Lana Del Rey has dropped “Tropico,” a 27-minute short film/very long music video. I love Lana Del Rey because she is an oxymoron or at least a complete mystery. I don’t doubt the woman’s creativity or autonomy but I do find her references to be a bit of a pastiche collage that is mostly there for show rather than any real allusion or added meaning. Lana loves to play the role of the good girl hopelessly in love with a bad boy, that’s an odd perspective to take as you artistic lens but it works and it has produced some damn good songs on her part. The feminist parts of me want to roll my eyes because lyrically Lana tends to see and measure her worth by the men in her life. In most of her songs she portrays herself as helpless to men and circumstance which is not what we want to see from someone as talented and strong as Lana. Still, the music is good and most people, no matter how smart, intelligent or strong, have fallen prey to toxic relationships where they do feel helpless. That’s not a matter of feminism, just a matter of life. So I tend to let the subject matter in music slide.
However, Lana does have one minor issue: her representation of people of color as the “evil” in her narrative. Here’s the thing, I in part, understand why Lana aligns herself with this “gangsta” scene. In the very beginning of the video she is confronted with Hollywood glam heavy weights and musicians like Elvis, Jesus, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe. She is, as she always is, paying homage to the classic good girl in love with a bad bad man from classic American films. Except, she is choosing to modernize that theme and in doing so she is toying with the idea that the once American Gangster (that you’d find in the films of decades past) has become the modern American Gangsta. There is some truth that.
The trouble is that, when she is trying to encompass the idea of “good” and “evil” (which is very much the theme as we see her in the Garden of Eden and later on as gangsta’s wifey in “Gods & Monsters” and in Los Angeles which is portrayed as purgatory.) the “evil” people or the “bad,” “hedonistic,” people are all represented by people of color. So when she appropriates this Chola and gang culture she isn’t paying homage to it or trying to understand it’s complexities, she is placing herself in the picture as an innocent amongst “monsters.” The bad man she loves is albino but ethnically a person of color; it’s not the first time she chose a person of color to play the powerfully, evil love interest, remember A$AP Rocky in ‘Nation Anthem?”. Using people of color solely as a means to represent some sort of tantalizing, exotic kind of danger is just wack at this point. I expect more from someone as cool as Lana but again, as I mentioned before all her references to Hollywood glamour, Americana, John F. Kennedy and now gangsta culture, seem to be there to create a kind of vapid aesthetic.
With that said, I very much enjoyed Lana grinding on that statuesque model for like 5 minutes. I loved the short film as a viewer but I think acknowledging some of her problem areas is necessary. If art were perfect it would be boring.