She’s loved and lost and lost and lost and yet still loves, and I root for this assertion to take root. Every sweetheart deserves their summers.
This is Formation Jukebox, a column by Lio Min on being in transition and the music that helps them make sense of it all.
Hey, let’s have fun. Hey, let’s get drunk. Hey, we’re just trying to have a good time, can you watch the way he’s treating that girl, is she okay, where are they going, where am I going?
any Born to DieHouse of Balloons
Saturday Night LiveOh my God, I feel it in the air / Telephone wires above / Are sizzling like a snare / Honey, I’m on fire, I feel it everywhere / Nothing scares me anymore
Maybe Lana also wasn’t the woman she thought she’d be. It seems perverse now that “Summertime Sadness” was the song that brought her mainstream fame; the Cedric Gervais remix makes oblivion a celebration for the worst kind of man: Kiss me hard before you go / Summertime sadness / I just wanted you to know / That baby, you’re the best. Lana Del Rey twirls and all you see is the carcass, not the exquisite corpse she’s meticulously pieced together, the identity that forms within and against the pressure of being constantly watched by wandering eyes.
I interned at Interscope Records, Lana’s label, the summer of 2012. The best thing I got out of that summer was a ticket to one of her earliest shows at the El Rey Theatre. Suddenly, the woman at the center of so much “discourse” was just there. I could only take her as she was, and she was fine. She debuted a new song; there was no encore. But I knew this was the smallest stage I’d ever see her play. Born to Die was a runaway success despite the naysayers. Lana’s vision of womanhood aligned with an awakening of both #feminism and weaponized femme self-awareness. Instagram was just taking off.
Two years later, I went to Coachella as a photographer and got as close to Lana Del Rey as I probably ever will. At the beginning of her set, she eschewed the stage for the photo pit so she could sing directly to her rapt fans. The photographers afforded her a small bubble of space. She was used to “us” now, the constant buzzing of other people who minded her business. She’d yet to release her divisive sophomore album, Ultraviolence; in the LA Times review of her Coachella set, she’s referred to as a “selfie queen.” By this time, I was almost out of college. It’d been a long time since I’d strapped on heels and my shortest skirt and tried to catch the eye of some guy at a party. But, watching people sing along word for word to all of Lana’s songs, I tried to remember what it felt like to yearn for capture.
Her song “Young & Beautiful” was playing at frat parties themed around the movie version of The Great Gatsby. The scope of her songs hadn’t changed yet, but I had. Several of my friends had been assaulted by people they’d met at parties. I witnessed the despairing fallout when sexual violence cedes to institutional power and finally saw Lana’s earliest music for what it was: symptoms of an affliction. And as I moved as a woman through the world, I understood her drowsy acceptance of domination. How do you separate what you want from what you know will get you what you want? Desire as surveillance morphs into desire as self-surveillance becomes exhausting. No wonder the impulse is to sink.
But another way out is through. Bodies dripping with blood and sweat like a final girl as they stumble into new lands. Even Lana’s come up for air. She brings a rocket launcher to the beach. She ends her album Lust For Life with manifestos named “Change” and “Get Free.” She’s loved and lost and lost and lost and yet still loves, and I root for this assertion to take root. Every sweetheart deserves their summers. Sadness doesn’t have to be a legacy, passed on like a sputtering torch. It takes nothing less than all of your life to learn how to look your beholder in the eye, but once you start, it’s hard to stop.
“Is it summertime, sweetheart?” When is it not? The world is on fire and my body is on fire and yours is too. If you can’t take the heat, get into the water. Hold your breath, close your eyes, and emerge.