Lana Del Rey – Ride (Video)

“I was always an unusual girl”.

Lana Del Rey may not be the greatest singer to have emerged in 2012, but she has managed to capture the attention of the collective cultural psyche. Whether she’s in character or not, the artist beneath the projection is set on performing a commentary on the American Dream and its darker undercurrents. Her lyrics are full of it, and her ‘National Anthem’ video took this to new levels. Now, with the same director (Anthony Mandler), and the same concept of accompanying the track with a confessional monologue, she presents the ten minute video clip for ‘Ride’.

The video manages to take the fullest meaning from the simple title of the song. It seems she’s playing a version of herself – someone she’d like us to imagine she might really be. A young girl who once had dreams, but now roams the American highways with bikers; her life spiralling out of control as she attempts to live a purely hedonistic existence, free from the ties of society. She claims her vagabond group desire nothing but ‘to make our lives into a work of art’, conjuring images of the Beats poets and Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece On The Road, which did just that. Allusions to murder and prostitution show that this doesn’t come without sacrifice, and gives strength to the eternal sadness that runs through her music. She seeks comfort in the various men she meets, but whether she’s wandering the city streets, or swinging slowly on a tire in the desert, the enduring tone of this video is loneliness.

The monologue sounds believable – like she’s reading the memoirs of a real person – and it breathes a bit more life into the Lana Del Rey we’ve hardly ever heard speak. ‘I believe in the kindness of strangers’, she confesses – quoting Blanche du Bois from A Streetcar Named Desire; a woman so wrapped up in old America that life in the modern world drives her insane. Lana pitches herself somewhere between this and Laura Palmer, the small town beauty queen gone bad from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

Overall, the speech is just as much a composite as the artist herself. Her entire act is a fusion of cultural references blended together into her own distinct brand of Americana. Largely, it’s nostalgic. She declares finally, ‘I believe in the country America used to be’. This refers to the concept of the frontier, constant exploration of place and thought, and crucially, the creation and recreation of one’s own identity – and that’s something the brains behind Lana Del Rey knows all about.

This piece originally appeared in So So Gay magazine.

Marry The Night

“I’m gonna be a star. You know why? Because I have nothing left to lose.”

Lady Gaga’s new 14 minute epic music video for ‘Marry The Night’ has been unleashed upon us, and it’s the autobiographical tale most people would quite like to hear about: the creation of Gaga. But don’t expect it to be told straight. In her opening voice-over, Gaga tells us that she loathes reality, and staying true to her artistic manifesto, she insists upon a ‘surreal’ telling of her past. That being said, it’s refreshing to finally see such autobiographical material in one of her videos – however veiled it is. Madonna before her also experienced rejection and lived on cereal (cheerios are apparently Gaga’s cheap fuel of choice), but never wanted, or needed to put it into her art – always aspiring, moving forward and never looking back. Gaga on the other hand needs to make this story into art – she needs to exorcise her past.

The video begins as we are allowed to watch Gaga being hospitalised, but she doesn’t quite explain what it was for (or indeed what it represents). You could read into her apparently meaningless dialogue, but it’s not guaranteed that this will hold the answer either. She mocks the fact that she and the nurses are wearing next season Calvin Klein: none of this is real. She appears to have been treated surgically, but she is almost certainly in a psychiatric hospital. As Beethoven’s Symphony Pathetique strikes up, she imagines herself performing ballet in a dark, empty theatre, and it all becomes very Black Swan. Her deranged fellow patients slowly mould into triumphant ballerinas, looking down on her misfortune. She is however, still impeccably dressed in Alexander McQueen.

When the song actually begins around the 9 minute mark, we see her emerging from the wreckage of a car; or, if you will, the wreckage of her former life. Immediately, there are cultural references jumping out from all the familiar places. Her street dancing is reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Thriller’, and a dance class in a gym recreates exact moments from Madonna’s ‘Hung Up’. Indeed when Gaga boasts that she reinvented her clothes using her ‘bedazzler’, she looks every bit the young Ms Ciccone. Still, ‘Marry The Night’ is quite possibly the Gaga video with the least dependence on these kind of references, which almost entirely comprised ‘Paparazzi’ and ‘Telephone’ – her previous forays into long form video. Interestingly, using a story of her own appears to have given her more than enough food for thought.

The final sequence shows her dancing in her old ‘The Fame’ attire, as interjecting scenes show her lugging around her keyboards and creating her distinctive image that seems classic now, only 4 years later. The note we read from her hand at the video’s end says ‘Interscope Records, Hollywood, CA, 4pm’ – the date that would secure her future as an artist. It claims to provide the answer to the puzzle of the video, almost like the famous ‘Rosebud’ at the end of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Perhaps such self-mythologising is premature (it’s certainly indulgent), but like Welles, Gaga is her own greatest inspiration, and self-belief is her greatest weapon. That’s the one thing in this video you can be sure of.

You can watch ‘Marry The Night’ in its entirety on Lady Gaga’s YouTube channel here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cggNqDAtJYU#!