Who is Lana Del Rey? To teenage girls, gay men, and millennial women on Prozac, she is a symbol of autonomy and independence, a sign of American feminist agency. However, underneath the surface of Lana’s music, there exists an entire world of subterranean political symbolism. Lana is what we call an ‘esoteric’ or Straussian artist: her music seems straightforward, but it is all a facade for the real meaning that exists as subtext. At its core, Lana’s music is not a praise of independence, but a warning of impending national tragedy—one that those on the Right have warned us about contra proponents of the contemporary Liberal order.
How do we know what Lana is really trying to tell us? Leo Strauss, the great 20th century philosopher, rediscovered the means by which esoteric writers communicate truth: the esotericist would first write in the “quiet, unspectacular, and somewhat boring manner which would seem natural.” Then, through “three or four sentences in that terse and lively style,” the esotericist would “arrest the attention of young men who love to think” and the “reasonable young reader would for the first time catch a glimpse of the forbidden fruit” (Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing).
What many interpret to be Lana’s most “unhinged” remarks are these terse and lively hints. They are the breadcrumbs that show us the way.
The most important blade is her commentary on January 6th:
“I think, for the people who stormed the Capitol, it’s disassociated rage. They want to wild out somewhere, and it’s like, we don’t know how to find a way to be wild in our world…If I go to the Brentwood Country Mart barefoot or whatever, I’m not insane; I’m connected to the earth…I think people are having to re-evaluate what is strange and not strange, like watching the people storm the Capitol, everyone gets to go look at that and figure out what Capitols they’ve been storming this year in their own freakin’ lives.”
Can you hear the caution? The playful poignancy in Lana’s words? Of course not. This quote makes no sense—at least, it may seem that way if the extent of your Lana knowledge is that one time you heard Summertime Sadness on the bus ride to middle school. The key to understanding Lana is realizing that she is not some typical Hollywood empty-headed bimbo, but that she gets it.
Now take one more look at Lana’s comment. She is framing a political phenomenon as an individual phenomenon: the unrest on January 6th is an expression of the American soul’s unrest…the external condition of the State mirrors the internal condition of the citizen. Lana is warning us that both the nation and the individual are in crisis. We are feverish, pent up with rage and wildness…and so is America.
But what is this crisis? Lana has answers that resonate with you whether you know it or not. Remember how you played Brooklyn Baby on repeat for a month? That was the groan of your subconscious begging for ideological reprieve. Allow us to complete the translation.
Take just one example. The date is September, 2015. Racial struggles have gripped America in the form of Black Lives Matter protests. Donald Trump has just announced his presidential campaign. In the midst of chaos, Lana Del Rey releases her fourth studio album: “Honeymoon.” The album, with its dreamy vocals and trap beats, contained several descriptions of Los Angeles—the site of the 1992 race riots. Given this background, one song in particular, “Art Deco,” caught our attention. In the second stanza, Lana recited the following lyrics:
“You're so Art Deco, out on the floor
Shining like gun metal, cold and unsure
Baby, you're so ghetto
You're looking to score”
Commenting on Strauss’ writings on esotericism, Irving Kristol reminds us that “particular attention must also be paid to contradictory statements” because esotericists often use contradiction to hint at the real meaning of their work. Now, do you notice any contradictions in Lana’s lyrics? Bingo: one cannot be both ‘art deco’ and ‘ghetto.’ These aesthetics completely contradict each other. Unless you like the taste of blue pills, the most obvious interpretation is that Lana is speaking to two different people in this song: one represented by ‘art deco’ and the other by ‘ghetto.’ The fact that they rhyme is just the cherry on top.
But who are these people? Look at Lana’s dating history, specifically Barrie-James O’Niell and A$AP Rocky. O’Niell is classic ‘art deco’: his classic but flamboyant persona resembles the 1920s aesthetic, while his dark folk music is reminiscent of the wartime troubles that simmered beneath the surface of the epoch (note the Billie Holiday at the end of “Summer Wine,” a song that they wrote together). A$AP Rocky, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed “ghetto” rapper. Timing confirms the connection: “Art Deco” was released in 2015, O’Niell and Lana broke up in 2014 (Lana described O’Niell as “emotionally unavailable”—synonymous with “cold and unsure” in the cited passage of “Art Deco”), and A$AP Rocky expressed interest in Lana over the 2010s.
The symbolism of this connection could not be more clear: ‘art deco’ represents white America enriched by generational wealth and accustomed to ‘high culture,’ whereas ‘ghetto’ represents black America budding in the urban avant-garde and pushed to fraternalistic thrift. Lana is torn between two aesthetics, two men, two groups: art deco and ghetto, O’Niell and A$AP Rocky, white America and black America. In other words, Lana will not adopt the white liberal’s utopic naïveté toward the multicultural status quo. Rather, she is conveying the message that America must confront the cultural crisis which wages within.
These are just a few examples of Lana’s third-layer messaging, though there are countless other subtle references to her views on traditional Catholicism, inceldom, and right-wing schizo culture. Sadly, we don’t have enough space to talk about all of them. But who knows? Perhaps we will return to shed more light on Lana’s esotericism. Until then, when you listen to her angelic voice on Spotify, pay close attention.