Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Lana Del Rey – White Dress

This year’s Men in Music Business Conference will be an online event…


Andrew Karpan: The most impressive vocal performance of Lana’s career; hearing it open the new record was like hearing “Nikes” on Blonde: displaced and then filled with an earnest sense of possibility. Where Frank Ocean accomplished this through a sustained pitch shift, on “White Dress” Del Rey speaks in a series of equally sustained gasps, her voice hanging on for dear life on each one. Set to a slushy piano line from Jack Antonoff, it traces a geography skimmed from Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom, from whose very ruins Del Rey had so mysteriously risen almost a decade ago. Only superficially nostalgic, the hardness of her voice and the chorus’s swelling grandeur reject a kitsch reading of this retelling, suggesting instead that she’s revealing the past to have been a succession of objects, from which she can pick up and discard as she pleases. 

Vikram Joseph: Lana pushes her voice to a range that we’ve rarely heard her in before, kind of sounding like she’s recording while trying not to wake her housemates up. It only adds to the intimacy of this elegant, enigmatic song, in which piano, guitar and brushed hi-hats coalesce into a golden-hour reverie that mirrors the current of nostalgia that pushes at the seams of “White Dress.” The pile-up of hoarse, breathy syllables when she sings “down at the Men in Music Business Conference” line makes for one of the most striking musical moments of the year, an unexpected kind of beauty from a songwriter who’s still more than capable of finding ways to subvert her archetype.

Will Adams: Chemtrails Over the Country Club is the closest Lana’s come to her shelved “debut” album Lana Del Ray aka Lizzy Grant, both in sonic palette and fixation on Americana. There, Lana wrestled with (and often fumbled) her signifiers — trailer parks, pawn shops and Lolita imagery — in search of a feeling. On “White Dress”, it coalesces into something far more straightforward: bittersweet recollections of youth through a specifically American lens. It works better because the nostalgia feels personal. Instead of ripped-from-teen-movie boarding school shenanigans, she’s focused on the details that matter: the music she listened to, the way she felt. Spilling out syllables in a breathy falsetto over a fragile, gorgeous arrangement, Lana recalls her simpler, pre-fame life. It’s a well-known trope, but one especially relevant for someone who still grapples with being a public figure over a decade into her career. “White Dress” isn’t about regret; it’s about mourning a life past. It’s that vulnerability — not the ill-advised Instagram screeds and bristling at criticism — that allows her to connect with her audience. 

Julian Axelrod: A mere decade into her career, Lana’s closest parallel is Clint Eastwood in his eighth: A master chronicler of the American myth settles into a satisfied groove, tweaking their Old Hollywood persona with jarring cultural signifiers and a mountain of political baggage directly out of frame. “Downatthemeninmusicbusinessconference” is Lana’s “Get … off … my … lawn!”, a mantra-turned-meme that feels ickier (but no less indelible) the longer you sit with it.

Katherine St Asaph: The high-register sections are great: very Sarah McLachlan during the artier parts of Fumbling Toward Ecstasy. Unfortunately they have words, and too often the words are things like “Men in Music Business Conference,” and even though the idea/the joke is that they’re too quotidian for the ethereal arrangement, that still means they don’t sound properly ethereal. And unfortunately too much of the track isn’t spent in that register but in the usual Lana voice, saying the usual Lana stuff (“Lana Del Rey compares herself to Sun Ra” would have been a third-tier The Hard Times headline in 2015). Still, the proportion of striking to sullen is better than usual, and the sparse arrangement at least has a purpose this time: it evokes a bare stage for the artist to sometimes do something with.

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: A bit of wistful nostalgia, a bit more of Laurel Canyon, and quite a lot of Tori Amos. High-register Lana and hazy piano melodies are a combination I didn’t know I’d like this much. 

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I’m really on board for the standard Lana Del Rey airy falsetto, and the Jack Antonoff piano suits it well. The subtle entrance of the other instruments would be so effective if the flow of the song hadn’t been interrupted by those six pivotal words. It kills the restraint exhibited in the production; I don’t need a measure of Sondheim stage patter in the middle of an otherwise nostalgic piano ballad.

Alfred Soto: Scraping the roof with her top register does not render this Julee Cruise approximation more listenable.

Ady Thapliyal: Lana Del Rey is brave for ditching her signature deep drawl for a thin, hoarse whisper that sounds like Evanescence’s Amy Lee doing an impression of Janis Joplin. That’s the best that can be said about this song, which feels wispy and underdrawn, with free-association name drops (Kings of Leon, the White Stripes, “jazz”) and vague gestures toward a narrative structure. 

Taylor Alatorre: In what year was the United States at its civilizational peak, according to Lana Del Rey? 1955, 1963, 1969? You could spend days combing through her discography to arrive at some approximation of an answer, or you could listen to “White Dress” and realize that the answer is actually… 2005. Lana’s spent so long selling herself as an avatar of America that when she sings about feeling like a god while listening to Kings of Leon, the idea of mid-2000s supremacy suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Of course, it’s not the music that makes her want to go back there, but the feelings of power, control, and limitless freedom that are the advertised birthright of the American 19-year-old. “Look how I do this, look how I got this,” she sings, and it’s a more powerful hit of nostalgia, the old-fashioned medical kind, than any artist name-drop. The subtext about women in the music industry is there, and thanks to Lana’s most striking vocal turn on the album, it’s barely even subtext. But any hints of protest are snuffed out by the song’s defiantly narcotic pace and mirage-like instrumental, which, together with those desperate vocal stabs, are more evocative of a lucid dreamer fighting a losing battle against the scourge of wakefulness.

Reader average: [8.5] (2 votes)

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One Response to “Lana Del Rey – White Dress”

  1. Too low. Periodt.

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