Lana has long been known for her nostalgic tunes. Where does her new album place her in today’s music landscape?
With virtually no warning, Lana Del Rey dropped her ninth studio album Blue Banisters across all major streaming platforms at the end of October. The album contains many of the quintessential Lana themes of loneliness and longing and heartbreak, carried by her classic croning, melodic voice.
In the title track, she mourns the loss of a lover that once promised to fix her weathervane and paint her banisters blue, someone who’d “give her children and take away her pain.” Through the healing power of the women that surround her, she copes with her loss and paints the banisters herself in an act of reclamation. As we make our way through the album, Lana expresses her craving for a quiet domestic lifestyle, and laments about being a beautiful, yet damaged woman.
Lana’s vintage sound has historically offered us a reprieve from our current troubles, bringing us into a nostalgic world away from the one we live in. However, within the first few tracks of Blue Banisters, we notice a shift away from Lana’s typical retro references. She mentions quarantine, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Zoom amidst lyrics about being a “bad girl” and lying down for a man “like a bed of wildflowers.” There also seems to be a level of awareness that Lana has come to possess with regards to her own stardom. Following the wild child antics of her past and the legacy and fame she’s established as a singer, she crones about desiring the simple companionship of one devoted man. She mentions childhood memories and trauma, and even dedicates the album’s deeply personal final track, “Sweet Carolina,” to her sister. (Ironically enough, the song also includes a comical dig at a crypto bro named Kevin, which fans have been loving.)
Having faced scathing criticism since the infancy of her career, Lana also recently came under fire for her apparent lack of concern for the severity of the pandemic — she wore a mesh mask to a meet-and-greet during which she came in close contact with hundreds of fans (she later hopped on Twitter to address the matter, stating that there was a plastic covering inside). And as of September, she has deleted social media entirely. This was due to backlash she received when defending herself against those who said she glamorized abuse in her music. In a lengthy Instagram caption, the alt-pop singer stated “I’ve been honest about the challenging relationships I’ve had. That’s just how it is for many women.” She followed this up with problematic statements that slandered other female artists and their risque subject matter in an attempt to deflect the criticism off of her, including several who were POC.
In the clearing of her own name, she dragged artists like Doja Cat and Camila Cabello, stating that they made music about “being sexy” and “wearing no clothes”, which both minimizes their work as artists and perpetuates stereotypes about women of color being overtly sexual or promiscuous. She later released a statement clarifying that her intention was to highlight that feminism should also accept a more feminine form of fragility. It's clear that despite the mixed reaction to her retaliation, Lana continues to discuss her own self-destructive tendencies when it comes to her relationships with men in Blue Banisters.
In typical sad-girl fashion, Lana does not claim to be perfect, or that all is well in her world in this most recent album. In fact, in “Dealer,” she wails, “I don’t wanna live/I don’t wanna give you nothing/’Cause you give me nothing back.” She turns to past traumas to explain her current demeanor to her lover in “Wildfire Wildflower”: “Here’s the deal/ My father never stepped in/When his wife would rage at me/So I ended up awkward and sweet.” And in “Black Bathing Suit,” she speaks of the isolation and desperate loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic. She laments, “And if this is the end, I want a boyfriend/Someone to eat ice cream with, and watch television” and that she’s “ tired of this shit.” Aren’t we all, Lana.
Additionally, in recent years, the stylistic choices Lana del Rey has made with regards to her vintage sound have led to accusations of her being tone-deaf, as she continues to romanticize mid-century America (which was an idyllic time exclusively for the white and wealthy) while political tensions in the nation run high. Lana’s heightened number of personal references and present-day imagery in Blue Banisters' lyrics almost seem to be a clapback at critics who have called her out for crafting a distastefully artificial persona.
As a body of work, Blue Banisters shows us that there is always more to learn about the haunted soul and nuanced psyche of Miss Del Rey. Despite facing a barrage of criticism and call-outs in recent months, she sticks to her guns on several fronts, perhaps confident that she will continue to please her loyal fanbase this way. With a freshly satisfying touch of modernism, and amplified straightforward emotional sincerity, Lana continues to paint a sad, sweet portrait, reflective of the complexity that exists within.
Track List Below: