Say this for Elizabeth Woolridge Grant — she has a hell of a talent for the memorable title. “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”? “Fucked My Way Up to the Top”? “Diet Mountain Dew”? My favorite: “Music to Watch Boys To.” But I didn’t pay attention because for years my initial response to “Video Games” killed my judgment. “In eleven years of professional reviewing, I’ve never disagreed with colleagues so violently,” I wrote in the comments section when The Singles Jukebox lauded it in 2011.
Now I understand what made Lana Del Rey an artist of unusual force and concentration: the affected languor, the absorption of six generations’ worth of diva posing. A precise and smirking presence, Del Rey eschewed the self-pity of her progenitors; it’s as if David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was one of her formative experiences. The precision of the arrangements by Dan Auerbach and Rick Nowels, acquainted with dozens of beautiful people with beautiful problems, aren’t so much Sven Nykvist’s lighting Liv Ullmann as Liv Ullmann directing her own scenarios. Other than providing the essential musical context formed by an acquaintance with Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Belinda Carlisle, and other stars whom the industry has also sought to underrate and discard, these men are accessories to Del Rey. Hell, it’s even the case with the Cedric Gervais remix of “Summertime Sadness,” her biggest pop crossover; when “You’re Still the One” got a cheesy hi-NRG remix in 1998, Shania Twain succeeded in sounding more like herself.
Why I accepted Marianne Faithfull and not Del Rey is a mystery. Like Madonna, I would add, she plays an object as subject; she doesn’t mind playing a character who gets used because the level of detail in her work — at every level — adduces how often she does the using. Her titles suggested a fabulous paradox, a woman who understood that to sell records in a streaming environment she had to market herself as product; she preempted attempts to dismiss her as a sex toy. “She looks like a glamorous version of an ordinary person,” Greil Marcus raved in a a recent encomium.
I’m tempted to slot “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” as the summit of her career, so indelible is the melody, so ingenious is the recruitment of beautiful problematic person Stevie Nicks as co-vocalist. I intend this selection, as I do all my lists, as a selection, not a solution.
1. Fucked My Way Up to the Top
3. Blue Jeans
4. Music to Watch Boys To
5. West Coast
7. Beautiful People Beautiful Problems
8. Summertime Sadness
10. National Anthem
11. Bel Air
12. Art Deco
14. Diet Mountain Dew
15. High by the Beach