do lana del rey and kanye still have beef?
A Yeezy adjacent line in her new song ‘The Greatest’ has the music world talking.
Last week, Lana del Rey released a double music video for two songs from her forthcoming album, Norman Fucking Rockwell. Comprising of “F*ck It, I Love You” and “The Greatest”, it was the latter song which seemed to really capture the imagination of her fanbase. Many people, myself included, found one line particularly haunting. Towards the end of “The Greatest”, as the music fades out, over desperately sad and quiet guitar strums, Lana murmurs that, “LA’s in flames, it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blonde and gone”.
People took to social media to voice how affecting, or even unnerving, they found the line, despite not quite understanding why. Some interpreted the line as “shade” and rejoiced that she had “ended” Kanye (if this is accurate, then the song has to be the most wistful, poignant diss track ever recorded). Others theorised that the significance of “blonde” relates to Trump’s hair colour, particularly given Kanye had bleached his own when the pair posed for a photo together in 2016. This seems like a bit of a reach -- not least because blonde is a generous descriptor for the scarecrow-yellow of the president’s mop.
Rather than an allusion to Trump or straightforward sass, the line feels more like a eulogy for a failed messiah, as though Kanye disappearing into the Californian desert were a harbinger of the apocalypse. “The Greatest” feels like a torch song for the end of the world, so this would make sense. The song is suffused with images of heat and fire, which is difficult not to interpret in the context of climate change, along with a reference to last year’s nuclear bomb false alarm in Hawaii. Everything about it is elegiac, with Lana listing a litany of things she’s now “missing” while declaring herself “burned out” and “signing off”. “If this is it,” she sings, “I had a ball,” -- which is as healthy an attitude as any to adopt in the face of the imminent destruction of the Earth. It’s not the first time that Lana has used apocalyptic imagery; her very first video for “Video Games”, after all, opened with a shot of a burning, wrecked landscape.
Over the years, a number of critics have positioned Lana as the poet laureate of the impending apocalypse. Last year, Pitchfork writer Jeremy D. Larson tweeted: “in 15 years… Lana Del Rey will be written about as if she soundtracked the collapse of America and I believe she’s aware of this now and writing songs to that effect”. In a 2017 essay in Consequence of Sound, Sasha Geffen wrote that “Lana sings a lullaby for American twilight as we fall asleep in a car that’s about to slip off the road, unsure whether we’ve even been driving.” It’s worth noting that Lana has also been consistently vocal about climate change; in a 2017 Instagram post, she wrote: “Climate change is real my friends. Our future children and our future children’s children’s wellbeing depends on acknowledging that scientists need to be supported and heard.”
It’s unclear, admittedly, how any of this relates to Kanye West. But if you bear this context in mind, then interpreting the “blonde and gone” line as simply the latest instalment in a celebrity feud seems a little reductive. Besides, although there might be bad blood between Kanye and Lana now, this hasn’t always been the case. At Kanye’s wedding to Kim Kardashian, in 2014, Lana performed “Young and Beautiful”, “Summertime Sadness” and “Blue Jeans”. Not only that, apparently she did it for free, telling TMZ: "I would never let a friend pay me to sing at a wedding." Kim is on record as being a huge Lana fan and the feeling’s mutual -- when Kim interviewed her for French fashion magazine L'Officiel, Lana told her, “I really like what you’re doing now… I’m watching you. I’ve got my eye on you”.
If Lana once considered Kanye a friend, that situation changed quite dramatically last year, when the latter outed himself as a Trump supporter via an unaired segment of Saturday Night Live and subsequent Instagram post, replete with MAGA-hat selfie. Lana wasn’t impressed with this, and responded with an Instagram comment: “Trump becoming our president was a loss for the country but your support of him is a loss for the culture. I can only assume you relate to his personality on some level... If you think it’s alright to support someone who believes it’s OK to grab a woman by the pussy just because he’s famous then you need an intervention as much as he does… Message sent with concern that will never be addressed.”
Kanye never responded to this, at least not publicly, but it seems safe to assume that the incident put a chill on their friendship. That said, Lana’s comment had a real ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ vibe. You wouldn’t say that someone becoming a Trump supporter was a ‘loss to the culture’ if you didn’t think that their contribution was worthwhile to begin with, and Lana has spoken before of her respect for Kanye’s music.
In an interview with The New York Times yesterday, Lana was asked whether Kanye had reached out to her regarding his mention in "The Greatest". "Here’s the thing: I don’t want to elicit a response," she told them. "You never feel better for having written something like that. But Kanye just means so much to us." She went on to point out her centrist position, noting that she is "grateful to be in a country where everyone can have their own political views. I’m really not more of a liberal than I am a Republican -- I’m in the middle." Before explaining that what upset her was "the mood and the vibe around, Yo, this man is the greatest! Really? The greatest? It hurt me. Did I have to say anything? No. But it’s more just a line that represents a lot of things."
Ultimately, it’s difficult to say exactly what the ‘Kanye West is blonde and gone’ line represents for Lana. If she told us outright, perhaps we’d find the answer disappointing -- its power lies in its ambiguity, in the multiplicity of meanings it offers. But it feels significant that this song was released in the dying days of the 2010s, particularly when Kanye’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is surely set to top the impending ‘Best of the Decade’ polls. The world is charted on a course to disaster and the great white hope of music has proven to be a disappointment, even to the point of betrayal. “The culture is lit,” Lana sings. How can we interpret this as anything other than crushing sarcasm?