Del Rey is coming to terms with the delusions that filled her old music, delusions that worshiped unlimited freedom, relentless accumulation, and violent men; and which, arguably, are also sources of some of America's modern chaos.
Lana Del Rey has always been an expert at crafting her own dreamy visions of America.
Suspended somewhere between the 1960s and a parallel dimension full of hazy glamour shots, flowing cash, and swaying palm trees, her vision of America has never really existed, but that didn't stop Del Rey from ingraining it in the minds of an entire generation.
Image via The Ringer
On her latest single, "Looking for America," it seems that Del Rey is finally coming to terms with the insubstantiality of the patriotic spirit she's worshiped for so long. The song first appeared as a live iPhone recording on August 5th, then emerged on Spotify last night.
Lana Del Rey - Looking For America (New Song) www.youtube.com
But this isn't the first moment of clarity she's offered us. On the song "Get Free" from Lust For Life, she sang, "There's no more chasing rainbows / And hoping for an end to them / Their arches are illusions / Solid at first glance / But then you try to touch them / There's nothing to hold on to / The colors used to lure you in / And put you in a trance."
Lana Del Rey - Get Free (Official Audio) www.youtube.com
She might as well have been singing about the effects of her own music, which arguably inspired a generation of "sad girl" musicians and wannabes who, lost together in their melancholy, became enchanted by the allure of a submissive mindset that sometimes glorified death and abuse (though wasn't without its own redemptive feminist qualities). Now, on "Looking for America," Del Rey is applying her newfound clarity to the American Dream that she glorified heavily in her early work. She has a number of songs about America and, particularly, her thirst for 1960s Woodstock Americana. Her love songs to the U.S.A. ranged from "JFK," written during her Lizzy Grant days, to "American" and "National Anthem" from Born to Die; and even Lust For Life came as close to protest music as any album from that year, though it still danced around the point.
Now, on "Looking for America," she's abandoning even those dreams and seems to finally look the here-and-now head-on. At one point, she even mentions her hometown of Lake Placid, the place she's spent most of her life running away from (she was estranged from her family for years), making the song feel close to full-circle.
Lana Del Rey - Looking For America (Audio) youtu.be
Pitting her soft vocals above gentle, finger-picked electric guitar, she still can't resist a bit of nostalgia. "I used to go to drive-ins and listen to the blues," she sings, "so many things I used to do that I think twice about, now." Seeing that her earlier music used to glorify things a lot more innocuous than going to drive-ins, this feels like a revelation.
The real power comes in the chorus, though. "I'm still looking for my own version of America," she sings, "One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly." Del Rey wrote the song in the week after two deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and its release coincides with another shooting on a Houston freeway that killed two people. It arrives in a world where other nations are releasing advisories telling their citizens not to travel to America due to the frequency of gun violence in the land of the free.
Many of Del Rey's earlier songs glorified firearms, drugs, and complete, unadulterated liberty, so "Looking for America" is an almost complete departure from those wilderness years.
Still, in spite of everything, it maintains the atmosphere of seductive longing that's always defined Del Rey's music. After all, it is about a dream of a very different world than the one we live in—a world where we "only worry about [the children] after dark," she sings. In its desire for something unreal, it's more true to the spirit of Lana Del Rey than ever.
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Sincere, vulnerable, and seductive.
Australian DIY pop artist Airports, AKA Aaron Lee, releases "U FEEL IT 2," following on the heels of his dreamy lo-fi banger, "Don't Sleep Anymore."
Aaron explains the double entendre of the song, "It started out being written as a song about a haunting relationship with depression in contrast to uplifting music, but when some of the lyrics started to spill out I realized I was also writing about positive romantic feelings for my partner." Featuring bleeding synths, blushing harmonies, and Aaron's velvety falsetto, "U FEEL IT 2" is a perfect summer anthem.
U Feel It 2
Megan Thee Stallion told us it's hot girl summer, but what happens when you're not hot?
If you haven't heard, we're in the midst of Hot Girl Summer.
The term was coined by rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who created an alter ego named "Hot Girl Meg" to accompany the release of her debut mixtape, Fever. Following its release on May 17, the term "hot girl" quickly took off online, becoming a symbol of a metamorphosis into an upgraded, more confident version of oneself.
Stallion later elaborated on the phrase's connotations, clarifying that it was meant to be gender-neutral. "So it's just basically about women and men being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up your friends, doing you, not giving a damn about what nobody gotta say about it," she said. "You definitely have to be a person that could be like the life of the party, and … you know, just a bad bitch."
In typical Internet fashion, the term's message of carefree hyper-sexual-liberation didn't hold up for long against the online world's nihilistic bend. Quickly, Hot Girl Summer memes—those quiet, wry expressions of our online collective consciousness—began cropping up. Though many of them featured photos of people celebrating their own radiant auras, more lamented the failure of Hot Girl Summer, revealing the disappointment lingering just beneath the the term's glossy surface. Refracted through memes, the phrase revealed its own fragility: "me tweeting 'hot girl summer' and then sitting in my room texting 'haha hey what r u doin'" read one. Another, more sobering message: "who was I kidding? I was never meant to have a hot girl summer lmaooo likeee I'm too loving." Another: "how am I supposed to have a hot girl summer with $5?"
Apparently, "hot girl summer" can be shattered by a sad album, or by falling in love.
Sure enough, "hot girl summer" has become a polarizing term that feels liberating for some but promises much to others while actually exacerbating their own self-consciousness and uncertainty.
Predictably, several weeks after Megan Thee Stallion set Hot Girl Summer into motion, Lana Del Rey's 2012 hit "Summertime Sadness" returned to the charts.
"Summertime Sadness" offers a marked alternative to the "hot girl" way of life. While "hot girl summer" connotes unconditional self-love and radical abandon, "summertime sadness" permits languorous hours lying beneath one's fan, mourning anything: the state of the world, one's love life, or lack of funds. "Hot girl summer" is exuberant, brash, performative. "Summertime Sadness" is depressed, tongue-in-cheek, firmly planted in the shade. If "hot girl summer" embodies the untouchable glam of stars of the early aughts, like Britney and Beyoncé, "summertime sadness" is the domain of Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Halsey, and their decidedly anti-pop ethos.
Together, these two divergent summertime pathways highlight a contrast that is very specific to the Internet. The online sphere thrives on polarization, and often a single scroll through recent posts reveals both performative ecstasy and equally performative, exaggerated depressive sentiments. The Internet has always thrived on these kinds of contrasts, as by nature it is well-suited to black-and-white thinking. People are either "cancelled" or deified. There is no such thing as "neutral" or "middle-of-the-road." One is either perpetually bikini-clad and living out a Hot Girl Summer or fully surrendering to the rip tide of summertime sadness. There is no in between.
In reality, however, sharp binaries rarely hold up when they exit the screen and join the equally chaotic but much less starkly divided corporeal world. Both Hot Girl Summer and "summertime sadness" are aesthetically beautiful in the conceptual realm; both begin to glitch when used as blueprints for how to live.
After all, no human is capable of existing in a perpetual state of Hot Girl Summer—not even the bikini models, LA hustlers, and influencers whose online profiles embody the term, but who have quietly and consistently spoken out about the falsity, emptiness, and depression that tends to accompany their professions.
Similarly, not even the Internet's self-proclaimed sad girls exist in a perpetual, stagnant state of summertime sadness. When that sadness does arise, it is rarely of the languorous, vintage-styled sort that Del Rey's early career promoted. In this, "summertime sadness" is equally as hollow and ephemeral as Hot Girl Summer.
Lana Del Rey - Summertime Sadness (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Viewed this way, the two terms are far more similar than they initially seem. They are both designed to be surreal and cartoonishly dramatic. They both advocate for not really caring about anything, yet somehow simultaneously promote an all-consuming fixation on oneself.
In this, they both reflect social media as a whole. For all of the ways it promises to connect us, social media has become an echo chamber through which we perform and obsess over fixed, simplified, and ultimately nonexistent versions of ourselves."Hot girl summer" is about being single, feeling fantastic, and not giving a f*ck all at the same time; it connotes billboards, consumption, sugar, perma-smiles. "Summertime sadness" is about languishing inside one's own brain, clinging to a lost love, passively accepting a jaded worldview.
Still, both "hot girl summer" and "summertime sadness" have a time and a place, and they each make for great Instagram captions—but neither should suffice as a permanent way to spend one's summer months. Whereas the Internet thrives on isolated circuits of people with similar views, all-encompassing labels, and quick fixes, real life is far more defined by monotonous repetition, complex relationships, and murky questions that lack definitive answers.
In this corporeal reality, no one is a brand. No influencer is solely comprised of makeup and white teeth; most fitness models have cheat days; most online spiritual coaches don't constantly emanate love and incense; and most managers of depression meme accounts do not spend all of their time lying on piles of rotting pizza and dirty clothes (hopefully).
But it's only July; many summer nights still stretch out before us. When we find ourselves at the impasse between Hot Girl Summer and summertime sadness, perhaps we don't have to choose either path. Maybe we can make peace with the fact that we all have a little of both within us.
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