by Catherine Gilligan
Lana Del Rey has embodied innumerable personas throughout her career: troubled starlet, trailer park princess, old money debutante, tormented mistress. Needless to say, she’s been around the block. It’s easy to imagine a version of Lana in which she’s still clinging to the vulnerable nympho bit; Lolita pushing forty, if you will. Instead, it seems as if she has managed the opposite; her latest single, “A&W,” showcases a refreshingly mature, if jaded side of the pop princess as she delivers the ballad of the keenly self-aware side piece.
One thing Lana is often maligned for is her reliance on cliches — the various “female archetypes” she personifies, her cloying Old-Hollywood sound, her middlebrow cultural reference points. While none of these critiques are wrong, per se, I think they minimize just how weird a lot of her songwriting actually is. Her maximalist approach to lyricism and hyper specific anecdotes (Fuck you Kevin!) can be as rich and compelling as they are off-putting and heavy-handed.
“A&W” features a cleaner, but equally engrossing, more “grown up” version of the same word salad Lana has been honing since “Maybe we could go to Coney Island/Maybe I could sing the national anthem/Buy a white sweater for the last white day of the summer/Buy my purple wig for my mermaid video.” The seven-minute track contains a host of dark, funny and bizarre lines. Among them: “Called up one drunk, called up another/Forensic Files wasn't on”; “Did you know a singer can still be/Looking like a sidepiece at thirty-three?”; and naturally, the brilliant hook, “It's not about havin' someone to love me anymore/This is the experience of bein' an American whore.” Her frankly corny air of melodrama, coupled with the track’s many excruciatingly earnest lyrics make for something uniquely tongue in cheek — the gallows humor of a grown woman scorned.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the real star of “A&W,” which is none other than its final three minutes. After nearly four years of little but saccharine tracks about wanting to love her police lieutenant fiancée “like a woman,” Lana has finally released something fun for the girls! Interpolating Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Shimmy Shimmy Ko- Ko Bop,” the second half of the track is an upbeat electropop dance party, perfectly punctuated with the marvelously snide “Your mom called, I told her, you’re fucking up big time.” So say what you will about Ms. Mesh Mask, Lana “Question for the Culture” Del Rey, but over a decade after her commercial debut, she seems to just get better with age.