Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Lana Del Rey – The Greatest

The discourse is lit…


[Video]
[7.71]
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Lana Del Rey’s embrace of decades-old American culture has always been a window into the present, so it’s no surprise that her invocations of rock music and Dennis Wilson’s deaths on “The Greatest” are signposts for our own inevitable demise. But even before she concludes the song with ruminations on California wildfires, Hawaii’s false missile alert, and the possible necessity of colonizing Mars, you can sense the knowing dread in the midsong guitar solo and her affected vocalizing. She declares that she’s “wasted” with poise and romantic longing, stretching the word out into a rallying cry; she intimates that debauchery is not just an expected response to contemporary anxieties, but an empowering action in times of seeming powerlessness. She channels that same depressing spirit in her semi-ironic delivery of the song’s most memorable couplet — “The culture is lit and I had a ball/I guess that I’m burned out after all” — toying with its dual meaning to succinctly portray how escapism in end times isn’t indecent behavior, but a necessary means toward survival and acceptance of one’s fate. The sparse guitar strums and piano melodies that close out the song anticipate the somber eventuality that awaits us, but can that be much worse than right now? Worse than a time when “dancing with you” and “doing nothing” can be nostalgic pastimes due to never ending stress? Whatever the case, we’ll collectively watch as it happens; it’s the “live stream” that Lana hints at in the final line, and it’ll be of cinematic proportions: “the greatest loss of them all.”
[9]

Joshua Copperman: “The culture is lit, and if this is it‚ I had a ball.” This line is everything I hate about the aesthetics of this decade, but it IS the aesthetic of this decade, at least the latter half. Apart from rare, usually unintentional exceptions, something about 2010s voice-of-a-generation songs always felt pat, apparently because they had hope. We need songs for an age when everything is so overwhelming and impossible that there’s nothing left to do but give up, give in, and bide your time until the flames — the literal ones or the David Foster Wallace ones — consume you too. (Who by fire, who by water vapor.) The cool, detached gloominess of “The Greatest” sends the opposite message to the one producer Jack Antonoff sent years ago; I don’t want to get better, because there’s no time left and no point. Lana was “doing nothing most of all,” and that’s why she’s become the figurehead for this decade’s music. Not Gaga. Not Beyonce. Not Lorde. Lana. Lana won the race to the bottom because she was there first; maybe a writer once took her sadness out of context, yet if someone said “I wish I was dead already” today, the response would not rise beyond a shrug of ‘mood.’ I don’t even like this song that much as a song. It’s slow and dreary, and that “culture is lit” line sounds hackneyed and pandering in its own way. But it’s because of that artificiality that the line feels authentic, which was Lana’s whole thing in the first place. Maybe I’m just bitter that she became so important when I wasn’t looking. To paraphrase another, equally 2019 line, I hate to see it. Especially when I was so blind the whole time.
[7]

Josh Buck: “I miss New York, and I miss you. Me and my friends, we miss rock and roll.” As Lana Del Rey laments her Big Apple days, it feels like a lifetime since she was a Brooklyn Baby, singing Lou Reed with her boyfriend’s band. She ventured out west to create an entire California fantasia and over a handful of albums, she built a cinematic version of the Golden State that was vibrant and full of endless sun and limitless romantic possibilities; even if it was all tinged with just a dab of noir-ish danger. It was a world as fully realized and teeming with mythology as a great novel. And “The Greatest” is where she watches it all burn down. “I’m facing the greatest loss of them all.” California dreams are beautiful, until you have to wake up, so she sparks a cigarette and raises a glass to the ride. But if “The Greatest” is a moment of personal reflection, it’s also a celebration. It’s a toast to a new Greatest Generation. A generation that created and protested, that fucked and traveled and loved in spite of a planet threatening to burn them alive, and world leaders determined to end things even quicker. It’s an anthem for thriving in the face of the apocalypse. It’s my favorite single of 2019, and just thinking about it triggers a million competing emotions. If all somehow make it through this moment, we’ll have one hell of a story, and a hell of a song to go with it. The culture is lit, but we had a ball.
[10]

Michael Hong: A couple of cycles ago, that line probably would have drawn mass scorn from critics, but for now, it may very well be the lyric of the year. Part of that may be attributed to the way the culture has shifted their view on Lana Del Rey, but another part of it is that Lana sounds the most honest she’s ever sounded. “The Greatest” is an ominous but sincere reflection of the current state of the world, and Lana no longer seems content with empty depictions of American touchstones. Lines like “I miss New York and I miss the music” still rely on those same symbols, but they now feel like lived experiences rather than empty nostalgic musings. Hell, Lana Del Rey even manages not only to make “me and my friends, we miss rock ‘n’ roll” work but sound like one of the most profound statements you’ve ever heard. Lana Del Rey’s hushed vocals paired with the gauzy instrumental are quietly disarming, playing out like the cinematic zoom-out at the edge of the apocalypse. And if this is it, those final laments on the outro might be the greatest way to go out.
[9]

Alfred Soto: She’s not the greatest, nor does she think she’s the greatest, so long as she thinks the “culture is lit” and she’s “having a ball,” whatever that means, but I suspect it means more than the guitar solo. Narcissism as plaint.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: The core Lana Del Rey problem is that she confuses narcotic with dramatic and droning with sweeping. “The Greatest” mitigates those faults a little, but only a little, and only by borrowing some faults from classic rock. The track also smothers what could have been a fine torch song in overproduction — the culture can’t be lit if you snuff it out with a million moles of echo. It shouldn’t happen that I felt more genuine things about ghosts and missing things from a perfume newsletter than this.
[4]

Ian Mathers: So here’s the thing; I originally wrote about and scored this song before the more exhausting parts of the whole Lana Del Rey Conversation that engulfed Music Twitter last week had happened, and I was basically saying, yeah, the conversation is interesting and has some good points but I mostly receive the song outside of it and I just like that song (and generally do, with her singles). But then… it got worse. And between the artist herself showing her ass and all of the assorted takes, the thought of listening to any of LDR’s music just got more and more enervating. Some would say it’s unfair or incorrect to adjust my opinion of this song, or at least to admit that those events have, in fact, adjusted my opinion of the song. But I’m a guy who wrote a Master’s thesis at least partly on the idea that the context around a work of art justifiably changes not only our aesthetic relationship to it but the ontological status of the work of art itself (which is not a physical thing, not even as data). The classical example is finding out, say, a painting is a forgery, but honestly this whole thing is a great example too. Doesn’t make me outright dislike “The Greatest”, but does legitimately move it from being a real bright spot to a song I enjoy that I need a bit of a break from.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: Hats off to Lana and Jack for really creating an atmosphere of nostalgia that you fall into the second you hit play. Lana’s vocal is tender and understated, further reinforcing the sense of longing the track aims to create; but, hearing her sing the word “lit” and the Kanye West reference stand in stark contrast to that moody guitar lick and I… I just can’t reconcile the two.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Lana Del Rey is deeply aware of the fickleness of the music industry. On Born to Die, that manifested in her almost-trolling approach — aggravating, almost-rap cadences, weird production choices, even weirder lyrical ones — that wormed its way into the pop consciousness. For her middle three albums, she refashioned herself as a thinking person’s pop star, working with more respectable (and more male) figures like Dan Aurebach and A$AP Rocky as a way of positioning herself as adjacent to prestige. The music was better but also more boring. Now, with Norman Fucking Rockwell!, she has cashed all the checks that a decade of practice and following the rules of pop earn you. “The Greatest” is a thesis statement for the album’s ambition. It’s not just the title — although that is a helpful indicator. It’s everything: the classic rock guitars and big drum fills, the nostalgia for doing nothing of the lyrics, the way she sings them. On “The Greatest,” Lana sounds done. Not exhausted, but complete, as if she could walk away from this all and not miss a second’s worth of sleep. It’s a big damn classic rock song that’s aware of how bombastic it sounds, and yet its self-awareness does not undercut its narrative and sonic heft. It’s the kind of song you can’t make without making a lot of worse songs that dance around the same topics. But here, where it really counts? Lana nails it. It’s a buzzer-beater of a song, rattling around the rim four times before falling in — all the sweeter in glory for the bumps on the road before it. It’s likely not the last Lana Del Rey single we’ll review, but if it is, it’s a fitting send-off: in response to all the fickleness of the industry, Lana rewrites her story on her own terms, and makes it sing.
[9]

Jackie Powell: Norman Fucking Rockwell started as such a fascinating paradox, but didn’t really continue building and evolving on what made its first third so successful. “The Greatest” is lyrically relatable and sonically beautiful. Jack Antonoff, being the wizard that he is, finds a way to wean Lana Del Rey of her noir and whining tendencies. He overdubs her potential for a beautiful vocal pairing it with brighter arrangements. It’s pellucid and mellow but not a snoozefest. But its placement on this album really sold the track short. NFR loaded its most compelling tracks at the top of the project. Del Rey placed “The Greatest” after “Fuck it I love you” in a double feature of a music video, which where it should have been placed on the album. In the visual, Del Rey floats around and almost above her surroundings contemplating what’s next. The haunting but gorgeously comforting guitar solo brings the listener along with Lana herself back down to earth. Lyrically and through its soft piano, the outro is what gives this song its weight and a sense of profundity. Her cultural references which include Kanye West’s physical and emotional transformation and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” allow us to reflect on what we’ve become. Lana Del Rey does that here and on almost every record. I just wish “The Greatest” was given the proper stage to achieve the status of its moniker.
[6]

Joshua Lu: The majority of “The Greatest” feels unbound by time, as Lana Del Rey reuses Extremely American words that apply to the ’80s as much as today: Long Beach, New York, the Beach Boys, rock ‘n’ roll. Only the outro plants the song firmly in the current year — with mentions of Mars, Kanye, global warming, and that time Hawaii thought it was about to get bombed — and with this passage of time, these signifiers bring no joy to Lana anymore. Her sprawling sense of nihilism seeps through in her languid voice and the turgid, psychedelic guitar as she laments how her generation’s time is ticking away. Tempting as it is, I’m wary to read into this song as some kind of political statement, in part because the epochs that Lana fetishizes were also rather shitty, and also because I think Lana herself wouldn’t prefer this reading, as it would play into that “p” word she, erm, has expressed adversity to. Maybe that’s the song’s trap, that despite how alluring it is to try to ascribe some deeper meaning, it’s better to just do what the song does: sit back, observe, and mourn.
[8]

Alex Clifton: Lana Del Rey has a beautiful and occasionally overwhelming voice. It’s haunting but for me it can be like ingesting too much cake in one sitting — extremely rich to the point where it feels exhausting to listen to more than one song at a time. Having said that, “The Greatest” is a song that works well with Del Rey’s vocals. When the first pre-chorus hits — “those nights were on fire, we couldn’t get higher” — her breathiness feels less like an affect but sadder and more wistful, the awareness that she’ll never be able to get that life back again. It’s a grandiose song, strings and languid piano and a chorus of a dozen Lanas sighing “if this is it, I’m signing off,” but for once the grandiosity of the production fits the message. My issue with Del Rey’s persona back in the Born to Die days was that I couldn’t quite make out who she was under all the artifice, flower crowns and American flags. I know that’s the appeal of artists like Del Rey, whose entire careers are built off of specific personas (despite what they claim to the contrary), but I don’t deal well with facades that are built that tall. Arguments about personas and performativity in music can quickly dissolve into arguments about authenticity and how much that matters to the music, and I want to stress that I don’t care about authenticity in the slightest — I just like the moments where artists aren’t invincible but human. In “The Greatest” those walls crumble down and Del Rey revels in her sadness in a way that hits close to the heart. She’s vulnerable and mourning over a real love rather than a fantasy, and for once I feel like persona or no, I understand the appeal of Lana Del Rey.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: At 2am this morning I found myself in the smoky bedroom of a guy I hadn’t met until two hours earlier, half a bottle of red wine deep and still high off the fumes of the MUNA show I’d just been to, discussing the aesthetics of Lana Del Rey’s music videos (as a kind of emotional foreplay, I guess?). It struck me that this, right there, was actually a pretty good representation of Lana’s aesthetic — unlikely moments that shimmer at the fringes of reality, a doomed romanticism that bleeds into a laconic, blissful sort of nihilism. There’s so much heightened emotion (close to melodrama) in her music, and yet there’s a simplicity too in what she craves — men, bars, California, sun — that Vice described as a “revolutionary pleasure.” It feels like an extremely LDR move to draw a direct parallel between lost love and the end of the actual fucking world, but it’s testament to her songwriting, those aesthetics that she’s worked so hard on, and the spellbinding, crystalline production on “The Greatest” that she pulls it off so completely. From the opening bars — dignified piano chords, soft-focus acoustic guitars and cinematic strings — it feels like an elegy; I can’t help but see the crumbling, sunlit edifice of a gorgeous building when I hear this song, especially during that billowing, washed-out guitar solo, or the slow nuclear decay of the outro. “The Greatest” feels like a culmination, and a kind of closure. It’s a veteran of an iconic club scene reading the memoirs of her golden years out loud, or the last time two people who once loved each other ever speak, or a beach scene at the end of civilisation. Sonically and aesthetically, it sounds cast adrift in time, and that’s why it’s so effective. It’s the end of the world as we know it — I don’t think Lana feels fine, exactly, but maybe there’s a certain comfort in finally knowing for sure that it was all for nothing.
[10]

Will Adams: Lana Del Rey made a career writing elegies to American culture, which is what makes “The Greatest” as moving as it is heartbreaking. The patriotism of “American” has turned bitter. The sprawling luxury of “Shades of Cool” has fizzled. The worries expressed in “Coachella — Woodstock In My Mind” have been realized in twisted, terrifying ways. So it makes sense that, after a few minutes of misty-eyed farewells presented with a smile (“I had a ball”), it all collapses to rubble. The gleaming classic rock evaporates into three descending chords. This, it turns out, is the greatest loss of all. Not rock ‘n’ roll, not a past lover, not Long Beach, not Kanye West, but everything. In that final minute, the song sinks to the ocean floor, the flaming city fading from view, the monuments and culture blurring into nothing. Del Rey is gone, too, as there’s nothing left to say. There is nothing except the brutal end.
[10]

Reader average: [8.5] (6 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

3 Responses to “Lana Del Rey – The Greatest”

  1. Finally she gets a 7+ score

  2. Almost everything about “The greatest” gives the impression of a Del Rey besotted with that same melancholia of “Ultraviolence,” from the “Liability” piano chords to the lyrics themselves that yearn for an effervescent past while facing “the greatest loss of them all.” But when the drum kicks in right after the first chorus, throbbing with a give-zero-fucks manner (it really just said, “screw the damn cadence and cloying ‘sign off'”), you begin to realize that those juxtapositions of piano balladry and Americana, daydreams of wistful nostalgia and present moments of glistening ocean waves, pockets of disillusioning resignation and live-in-the-now appreciation are Del Rey reborn into that ray of sunshine she was always meant to be and as her name entailed. The transformation began with “Lust for Life,” but here it comes into full fruition as she somehow turns the impending demise of the world into a white shawl, flowing with the coastal winds before the sun sets. Only then does hope seem to fade away with the sound of the band as the outro begins, but with those one-liner after-thoughts, one tacked on after the other like a collage spread out across a wall, Del Rey still lingers, and with a bit of a comedic wink at that (she seems to be missing an “Anna” from that last line of “Oop- the live stream’s almost on”). Why? Because despite the world caving in on itself, Del Rey realizes there’s still comfort — maybe in knowing she’s lived her life on a near-dead Earth on her own terms, following her own muses and whims, but also in realizing beauty is still pain even in those moments of goodbye. So yea, we’re all going to capital-H Hell, but who’s to say we can’t smile (bittersweetly) before then?

  3. Score is too low but I’ll take it

Leave a Reply