Tropico is a peak in the art project that is Lana Del Rey.
Even before her debut album, Lana Del Rey was hit with a backlash for her alleged “lack of authenticity.” More than a bit sexist, that claim sought to impose rockist notions of authenticity on an artist who has far more artistic ties to hip hop, alternately describing her construction as “Lolita in the hood” and “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Hip hop’s relationship with authenticity is far more complicated. For all of the lip service given to “keeping it real,” hip hop is all about artistic reinvention — how many rappers record under their given names?
While Lizzy Grant (AKA May Jailer) tested several earlier images, her persona has been incredibly consistent since adopting her current trashy aspiring to be classy stage name. Sidestepping the question of authenticity altogether, she has clearly positioned Lana Del Rey as a postmodern art project. Cindy Sherman posing as pop star, Del Rey’s videos are set in Bill Owens’s “Suburbia,” capturing the uncomfortable feeling of attaining your dreams, but finding they are not enough, a feeling that saturates David Lynch‘s world, to which she paid homage with “Blue Velvet”:
Tropico is the logical culmination of her vision of America. Written by Del Rey and directed by past collaborator Anthony Mandler, the video incorporates three of Del Rey’s songs, “Body Electric,” “Gods and Monsters” and “Bel Air,” into an overblown 27 minute narrative. It opens in the Garden of Eden. John Wayne is God; Elvis, Marilyn and Jesus are at his right hand. After the fall from grace, which could have been choreographed by Nijinsky, the two lovers are dropped in an LA barrio. Adam is now a gangbanger and Eve is a stripper. Some of these scenes seem like outtakes from Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, all quick cuts and harshly lit, superreal focus. After an armed robbery, the story cuts to an idyllic drive into wide open spaces and the film ends with the ascension of the two lovers. The story is threaded with excerpts from works like Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and John Mitchum’s “America, Why I Love Her,” as read by John Wayne (imitator). It should be ridiculous, but it’s hard to look away from this vision of excess:
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”