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Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd: Lana Del Rey, Humanized

By Ollie Axelrod

Staff Writer


Lana Del Rey’s work is most memorable for its absurd caricature of Americana. In provocative early works such as “Boarding School” and “Yayo”, she built her persona’s origins of American economic tragedy as the barely legal trailer park princess, which she eventually escapes into Los Angeles glamor by being the perfect object of sex and romance—illicitly youthful but tortured beyond her years, “trailer trash” with “a perfect ass”.

Illustration by Maia Hadler, Art Director

Del Rey's new album, Did You Know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd., is just as much concerned with the setting of America as her earlier albums. However, Did You Know completely abandons the Lolita-esque outlandish tragedy that has defined Lana’s artistic reputation. Instead, Did You Know fully commits to the folksy middle Americana grounded in the poetic mundanity that has characterized her recent records, such as Blue Banisters and Chemtrails over the Country Club.

Throughout Did You Know, Rey calls upon American folk tradition, name dropping icons such as Harry Nillson and John Denver and emulating their genre in her simple, self-referential lyricism. She starts “Margaret” with the exposition “This is a simple song/Gonna write it for a friend”. In "Sweet”, she opens her bridge with nearly comically offhanded questions to a supposed lover: “What you doin’ with your life? Do you think about it? / Do you contemplate where we came from?”

The self awarely cliche conversationalism that Rey uses in her lyrics is a turning point from her early persona, which was cultivated to be emulatable, not relatable. The Born To Die-era Lana was untouchably sexy and untouchably tortured—a “fucking crazy” girl with a “war in [her] mind”. As intoxicating as the early character of Lana Del Rey is, it is only so because it is fleeting, relying on a youth and unsustainable lifestyle that Del Rey has outgrown. And Lana has been attempting to transcend the campy persona of her early work essentially since her career took off—the tonal shift of Did You Know is less a swift turn than it is an acme of acoustic experimentation that has been present since her 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell. However, Did You Know feels more fully realized than Blue Banisters or Chemtrails, creating an image of both America and Lana that directly contradicts much of her early characterization.

The seven-minute single “A&W” is an especially explicit deviance away from Lana’s aesthetic of tragic star-crossed romance. Her depiction of love and sex are no longer thrillingly illicit — instead, she’s sort of bored: “Called up one, called up another/Forensic Files wasn’t on”. She acknowledges her age, and how she no longer fits into the Lolita archetype, half-bitterly singing “Did You Know a singer can still be/Looking like a side piece at 33?” This all culminates in her genius chorus: “It’s not about having someone to love me anymore/This is the experience of being an American whore”. “A&W” isn’t sorrowful, it’s cynical—an emotion new to Lana’s previously earnestly melodramatic work. Alongside the interludes of speeches from pastors about the dangers of lust, an emotion that has defined Lana’s early work, there are times that the album feels almost like repentance.

Del Rey’s intentional destruction of the fantasy that she’s created insofar, though probably good for the psyches of pre-teens everywhere, is a little heartbreaking, in part because it’s obvious that Del Rey is struggling to find the same energy of her past work without her persona. The simple piano ballads do get old, and her electronic work comes off as dissonant and amateur, with the kind of lazy lyrics expected from a Camilla Cabello song, like “Hands on your knees/I’m Angelina Jolie”.

But there is something gripping about the vulnerability of Did You Know. Emulating Del Rey as a fourteen year old girl meant crafting a heart-shaped-glasses image of oneself through the eyes of pervy old men and a captive audience. It was thrilling and addictive. But in Did You Know, Lana strips away the story, the fame, and the coke. When the melodrama is gone, and all that you have left is you, your family, and God, how do you live with no longer being watched?

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