In Defense of Lana Del Rey

“I’ve been a lot of different people, I guess,” controversial chanteuse Lana Del Rey recently told The Fader. Haven’t we all? It’s just that the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant (and May Jailer) has transmogrified in the public eye, while most of us have the luxury of changing in private.

It’s Del Rey’s perceived desire to emerge and reemerge from her jewel-encrusted chrysalis for all to see that’s been a point of contention with the blogeratti. How can a young woman with so many personas – many feared to be constructed by record-label goons – be true to her art? How can anyone enjoy an album called Ultraviolence when it sends such a dire, dopey message to girls of the American Apparel generation?

Frankly, because it’s a darn good piece of work.

“She is the captain of her own ship,” assured Rick Nowels, cowriter of Ultraviolence lead single “West Coast,” in The New York Times. And it’s worth noting that even the most capable of captains second-guess themselves, try new routes, seek consultation from second mates and, yes, make costly mistakes. Those elements comprise the guts of this album. Tales of regret, dozy admiration for bad boys, narcotics-drenched confessionals… Del Rey doesn’t pretend to be strong in the face of very trying situations, whether they are merely stories from a Lolita-type narrator or are the diary entries of Elizabeth Grant.

It’s adult dress-up, and why should we fault her for remaining imaginative in her 20s? The Beatles did it. Madonna did it. Beyonce does it. Are we threatened because Lana is a conventional beauty with a smoky, seductive voice, and pop culture has theoretically matured from awarding cookie-cutter gamine girls the spoils?

We also live in an incredibly meta world, and this looms large in Ultraviolence. Standout “Brooklyn Baby” is kind of a funny song because it probably rings true for a lot of young women in that borough. She purrs about her boyfriend in a band while she sings Lou Reed. “I’ve got feathers in my hair/I get down to beat poetry/My jazz collection’s rare…” It’s almost “Weird Al” Yankovic in Williamsburg. And then she thumbs her nose at detractors: “If you don’t like it, you can beat it!”

Because there are plenty more Lana lovers to back her up. Her concerts are full of swooning devotees brought to tears by her aura. She is their beloved “Sad Girl,” much like misunderstood crooner Fiona Apple was the heralded “Sullen Girl” of the 1990s. She radiates “Shades of Cool,” as one track on the album suggests. Adding to the coolness is the piercing guitar solo that breaks up the ballad, mimicking the distinct throwback style of producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.

Perhaps Ultraviolence will ruffle the feathers of those desiring to be outraged. But for those of us who relish in the nostalgic sounds of Ye-Ye, bloozy heartache and dreamy orchestration, Lana Del Rey’s latest is rapturous.

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