American pop-singer and object of curiosity Lana Del Rey yesterday revealed the video of her new single: National Anthem, the fourth extract of her worldwide successful second album, Born To Die. She pictures Jackie Kennedy, yet this time married to a black-skinned John, thus spreading a controversy on the Web.
If some of you remember, I previously confessed my mixed feelings about Lana del Rey. The rumors about her having some collagen injected in her upper lip, the suspicion about her authenticity, many thinking she is a marketing product manipulated by her record label, and so on.
Most importantly, I was skeptical about Born To Die and its unequal quality. Some tracks drove me crazy-in a good, fanatic way, such as Born To Die, Video Games and Radio. While some others, such as National Anthem and This Is What Makes Us Girls, made me want to throw my beloved Mac through the window. I blamed the lyrics for being utterly restrictive about what makes an interesting and valuable life for Lana del Rey : money, fame, beauty. In the latter, I thought she was caricaturing women as vile, greedy, artificial creatures, living to live the Hollywood dream. Which has the potential to make steam go out of my ears.
Yet, how surprising as it can be, the video made me fall in love with the song, and I now see it from a different perspective. After watching it for, like, 5 times in a row (don’t judge me, I am on holidays, and writing on this blog is the most productive thing I can come up with at the moment), many new considerations overwhelmed me.
What stroke me first -as all of you I guess- was the fact that a black Kennedy is pictured. Contrary to some people whose opinion you can read in the video’s comments, I was not shocked. On the contrary, I thought it was brilliant. The video would have lost all of its savor if it had not differed from history. And by differing from it, it shows us very violently how it is : public power remained for a long time the privilege of the WASPS in the yet multi-racial American society. And still does extensively. That’s what really make it controversial : by differing from reality, it denounces it.
However, at the same time, and this is also what makes it special, it truly shows American society, understood as the alpha-Western society, as it is : driven by desire. Desire in all its divine and evil forms : money (the President smoking cigars, wearing expensive jewelry, playing poker, the family living the great life), sex (many ambiguous scenes between the couple), fame (the couple smiling to the crowd, organizing big parties), and of course, power.
When Lana sings “Money is the reason why we exist/Everybody knows it/It’s a fact/Kiss,kiss”, you can see in her obvious look that she truly believes it. She shakes her shoulder in a slight blasé movement. It is, indeed, a fact. Most of us live in capitalist societies, organized through the wild rules of money. The long economic crisis that we have encountered is the proof that people want more than they can have, or worst, need, loosing their marks in front of the implacable and never-ending demands of the consumption society.
Yet, the Kennedys have been the first American presidential family to abide to political communication’s rules, and maybe the furthest. Everybody remembers the sweet smiles and elegant silhouette of Jackie in every public appearance, and the historic picture of their son playing under his father’s White House’s desk. In the video, no secret is made about their wealthy condition, thus breaking a long-time hypocrisy that tends to make politics schizophrenic.
Lana embodies this cliché of the material, self-centered girl who remains dreamy about the perfect love (“Do you know who you’re dealing with ?/Um, do you think you’ll buy me lots of diamonds ?”) and she knows it. More than that, she assumes it. She manages to capture all that seems “wrong” in modern Western society, and packs it in her songs. She is not the first to do so, of course. With this particularity, she reminds me more of bling-bling rap artists rather than pop, variety ones, who tend either to reject society in its entirety, or focus on what is positive about it. Lana embraces it in all its darkest sides. And I think it requires quite a lot of courage.
In the end, while listening to Lana’s speech -which, I guess, must be a kind of interview she would have given after her husband’s murder- you understand that what matters in the end was their love, maybe even more than the family they shared. Does it mean that love eventually knocks money and all its artificial promises down ?