There is always controversy surrounding the sultry singer Lana Del Rey. Recently she remarked, “I wish I was already dead” in a recent interview, sparking concern for her well-being. However, Lana Del Rey may be more in control of her career and her life than most think. Del Rey is marketing herself in a way that keeps fans mesmerized, with her melancholy patriotism, her controversial love-stories featured in her music videos, and her dubious previous identity in the music industry, “Lizzy Grant.” In many ways, Lana Del Rey represents a new brand of the American dream. Every video she creates is quintessentially American. Her National Anthem video where she plays the first lady and visually references to Jackie O is a primary example of her American brand. In her Ride video, she is shown brandishing an American flag, and even wearing a Native American headdress. The cultural appropriation of Native American garb is very much an unfortunate part of American history, and Del Rey grabs onto it, leaving no trace of “American-ness” behind. Her famous Born to Die video features Del Rey with a love interest in front of an American flag. The shot then switches to Del Rey sitting in a church-like setting.
Del Rey even has a song called American Dream, where she references famous American entertainment icons, such as Bruce Springstein and Elvis Presley. In the song Without You, one of the lyrics reads, “Live on the dark side of the American dream.” Del Rey is presenting a new brand of American dream, one that references icons of America’s past, such as cars, American flags, Jesus, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe, but at the same time embraces the darker side of all the American dream as a whole. Cars are killing the environment, Elvis died on the toilet, Monroe was severely depressed and died young. Del Rey is tapping into the benevolent and malevolent aspects of American pop culture iconography. It is the irony of these iconic events that Del Rey evokes. In an interview about her latest song, Money, Power, and Glory, she remarked, “I learned that whatever I did elicited an opposite response, so I’m sure “Money, Power, Glory” will actually resonate with people as being what I really do want. I already know what’s coming, so it’s O.K. to explore irony and bitterness.” Her nostalgia for the American pop culture branding of the past mixed with a sense of “irony and bitterness” is exactly what keeps Lana Del Rey interesting and in the public eye.
Lana Del Rey’s new brand of American dream also resonates with her upbringing as an artist. At one time, Del Rey was Lizzy Grant, a girl with bleach blonde hair who loved coney island. She started in the industry marketed as a mainstream star. When that did not launch her music into the public eye, Del Rey mysteriously re-invented herself (or was perhaps mysteriously re-invented by record producers). Lizzy Grant became Lana Del Rey, a sultry brunette with an alternative persona, low voice, and significantly larger lips. This image change allowed Del Rey to soar to the top of the charts and finally take off as a singer. Del Rey herself is an example of the American dream. She was a girl looking to make it as a singer, and had to commodify and re-invent herself in order to do so.
Del Rey’s comment, “I wish I was already dead” is interesting in light of the iconic American entertainers who died young. James Dean, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Buddy Holly are just a few American icons who are forever young in the public eye because of their early deaths. If she is branding herself as a darker side of the American dream, the comment puts Del Rey in the same conceptual category as these famous icons.
By Louise Webster