The chanteuse is back. Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, Lana Del Rey’s ninth album, arrived on March 24. It’s a lush, dreamy voyage through said tunnel, one best listened to on vinyl, but not one that doesn’t pose questions about life, love and how Del Rey found said tunnel.
Del Rey herself also causes people, specifically men, to ask questions, and not just about life, love and tunnels. One of those questions, put forth by a young heretic, was not so existential, but instead a plea for understanding, specifically about Lana’s appeal. It read, “It is once again time for me to ask that heterosexual conservative men please explain lana del ray to me.”
One obvious answer is that Del Rey is “everything straight men idolize about the sultry sex queen tradition of the American Pacific, a sweet sad California golden sunburnt lover wrapped in an American flag who tastes like cigarettes and broken dreams.” Also, it doesn’t hurt that she looks like this:
Those things are a large part of it. There’s a reason that upon the release of Lust for Life some years ago that I joked that it’s more like Lana Del Bae than Lana Del Rey, even if no one remembers what “bae” stood for anymore. There’s also more to it, though.
If we want to pretend her appeal has anything to do with conservative politics, specifically, it’s mostly that she isn’t a doctrinaire modern liberal, but more of an old school one. There are also her forays into independent thought, ones that don’t properly take identity politics into consideration, among other transgressions. And she’s not exactly an activist, particularly on issues that conservatives, heterosexual or otherwise, are bothered by. Maybe there are some out there who are opposed to people having running water, I suppose, though she hasn’t taken heat for that stance, yet.
But when it comes to sun-drenched heartbreak, and the downsides of modernity, she is the embodiment of the destructive nature of the id, even when we think the ego is in charge. She isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, to be fragilely feminine, to admit that things aren’t always awesome when the id takes over. “A&W,” from Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel, at first blush seems a lament for women writ large. Used and cast off, she speaks for a generation.
At least, that’s what I thought, until listening to the song with my fifteen-year-old, who informed me that Del Rey had a boyfriend who got engaged to another woman while they were together. Alas, that story seems to be one of those too perfect internet rumors, easily rebutted by the fact that the couple wasn’t especially camera shy. On the other hand, she did put up only one billboard for Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel. It was in the former lover’s hometown — so maybe Reddit posters had a point and she’s speaking for herself rather than a group, which would be normal for the singer.
That heartbreak, those moments of raw honesty that center on herself instead of an identity group, are her appeal. Women want to be her. Men want to be with her. She is the spirit of American possibility, independence, resilience. She is the pin-up singer who is most definitely still a woman in an age when people struggle to define what a woman is.
She is the quaint, if self-assuredly salty, throwback to an age in which people dreamed of waking from defeat and moving toward conquest rather than retreat. She is an individual. She is a singularity. She is a woman in full. She is tranquil. Nothing you can give her will make her surrender her freedom. And in the modern age, is there anything more alluring?