rey, something in her demeanor, that no one else in popular culture has. By now, people have formed their opinions, making up their minds that she’s “too out there,” “not enough,” or “just another fame crazed pop star,” among many other titles. But none of that can change the fact that Del Rey is one of the most successful performers, and yet, no one knows exactly how to describe her or predict what she’ll do next.
See for yourself:
Del Rey released the music video for her latest single, “West Coast”, today. Click here to watch it.