revisit lana del rey’s most american music videos
No one celebrates the USA quite like Lana.
still from 'ride' by lana del rey, via youtube
Lana Del Rey — an artist who meticulously constructs a fantasy world with her own alter ego as a vehicle — is as much of a fan as she is a musician. Much of her discography works as an ode to whichever iconic persona or romanticized scenario she happens to be infatuated with at any given time. Her influences have ranged from Marilyn Monroe to Lou Reed. But a consistent inspiration for Lana — from her early aughts May Jailer catalogue to her most recent work — is America. The New York-raised singer drapes herself in red, white, and blue imagery as often as possible, sometimes literally wearing the Stars and Stripes. She sings often about her patriotic pride, pays homage to Old Hollywood, and even has a song titled "American" with the anthemic chorus "Be young, be dope, be proud/Like an American."
With Lana's forthcoming album Lust for Life only a month away, i-D revisits her most undeniably American music videos.
"Video Games," 2011
Lana Del Rey's breakout music video is saturated with American pop culture references and landmarks. The DIY clip features a doe-eyed Lana lip syncing in between scenes of L.A.'s Chateau Marmont, skateboarding boys, and, of course, multiple American flag shots. Flocks of paparazzi from classic films and TMZ pepper "Video Games," including reels of an inebriated Paz de la Huerta stumbling over herself in a gown. Lana explores her fascination with fame and iconography within the American landscape, and it's just as romantic as it is depressing.
"National Anthem," 2012
"National Anthem" is Lana's most literal interpretation of patriotism. The gorgeous, seven-minute video plays out her obsession with the Kennedys, old-school opulence, and tragic love. Lana is both the mistress — she opens the video with the famed "Happy Birthday Mr. President" Marilyn Monroe number — and the adoring wife, Jackie Kennedy. A$AP Rocky plays JFK, her charismatic husband, family man, and leader of the Free World. The couple picnic with their children, take their boat out on a lake, and party through their preppy summer vacation. The vintage hairstyles and breezy 60s attire of "National Anthem" capture an echelon of American life that informs Lana's style, especially her Born to Die world. It also commemorates a traumatic moment in U.S. history, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in its own, dramatic way.
In her 10-minute short film for "Ride," Lana exercises her bad boy Americana reverie to its fullest extent. Her character, a disillusioned singer and poet who turns tricks on "the open road," goes down a list of stereotypically outsider American pleasures. She rides on the backs of motorcycles, hangs out in sleazy motels with older men, smokes cigarettes in arcades, and throws a bonfire party with outlaws. Even her attire echoes the glamorized country loner she plays — fringe-covered jackets, Daisy Duke cutoffs, cowboy boots, and an oversized Budweiser t-shirt. The iconic Lana shot of her character exalting an American flag in the wind came from this very over-the-top short.
Lana definitely took her creative license a little too far in certain scenes, including the shot in which she wears a Native American headdress while prancing around a fire. When confronted about her offense, she defended her choice, saying it was "an ode to the spirit of dance and freedom." It's disappointing to see a high-profile musician defend the cultural appropriation of indigenous peoples. Then again, what is more American than that?
"West Coast," 2014
Off her Dan Auerbach-produced sophomore album Ultraviolence, Lana's "West Coast" is a black-and-white tribute to California. It's one of her simpler videos, documenting a flirty day on the beach with a few of the boys. This levity is contrasted by a moody convertible car ride through L.A. with American tattoo artist and Sunset Boulevard fixture Mark Mahoney (who also plays her dismissive love interest in "Shades of Cool"). Towards the end, the video devolves into Lana singing in a bright red dress, superimposed over a flaming backdrop of L.A.'s infamous palm trees and Santa Monica Pier's Pacific Wheel.
"Lust for Life," 2017
The witchy, Twilight Zone-esque mood behind Lana's most recent work embodies 1950s American entertainment at its finest. She borrows the vintage, doo-wop style of performance and mixes it with a campy kind of sci-fi that finds The Weeknd singing his falsetto on the Hollywood sign (which, according to her Lust for Life trailer, is now her home). Lighthearted and a little kooky, "Lust for Life" shows us a different side of Lana's beloved USA.
Text Braudie Blais-Billie