“Kanye West is blonde and gone.” On how Lana Del Rey blissfully eviscerated the hipster ideal.
A conversation about 2019’s “Best Song” could be had by rehashing — for yet another generation since Blazing Saddles’ 1974 cinematic release — how much America loves to lampoon its history by smiling in approval when black people wear cowboy clothes. Or, we could get down to the business of dealing with the trauma of morose modern malaise via Lana Del Rey. On her latest album Norman Fucking Rockwell, her euphoric, yearning ballad “The Greatest” is a bittersweet remembrance of cool things of the near past. Moreover, in Ms. Del Rey being wholly emblematic — in style and presentation — of the classic and beautiful American ideal, when she says that she “[misses] rock and roll” and that “Kanye West is blonde and gone,” it’s a damning moment of awareness regarding where we are now as a country, and to the fact that the first four years of the Obama era could’ve been the best times America ever had.
It’s important to note that there’s an undertone of something rather cannibalistic about a certain sub-set of idealizing hipsters that is of particular trouble, here. Lana Del Rey was never and will never be emblematic of the working class roots of the areas like Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Laurel Canyon that she inhabits and beatifies. That’s troublesome in the sense that there’s something of a “scorched earth” notion that underlies a critical listen to the song. When people who are not culturally of a place’s history inject their heritage into a place’s present, it creates a future oftentimes rife with the pain needed to mitigate for frustrating social in-congruence.
The key to the first four years of the Obama age is that the digital age allowed for a liberal-minded Americans to create a niche, interconnected coterie that could exist within, but without traditional boundaries set by time, space, and place. Intriguingly, what happened when this cadre would touch down in real-time, their collective intellect and ability to overwhelm economics with globalism and good tidings won out. However, absolute power — for a set of people for whom access to this social-made-physical capital had never before happened in such widespread amounts — unquestionably corrupted absolutely. No only is rock and roll dead and Kanye West wholly disassociated from the “old Kanye,” but Lana Del Ray — in probably having caused more angst in her search for musical nirvana than good — is just as guilty as anyone or anything else for the demise of “the greatest” era in United States history.
A semi-stable American economy, dirt-cheap housing, digital access and progressed social acceptance allowed for kids with college degrees lacking a desire to sit in cubicle farms provided the kindling. The most lit of generations’ success was achieved by informing the forthcoming decade with a re-birthed hippie-to-hipster sensibility that hand-curated, hand-crafted, DIY, and forward-thinking things were possible and fun. Moreover, on a cultural level, reflective of a heretofore unseen sense of globalized social good.
Those nights were on fire
We couldn’t get higher
We didn’t know that we had it all
But nobody warns you before the fall
If thinking deeply about “The Greatest,” it’s best to think back to 2005, actually, when Lana (then Lizzy Grant) entered the music industry in New York City. She was living in Brooklyn, and noted to the NME in a 2012 interview that she “wanted to be part of a high-class scene of musicians. It was half-inspired because I didn’t have many friends, and I was hoping that I would meet people and fall in love and start a community around me, the way they used to do in the ‘60s.”
Brooklyn in 2005 was a perfect crucible for Lana Del Rey to create her idealized musical clique. Rock and roll was there in the form of The Strokes’ filthy post-punk garage sound, the Moldy Peaches’ garage-folk, and DFA Records, which means dance punk tracks like LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” probably sound-tracked many a night of Grant attempting to find “community” in Williamsburg. The idea that LCD’s James Murphy irreverently opines “I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables” on that aforementioned song is probably what led her to Kanye, some underground dance party lead vocalist-turned-DJ breaking out Mr. West, Consequence, and Cam’ron’s “Gone” just a little after peak hour on a Pabst Blue Ribbon and self-rolled marijuana cigarette-stained hole-in-the-wall’s dance floor.
What’s fascinating to note is that Lana Del Rey, not unlike so many of 2005’s cool hip artistes, moved to Los Angeles by 2012 in search of what she told Magazine C was the “most space to be creative and have time alone and have a lot of privacy — but at the same time, have a lot of amazing, artistic friends.” Her 2012 move followed for 2011 breakthrough with “Video Games,” and was during the release cycle of her debut artist album Born to Die.
Running out past the breakers in Santa Monica to avoid Brooklyn’s gentrifying, post-2012 electro-crush, seems right. Foremost, it allows for direct access to the music industry itself, as most major labels are headquartered in the city. However, on a non-musical level, it allows for the sun-kissed quietude of Pacific Coast Highway drives to replace drunken revelry on the town, and to the point of Del Rey’s earlier-attributed quote, give a sense of introducing the artist to the “high-class scene of musicians” she always wanted.
“But Kanye just means so much to us…Yo, this man is the greatest!”
- Lana Del Rey to The New York Times
The half-life for Los Angeles as comparative to Brooklyn as a creative hub safe from being torn asunder was literally half. Kanye West going “blonde and gone” is a prime example of this. After moving to Los Angeles in 2007, Kanye had, by 2014 — in a bizarre way of making his own lyrics come true — married Kim Kardashian, and by December 2016 was sporting a full head of blonde hair after a hospital stay for “temporary psychosis” and a brief visit with then President elect Donald Trump. West’s evolution— moreso than anything Del Rey could say or write — is the moment wherein the fear associated with granting heightened access to greater sociological impact for those artists who became iconic post 2005 becomes readily apparent.
And here we are. There’s Lana Del Rey, all dressed up with literally no place left to go. She’s burnt out while observing scorched earth, singing karaoke in a dingy old bar on the piers near Los Angeles. She’s trying to figure out not how it all went wrong, but what exactly she can do next. She was alive, and was one of the best creatives, of America’s greatest four-year span. Now, left to fend for herself at the edge of the innovative plane by which she defines herself, she’s lovelorn, heartbroken, and singing. “The live stream’s almost on?” Of course it is. Why is that important? It’s probably a solid clue of where, how, and where she, and this post-modern malaise, may haphazardly go next in amazingly, the most aesthetically pleasing manner possible.