Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Lana Del Rey – Video Games

So it’s quite a high-scoring day today, you know.


Anthony Easton: It’s shtick — I know it’s shtick, and i know exactly what she’s playing — and I know the little inserts of video game sounds extend the shtick, and, fuck the politics, are a little south of caveman. If she moved her voice a little bit she might be doing the same thing as Newsom, and I hate Newsom, but having Lana singing the lines “Heaven is a place on earth wit U” is harrowing and erotic.

Michelle Myers: In which our heroine communicates her melancholic resentment towards a lover to whom she gives everything and receives so very little in return, grafted upon a “Clair de Lune” chord progression with guarded words and swollen strings (and swollen lips). This is gut-wrenching stuff, and it makes me regret every single minute I spent perched like a housecat on some bro’s couch so he had something warm to touch between Halo rounds.

Brad Shoup: I’ve spent more than a few evenings lying on the couch, empties aligned on the living room tile, watching Catherine work her way through levels. I’ve barely picked up a controller since the SNES, but that doesn’t preclude the pleasure I get in observing. Sometimes she gets incinerated, sometimes she falls off the map, but I never know quite where she’s heading, and I don’t mind watching to find out. So I’m setting “HOLLYWOOD SAD CORE” and swiped-footage videos aside and accepting “Video Games” as a fabulously ambiguous take on a peculiar type of immobility. The, er, cinematic arrangement provides cover for Del Rey’s mantra-like melody, although not even the conjured ghost of “An American Trilogy” can scare off some of the more lazy rhymes. Vocally, she switches out masks with an expert’s timing: smiles here, plaintiveness there, cold possession elsewhere.

Iain Mew: I’ve recently been playing this video game called Bastion, in which you play a survivor of some mysterious calamity. Mechanically it’s a fairly fast-paced action game, but what it’s really about is discovering and rebuilding its magical, precarious world. The best bit is a stunning sequence soundtracked by a female, smoky voice singing a simple, haunting song about building walls, and how one day those walls are going to fall. While you try in vain to concentrate on killing monsters and not on the overwhelming melancholy, the song becomes louder and sharper until, eventually, you find a woman, lost in this wilderness, singing it. You can watch it here although it doesn’t really do the experience justice. I have also recently been listening to Lana Del Rey (on repeat, a lot) using the perceived worthless status of video games to withering effect (“Go watch your football game” would not work the same way), invoking disappointment and non-comprehension of how her man can possibly find those more worthy of his attention than her. This is why her willingness to do all the stupid things he likes is a real sacrifice, it says. I can put up with it, though, because it works so perfectly to illustrate the gaping disconnection that fuels her song. There Lana is, asking questions about the guy’s taste (or otherwise) in bad girls and seeming to barely know him — when she sings that now he loves her there’s not much in the song to evidence it — but she’s still building a magical, precarious world of her own with him at the center, an intoxicating string-glazed place sprinkled with harps and old Hollywood glamor where love is the only reason for living. “They say the world is built for two”, she sings, and hers certainly is. Thing is, while the sentiments might sound romantic, when you’re investing that much in someone, there’s no way that any real human being who has their own life, has off-days, plays video games, could ever actually live up to it for any period of time.

Alfred Soto: I bet most of our readers haven’t heard the most forlorn song ever recorded about a lover who cares more about TV than for his girlfriend: The B-52’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” in which an insistent guitar strum complemented Cindy Wilson’s quiet hysteria. Its only competition is David Bowie’s manic, Huey Smith-aping “TVC-15.” Del Rey’s vocal — a hybrid of Lucinda Williams’ dragging-vowels-across-the parquet-floor tone and Chrissie Hynde’s high dulcet tones — made my skin crawl after two bars. She sings as if she’s been rendered catatonic by the same video game. The harp, minor chord piano line, and strings just sit there on the couch with her, picking at the bowl of Fritos.

Katherine St Asaph: What draws Lana’s boyfriend to his games? Does she know? Has she asked? The “tell me all the things you want to do” line would suffice if it went anywhere, but she stops on the phrase “video games,” as pat and impenetrable as her blue dark and perfumed roses and loverless world are to him. This would be a great premise for a song if Lana acknowledged it, but she genuinely doesn’t seem to know that “heaven is a place on earth” belongs to Belinda Carlisle, not Ann Radcliffe. Her reveries seem like retro-bin dressup, her escapism seems alluring only to set him up as man-childish, her romance wilts into irony, and walls are erected that never needed to be.

Ian Mathers: I’m giving “Video Games” this 10 partly because everything else I’ve heard by Lana Del Ray is so lacking. It’s not as if the origins of “Video Games” are mysterious (it’s basically one part each Hope Sandoval, Richard Hawley, and the gentler side of David Lynch), but the other songs I’ve heard by her manage to fumble their tone. Who cares? It’ll be wonderful if she can replicate the power of “Video Games” again, but if she doesn’t, this song still exists. There’s still something very complicated in her voice when she sings “I heard that you like the bad girls, honey/Is that true?” And unutterably sad when she sings “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you/everything I do” to a guy the song gives no discernible qualities to other than preferring Call of Duty to the woman who just put on his favorite perfume and cracked a beer.

Jonathan Bradley: “HOLLYWOOD SAD CORE,” Lana Del Rey labels this song on YouTube, evincing an almost repellent self-awareness; it’s usually the listener’s job to make those connections. Del Rey knows her strengths, though; “Video Games” aims for — and achieves — a melodramatic grandeur that is improved by its palpably performed quality. The video, in its rough and ready mixture of Hollywood streetscapes, paparazzo camcorder footage, and billowing American flags, handwaves at commentary on celebrity and capitalism, but is really an expert exploitation of the emotional power of nostalgia, narrative, and exploitation itself. It’s a knowing recursion that could become tedious without a song this good. Del Rey, a character instead of a singer, is an actress fine enough to smear her glazed pipes disconsolately over the lush harps and rolling timpanis like Vaseline on a camera lense.

Jer Fairall: Can I confess here that I have no clue what to make of this song?  Vocals are a cross between the dusty torchiness of Neko Case and the retro girl-group clarity of Bethany Cosentino, all done up in an ornate orchestral sweep and a tone that calls to mind no less than Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is” (RIP Jerry Leiber), yet she’s dropping Belinda Carlisle quotes and giving him so much passive-aggressive shit over something as trivial as his love of video games. Truthfully, it’s the latter that trips me up the most; I want to hear something dramatic and life-altering in this narrative, yet what she’s on about sounds so mundane.

Pete Baran: If the reflective camera pullback and fade at the end of Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li had been accompanied by this paean to Video Games, then that might have just qualified as a one-star movie. To whit, read that this is a very nice record indeed.

80 Responses to “Lana Del Rey – Video Games”

  1. It’s pretty interesting that Katherine appears to have some difficulty sympathizing with female singers (on occasion). It certainly feels like the same discussion happened in the comments of “Call your girlfriend”.

    I find it hard to dislike the singer in this song though. I agree with the use of “video games”, she really doesn’t know or understand what she is referring to. But it somehow doesn’t make me want to admonish her for not trying.

    I just read this whole song as coming from someone fairly young, someone very in love. Things aren’t going like she thought they would, and what we’re hearing is 4 minutes of the sound of the bubble of her teenage idea of love popping and being replaced by reality. The muddle of retro references just show that she yearns for something that has only been suggested to her exists.

  2. The reference to video games is intentionally bathetic, as any freshman comp TA would tell you.

  3. Plus if anyone thinks that the narrator of the song is being celebrated by Lana Del Rey, they’re out to lunch. I’d never heard this song before today, but it’s rather obviously a commentary on the sad, pathetic way in which young girls often find themselves idealizing assholes.

  4. What a delicious lunch I am eating!

  5. Whether she’s celebrating the narrator or not is kind of beside the point, isn’t it? We’re not restricted to thinking what she thinks about the narrator. For all I know she thinks this song is deeply funny; whether intentionally or not, I still think she’s made a devastating song instead.

  6. YOU’RE A MORON if you don’t think this ambiguous and complex song with multiple layers of irony IS ABOUT 9/11

  7. You guys! Zach’s making fun of me! Or something.

  8. I’m making fun of no one. Except that one conspiracy theorist who called us all morons.

  9. and Zionists, don’t forgot zionists!

  10. “It’s pretty interesting that Katherine appears to have some difficulty sympathizing with female singers (on occasion).”

    Say what now? You’re making a mighty big extrapolation from a data set of two.

  11. I was totally trying to be funny. Guess that backfired!

  12. Katherine- keep in mind that homeboy used like 15 qualifiers in that one sentence.

  13. But still, what does that even mean? That I have problems sympathizing with people whose opinions I don’t find sympathetic? If that’s the case, why mention gender at all?

  14. Because it’s, y’know, sort of interesting, if you kinda look at it on the balance. On full-moon nights.

  15. Enrique Iglesias did 9/11. Also Katherine is obviously a massive misogynist.

  16. Well, I just noticed the parallels between the discussions of those two songs. In both cases, your comments were dripping with “it would never happen to me! it’s all her fault!”-style self-righteousness which to me, neither song warranted. And both times, the songs had female protagonists, who were expressing sentiments that were relatively plain on a surface level but ambiguous at a closer look. I don’t know what that means, but I find your ability to get (apparently pretty profoundly) annoyed by these two tracks pretty stunning, is all.

  17. It means that two songs exist that I dislike, and it means that you’re reading a quite stunning amount into my commentary.

  18. Whatever you say; you were the only critic who jumped to blaming the girl for the situation in question both times quite aggressively, and the songs certainly did’nt lend themselves to such a one-sided reading. I didn’t actually read much into it you didn’t write yourself.

  19. I guess you missed my blurbs on the following, then: “How to Love,” “Somebody That I Used To Know,” “Dedication to My Ex (Miss That),” and I’ll stop because already I’ve put far more evidence into refuting your argument than you’ve put into making it. Either you’re being willfully obtuse, you’re trolling or you’re trying to prove a point that simply does not exist.

  20. Sally, four years ago I interviewed Nicole Atkins via email for Paper Thin Walls; she gave terrific answers.

  21. @Jonathan Bradley: “HOLLYWOOD SAD CORE,” ….spot-on, hit the bull, thank you for your insightful zusammenfassung. Now I don’t have to do it. I always like to listen to the piece with/without the video…this is a masterful piece of video. Captures a Zeitgeist perfectly. Hollywood angst/entropy to a “T”…

  22. You do realize that’s Lana Del Rey’s PR blurb, right?

  23. (The “Hollywood sad core[sic]” bit, not Jonathan’s blurb.

  24. Oh yeah, I can’t claim credit for that. Lizzy’s PR folks aren’t getting my blurb unless they give me my own sad YouTube video with skateboarders and out of context vocal snippets.

    (The song will be called “Spider Solitaire.”)

  25. All pop songs are derivative in nature of each other as there are only so many chords and so many chord progressions in pop music that often times one can sing the chorus of one song over the chorus of an entirely different song. However, there is a line between consciously or unconsciously written songs that sound like others and songs that blatantly take the same exact melodies in the same progression from another song–that is plagiarism and illegal.
    Not the same with lyrics….Many times you will notice there are many songs with the same title over the years…There is no copyright infringement for a title or lyric lines. However, there is also a code of taste and an awareness that you don’t take a lyric or title like “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” or “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” because the title is so synonymous with the artist…
    If the writer of “VIdeo Games” wanted to say that being with you was like “Heaven On Earth” it would be much more honest.
    To take the same exact phrase and put iit as the title line in your chorus “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” is to show little creative initiative—it is also a way to get people to think they have heard the song before and listen to it again because they are hearing phrases that were once used exactly on a song that went Number One all over the world.

    Flattery? I think not….But doing what the writers did by taking Belinda Carlisle’s signature song and using it as their own title diminishes the originality and therefore the creative effort is really the idea of different writers….and it’s too bad, because I like the song and artist a lot…

    As I said, we all write songs with the same title but when a title is unique and associated with the success of another artist, you leave it alone……

    ..We have to have some respect for each other in this world……

  26. Of all the things I would expect this thread to be revived for, that is not one of them.

    I don’t think that she’s unfairly using “Heaven is a Place on Earth” to make people somehow artificially think that they’ve heard the song before, precisely because the original is so well known (and it’s its title) that it doesn’t work.

    Melodies are less easy to recognise and process instantly. Not a single Baa Baa Black Sheep mention on our Gotye ft. Kimbra review!

    But Katherine and Jer both mention Belinda Carlisle in their reviews up there and I’m sure almost everyone else made the connection. It’s there for a different reason than to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Maybe Lana Del Rey is expressing her emotions through the title of a popular ’80s song in “Video Games” to further the contrast in singing a song which in many ways sounds much older but is about something modern?

    Not everyone will agree on whether that works in this case, but it would be a sad day if all references to other songs were ruled off limits and something amazing like Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home” was not allowed to build on the songs that he loves and hates.

  27. Say hello to one of Belinda Carlisle’s writers, ladies and gentlemen.

  28. Willing to be proven wrong but I really hope this isn’t the Ellen Shipley. She would know that “Video Games” takes about as much from Belinda as “Heaven” takes from Bach.

    Then again, she is a feisty one (and has a point in the linked piece).

  29. I’d like to say that I’d be okay with Puffy not being allowed to make music anymore.

  30. This song struck an incredibly poignant chord with me, and no doubt most women who have have selflessly loved with lopsided, or non-existent reciprocation. I find beauty and relief in the simplicity in her lyrical storytelling. If nothing else, it lends an increasingly rare opportunity found in today’s mainstream music, to meander around varying interpretations. ‘Video Games’ likely is not literal. It’s used as a stark and measurable comparison to her outpouring of affections, She’ll believes wrongly, he’ll acknowledge all she does, how she’s hurting, and at last, love her in return – it could be so beautiful. Living by his parameters, changing herself to fit his passing comments, warping her definitions of love and happiness. My thought: time to go lezbo.