Lana Del Rey’s music video for “Shades of Cool”, from her newly released—and wildly anticipated—third studio album Ultraviolence, made its online debut on June 17, 2014. Once gain the enigmatic singer/songwriter has created a mini-masterwork of nostalgia drenched imagery paired with somber lyrics, set to a hypnotic pop fusion ballad of melancholy angst.
To embark on a proper analysis of any creation by Lana Del Rey, one must first understand the eclectic sources she draws upon. Be it through influence, homage, or organic inspiration—the singer and video artist utilizes a tapestry of deep-seeded cultural iconography to deliver her insightful, poetic, brooding, often somber, and yet somehow wildly exhilarating, trademark lyricism.
Take a look at the latest issue of “Maxim” or “FHM” and you will not find anyone else who looks even remotely like Lana. She literally looks—and feels—like she stepped out of 1972. Anyone who is fan of ‘60s and 70’s cinema, especially exploitation cinema, knows that her statuesque beauty, real curves, and haunting gaze of woman who has lived life beyond her years would make her the perfect lead for an Italian Giallo or European art film from that golden era. It is not “Maxim” in 2014 where you will find anyone with Lana’s smoldering “Mad Men” era sexuality, it would be on the cover of “Stag”, “Men’s Epic”, or even “Esquire”—in 1970.
Right alongside ‘60s and early ‘70s cinema, there is heavy dose of classic noir pulp fiction in Lana’s Del Rey’s content, especially the bleak prose of Southern noir. Take a look at the cover artwork of master painter James Avati and you will see imagery the feels like it sprung from the lyrics of a Lana Del Rey song. What makes Lana so special—and a true authentic artist in the auteur sense of the word—is the raw and real emotion she puts into these lyrics and musical performances and videos. We believe she does not just merely know about the people and stories in her songs, but she actually lived them. We believe she had an “old man” (a phrase that had not been used to describe a male significant other—probably since 1972) like those she sings about, or had a love affair with the retro cool guy the camera lingers on in close-up after close-up in the video “Shades of Cool”, (played by celebrity tattoo artist Mark Mahoney).
Which brings us to a third critical component of the Lana Del Rey aesthetic, the way she utilizes the music video. If you are old enough to remember the early days of music video, there was so much excitement about this new form of artistic expression among filmmakers. Yet after that early promise, the format has been squandered as a mere vapid tool to propel record sales with little attempt to create stand-alone work of art worthy of analysis. Yeah, there have been a few exceptions such as “Push It” by Garbage (1998), but there have not been many music videos produced over the years brought up in a film study of short formats.
An analysis of Lana Del Rey’s videos could fill a whole semester’s worth of discussions. Lana established her filmmaking sensibilities from the start, showcasing her now trademark home movie look with the reverential, self-directed masterwork, “Video Games”. Even though the singer/songwriter has since turned over the directing chores to others (Jake Nava directed “Shades of Cool”), Lana is clearly the guiding auteur and creative force behind every frame of nostalgia saturated Kodachrome.
Her use of—and reverence of—old film stocks and movie cameras, only adds to the Lana Del Rey mystique that she is someone who stepped out of the past. The past is always the key, whether a source of pain, empowerment, or escape. In “Shades of Cool” we walk into the past and move throughout the LA streets longing to see that “blue Chevy Malibu” as we gaze into a character and a time the singer aches for—the old man from her past—who despite all of his drinking and drugs and flaws—loved her in a way that shook her soul, inspiring her to write songs and make short films about him.
Amid the chiming guitars, haunting mournful melodies, and soulful soprano gymnastics, Lana Del Rey is a storyteller—a master story teller who creates worlds from he past.