Even when she’s singing about Coca Cola, prom queens, Hollywood, and video games—stuff Americans are supposed to like—Lana Del Rey has a way of bumming everyone out.
Her 2012 breakthrough, “Born to Die,” more than lived up to its fatalistic title, and the following year, LDR scored her biggest hit to date with Cedric Gervais’ remix of “Summertime Sadness,” an up-tempo dance tune about young lovers joyriding toward certain doom. Lana’s latest, “Ultraviolence,” might be her most depressing album yet, as she swaps the sweeping pop-cultural iconography of her previous work for harrowing close-ups of ladies in distress.
The tighter focus heightens the drama, and thanks to Dan Auerbach’s stark production, Del Rey makes a nifty shift away from the overblown sonics of “Born to Die.” She effectively pulls a reverse Springsteen, moving from ironic flag-waving to bleak Americana, as if the Boss had cut “Nebraska” after “Born In the U.S.A.,” instead of the other way around. Read on to see our picks for the five most tragic “Ultraviolence” lyrics. There were plenty to choose from.
“Put my little red party dress on / everyone knows that I’m a mess; I’m crazy.”
Lana loves the image of the damaged beauty queen—maybe because this singer-songwriter formerly known as Lizzy Grant is one herself—and in the past, she’s done herself up like Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O. On “Cruel World,” the leadoff track on “Ultraviolence,” Del Rey’s talking about lowlifes, not high society. Her man’s a bible-toting drug addict with a thing for handguns, and even though she ditches this loser, this line speaks to the iffy mental state that’s sure to land her in similar predicaments.
“He used to call me poison / like I was poison ivy / I could have died right there / ‘cause he was right beside me.”
On the title track, LDR again plays the bad girl, only this time, her femme fatale posturing can’t mask her vulnerability. Her man beats her and tells her she’s no good, and as this line suggests, she’ll take it—maybe even like it—provided he doesn’t leave. It’s complex stuff, especially coming from a woman who likes to be choked in her videos, but one thing’s for sure: “Ultraviolence” is no one’s idea of a healthy relationship.
“Being a bad bitch on the side / might not appeal to fools like you / creeping around while he gets high / it might not be something you would do.”
With Lana, separating fact from fiction is tricky business, but “Sad Girl” may be one of the disc’s more autobiographical tracks. She recently told The Fader about a seven-year relationship with a label exec, and while she never says he was married, she declines to give his name, so it’s possible she has some experience being the other woman. Either way, she seems to know what it’s like, and here, she tries to justify one such romantic entanglement, telling gossipers to mind their own business—she’s happy. Except she’s not. All she does is wait around while this guy makes promises and does drugs. She tries to wear that “bad bitch” tag like a badge of honor, but it’s obviously piercing her in the heart.
“All those special times / I spent with you, my love / they don’t mean shit / compared to all your drugs.”
By track seven, “Pretty When You Cry,” a pattern of behavior is starting to emerge. “Ultraviolence” is a record about young women falling for abusive guys, many of whom have drug problems, some of whom drive Chevy Malibus. On this devastating ballad, LDR’s heroine falls back on the only thing she has left: her beauty. This lyric suggests a level of self-awareness—she knows this fella’s trouble—but Lana sings it with the quivering voice of someone not yet strong enough to leave.
“And as the years go by, the other woman will always spend her life alone.”
Lest anyone missed the point—being some guy’s side piece is no way to live—Lana ends “Ultraviolence” with a cover of “The Other Woman,” a song made famous by Nina Simone in 1959. Like many old-school pop ballads, this one has a lovely melody, but Lana’s voice crackles with ghostly ache, like she’s coming to us via séance or a dusty old 45rpm record. As she demystifies the life of a mistress, you can almost smell the perfume she once used to entice her lover. What once was sweet now just stinks.