Flower children, flying cars and unexpected optimism – Lana Del Rey’s ‘Love’ offers a moment of respite from the chaotic world around us
“Love”. Initially, this seems an unsurprising title for a Lana Del Rey single – she has, after all, created an alarmingly consistent discography based around explorations of love, ranging from devastatingly bittersweet to violent and dysfunctional (the most divisive example of which came when she referenced The Crystals’ lyric, “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”). Del Rey’s latest release, however, alludes to the potential of today’s generation and the purity of young love, one seemingly untainted by cynicism. The accompanying video, released earlier this week, is typically ethereal: not only is there a flying car, there’s another scene which sees the ‘kids’ referenced in the lyrics climbing over alien terrain. She even smiles! It’s a far cry from the aesthetic fans have come to expect from the star, one which saw her become a pioneer of ‘Hollywood sadcore’ and led to media speculation surrounding her mental health.
Contextually, it seems unusual that Lana Del Rey would choose 2017 as the year to release one of the most pure, optimistic tracks of her career. The election of Donald Trump has sparked a wave of global activism that has quickly filtered down onto runways, television screens, and even into press releases. Brands are slowly realising that not only can they profit from politics (think expensive merchandise emblazoned with activist slogans), consumers looking to invest their money in companies that share similar views often want them to disclose their political beliefs.
“Del Rey’s latest release... alludes to the potential of today’s generation and the purity of young love”
Even musicians aren’t exempt from this political imperative, a fact proven by Lady Gaga’s recent Superbowl performance. Given that this was a woman who spent the last year protesting Trump and advocating for political awareness online, many were ready and willing to dissect the political references of her performances. Responses were mixed – some were thrilled with a spectacular performance of her greatest hits (as well as a jump that quickly became one of the year’s best memes), while others laughed off the fact she didn’t emerge atop a life-size unicorn brandishing a ‘Fuck Trump’ sign or, you know, summon Satan.
Some Twitter users indicated that they were similarly expectant of Lana Del Rey. The song is, after all, called “Love” – many assumed that the video would therefore include a same-sex couple, still a depressing rarity in mainstream pop videos. There were no literal references to inclusion, but there were distinct references to the ‘free love’ movement and, more specifically, nods to the 1960s ‘flower children’ in the daisies threaded throughout Del Rey’s hair.
One of that decade’s most iconic moments came in the form of the 1967 protest that saw 75,000 activists surround the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Artist Michael Bowen had organised for a plane to drop 200lbs of daisies from the sky but, when his plan was discovered by the FBI, he was forced to distribute them amongst the crowd instead. A photograph taken by Marc Riboud at the protest has since become one of the most recognisable images in visual history, depicting one protestor holding up a flower in the face of a firing squad. Flowers represent more than just growth – they became a cultural symbol of love and unity in the face of aggressive adversity.
This message of peace and love in times of political chaos seem to be echoed in the song’s lyrics, too. “Seen so much, you could get the blues,” she sings longingly in the second verse, before following up with, “but that don’t mean that you should abuse it.” Her words are reminiscent of iconic black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde, who once declared that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” a quote which has not only helped inspire a renewed self-care movement but served as a poignant reminder to minorities worldwide that we must all pay attention to our own needs.
The idea of allowing ourselves to be young and in love is one which takes on new meaning in today’s world, especially when we consider that America’s vice president himself is a man renowned for his anti-LGBT stance. Del Rey’s “Love” may be populated with many of the same faces we’re used to seeing in glossy pop videos (the clip could certainly feature a more diverse cast), but the message within the lyrics is universal. Essentially, the world around us is looking very bad at the moment, so the least we can do is allow ourselves to fall hopelessly in love with the idea of falling hopelessly in love with whoever we like.
“The world around us is looking very bad at the moment, so the least we can do is allow ourselves to fall hopelessly in love with the idea of falling hopelessly in love with whoever we like”
This message of sheer optimism provides a moment of catharsis perhaps not expected of a woman previously demonised for her discussions of depression and mental illness. The video is literally out of this world, a visual reference not only to the potential of youth to impact on the future, but also to music’s ability to provide brief respite from the distressing news headlines we see daily. The combination of staggered tempo, knowingly saccharine vocals and the brilliantly referential “don’t worry, baby” not only result in one of Del Rey’s most commercially viable lead singles, but also in an irresistible, much-needed optimism. There are nods to her own public image in the “vintage music” she describes, but there’s also a complete lack of self-consciousness which seems out of character considering the assassination of her ‘alter-ego’ that plagued her early years.
It might seem laughable to dissect the references of what is essentially a big budget pop video, but Lana Del Rey is an artist whose every musical and cinematic influence has been painstakingly dissected and proliferated online. Unlike so many artists, the star has created an immersive world around her music that’s moved millions of people worldwide to idolise her. It’s inevitable, then, that fans will pick up on the messages in the video: the ‘flower children’, the sci-fi escapism, and the lyrics encouraging self-care and an uncynical approach to young love provide relief in a world increasing divided by physical and ideological borders. Not only has Lana Del Rey sidestepped the growing trend of commodifying political activism, she has provided arguably the best expression of gratitude possible to fans worldwide – four minutes and 54 seconds of much-needed escapism.