Lana Del Ray leaves Hotel California
Despite various directives from our health commissioners, pop sensation Lana Del Rey has spent the last year traveling. And unlike those curators, she actually likes what most of this country has to offer.
His new album, Chemtrails on the Country Club, is a spiritual successor to 2019 Norman fucking Rockwell!, on which Del Rey lamented the decline of his adopted state, California, and the millions of men seemingly unable to appreciate his boundless affection. If the 19th century refrain was “Go West, young man,” ours could become “Rent a U-Haul before it’s too late.”
Wherever Del Rey goes, heartbreak follows. In “Tulsa Jesus Freak,” she begs her Christian lover to “sing me like a Bible hymn” and tells him, “We should go back to Arkansas.” She’s happy to accommodate her taste for cheap gin if it means an escape from the smog and botox of Los Angeles. (The Tulsa Jesus Freak is probably Sean Larkin, a former police officer who hosted Live DPa COPS scam from the air following the death of George Floyd last summer.)
Won’t a man let Lana love him like a woman and hold him like a baby? This question, as in Del Rey’s previous albums, often drives her to drug addiction or to mythologizing amateur boxers and mystery men in dive bars. Sure, these guys aren’t the most reliable, but at least they’re Men. Good luck finding those on the California coast.
It’s a refrain we’ve heard countless times from Del Rey, and yes, it can be a little exhausting. He’s an “old soul” in the age of Instagram and buttock implants, a cute sentiment that sometimes tires when you consider listening to a celebrity’s boyish issues. If she were a man, she’d be your friend who spends too much money on shoes, holds the door open for every woman he sees, and then complains that no one on Tinder likes nice guys anymore.
But Del Rey is wise enough to recognize that the country’s celebrity culture is driving us all crazy, not just those who can cut the line at hip nightclubs. And that’s where she feels best. His trip out of Los Angeles is an acknowledgment that ordinary people, with their Bibles and low-end booze, may be onto something. Del Rey’s California, with its endless wildfires, smog and narcissism, seems to be the object of divine wrath.
The album’s opening track, the delicate piano ballad “White Dress,” takes the listener back to when Del Rey was a waitress on Long Island, when she felt more honest and free. In her story, being a sex symbol in a small town restaurant is much more liberating than having your picture on the cover of rolling stonesomething young women should think about before creating an OnlyFans account.
Some Del Rey fans and critics are keen to project their own social values onto her and her work. These efforts usually end only halfway. Yes, her belief in the complementary nature of both genders is key to understanding her romantic woes. Yes, much of her work is an implicit rejection of the “girl boss” attitude of contemporary feminism.
A traditional or prudish woman, however, Del Rey is not. She embraces her sexuality in a way that’s more tasteful than Cardi B, but still would make a mid-century nun swoon. For Lana, sex is power. She simply acknowledges that men also have power.
Though she coos about wanting to be left alone, Del Rey apparently relishes the controversy she brings. The title of the album alone, Chemtrails on the Country Club, is a not-so-subtle nod to the kind of conspiracy theorists our government sees as an existential threat to the republic. During one of her early promotional interviews for the album, she expressed sympathy for those who participated in the Capitol Riot.
“I know that’s a long answer, but I think that’s really the most important thing I’ll say in this interview. I think for the people who stormed the Capitol, it’s to dissociated rage,” she told the BBC, before saying she didn’t even think then-President Donald Trump wanted to incite violence. “They want to lash out somewhere, and it’s like we don’t know how to find a way to be wild in our world, and at the same time, the world is so wild.”
Disavowals from music critics were swift, and although Del Rey offered a milquetoast clarification of his comments, his album still climbed to No. 1 on the charts. He’s worth listening to – for his flashes of beauty, sure, but also because Del Rey is one of the few remaining artists who doesn’t hate half the country. His love for America is the source of much of his pain, but luckily for us, it makes for great music too.
Joseph Simonson is a Washington Examiner political journalist.