Sounding Board

Lana Del Rey Takes Us Back To The Space Race

The video for Lana Del Rey’s “Love” opens with a black and white tinted shot of the sulky-eyed singer wearing a mod mini dress and daisies in her hair. She sways from side to side like one of the Shangri-Las or the Ronettes, radiating a nostalgic aura. LDR’s latest imagery immediately evokes an aestheticized image of the 1960s. The very first line of her minimal, bass-driven ballad is: “Look at you kids with your vintage music/ Comin’ through satellites while cruisin’/ You’re part of the past, but now you’re the future/ Signals crossing can get confusing.” LDR is capitalizing on the idealized expectation of youth, youth that other young generations dream about being a part of, wishing their current moment was just as cool.

In this video, couples in pink glasses and chemise scarves riding in Chevy pickup trucks take selfies with their iPhones. As the future generation sits in what looks like a lecture hall watching LDR sing about the angst of youth, we get lost in her eyes, and then we’re transported into outer space. We’re in a pickup truck looking at the moon like it’s Apollo 11. The model-esque young’ns head towards the sun. Although there is a slight pang of anxiety that comes with watching “our future leaders” aimlessly and unsafely roam toward a fiery gaseous star, the image is meant to be romantic. The teen characters’ present is nestled in the iconography of the past; Lana’s video ties all three tenses together.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Though the fashion and cultural politics of the ‘60s, as well as most past decades, are looked back on by younger generations with rose-tinted glasses (as Lana Del Rey does in this video), it was a scary and tumultuous time. We were fighting a losing battle in Vietnam. Richard Nixon was president. The hard-fought Civil Rights Movement was ongoing. The LGBTQ movement and the fight for women’s liberation were just starting to make it into the public conscience. Death and discord and disillusionment stained teenagers’ coming-of-age. They grew up in the midst of the Cold War, and though the first human landing on the moon was a triumph for humanity, it was also a byproduct of the “the space race,” instigated by the Soviet Union with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. This was a time when Russia and America were not on the best of terms, paralleling the frightening allegations of Russia’s relations with the USA today.

I watch LDR the way my parents’ generation watched Apollo 8 orbit the moon for the first time. “Don’t worry baby,” LDR sings as she winks at the camera from Armstrong and Aldrin’s marked territory. It’s her retrofuturistic fantasy and I want to live in it. I mean, come on: These kids are hiking on Saturn and making out among the stars. I would much rather be doing that than thinking about which executive order Donald Trump is going to sign next, presenting it to the media like a sixth grader showing his parents his mediocre report card. There’s something more to the video’s aesthetic than its surreal and charming qualities.

Back in the ‘60s astronauts were seen as heroes, beacons for the integrity and hope of an America that was being degraded by racial and international tension. When nuclear war and detonation was a huge possibility the idea of living in space, an escape from the present and earthly pressures at the time, seemed ideal.

Space travel was and still is a symbol of hope, escapism, and alternative realities. (C’mon people, we just discovered seven new planets, seven planets that don’t have a Donald Trump.) In the age of Trump all three of these categories seem necessary, and LDR recognizes that with her album rollout campaign. In the trailer for her upcoming Lust For Life, LDR zeroes in on an ironically similar subject to the fantastic space race: Hollywood. Or, as she calls it, “Hollyweird.” Directed by Clark Johnson, the trailer is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone with its eerie background music, a black and white “antique” effect, and peculiar advanced animations. Again, she is anchoring herself in a retrofuturist aesthetic. Moreso, LDR explicitly references the current political climate, explaining that she has been living within the “H” of the Hollywood sign to get away from the chaos of Los Angeles and the tumultuous world that lies outside. She expresses her existential concern for the future during a time in this country where things seem to have taken a turn for the worse.

“What should my contribution to the world be in these dark times?” she asks. There’s a tension between self-care and the need to be proactive. LDR’s conclusion is that “being pure of heart and having good intentions and letting them be known” is the most important, along with making a well-received album. In 2017, we expect many of our pop stars to be outwardly political: Recall the expectation that Lady Gaga would make a political statement at this year’s Super Bowl, Beyoncé and Solange fronting a modern-day music Black Power movement, and even fans upset at Taylor Swift’s reluctance to share who she voted for.

LDR acknowledges that the issues of today are not so different from those of past generations. But instead of the moon being an image of hope like it was in the late ‘60s, LDR, her music, and entertainers like her, are our escape. What does it mean for LDR to capitalize on our past and present fears? Although music can be a means through which to escape the present and nostalgia is a trend, the brilliant marketing combining the two drive money towards her (presumably vintage) wallet. LDR embodies the true nature of nostalgia in her trailer by representing herself as a ghostly, sci-fi hologram, something that looks true to life but is unattainable.

Lana Del Rey

In its execution — the trailer’s general Hollywood (“Hollyweird”) theme, the mock movie posters that appeared over LA — Lust For Life’s campaign is self-conscious of its good looks and overall fakeness. Representing Hollywood as a fantastical place where dreams come true is, of course, contradictory. There is always an underbelly. Partner that with the space race, which inspired conspiracy theories that the moon landings were faked at the hands of future-fanatics like Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Oddly enough, the space race, Hollywood, and a yearning for the past all tie into the singer’s new album. Nostalgia makes us long for the past, an era we fantasize, until we realize that it’s the same if not worse than the present and the future is impossible to envision. When there’s no alternative reality to escape to, we fictionalize the present through entertainment. Profiting off of stylized sentimentality is nothing new for LDR, but this is her first album under an administration that ran a campaign based on nostalgia for a bygone era. According to the trailer, LDR’s new album promises to acknowledge that.

Our current administration has completely denounced progress and won its status based on a revival of an America long since passed. It’s also not the first administration to do so. What makes LDR’s forthcoming release feel more immediate than past rollouts is that she is using her signature retrofuturistic aesthetic to redeem a history that is far from perfect. Dated ideologies endorsed by our current government sit adjacent to the images she embraces, many of which were rejections of that stuffy, old way of thinking. Instead of living in the current political moment, she’s propelling us into a futuristic fantasy and getting political in a way she never has before. In the trailer, LDR suggests we can move forward by picking up the cultural fragments of prior decades and examining the ways in which they resemble conflicts of the present day. While our current administration looks to the past for policy inspiration, her new take on nostalgia promises to acknowledge the messier aspects of US history. This trailer indicates that she’s aiming to keep one foot in both the past and the future in order to reconcile with the present. Whether or not the music reflects that remains to be seen.