Where were you when she pursed her lips just so? When she addressed you, was it as “babe” or as “hun”? Have you started your very own mood board to help inspire your next creative move? Is this a recent condition, or would you guess that you’ve always had Lana Del Mania?
It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night at Santa Monica’s ancient and independent single-screen Aero Theatre, and hundreds of giddy Lana Del Rey fans line the street for the unveiling of the video for her latest single, “Ride.” But this isn’t to be a regular screening, nor a normal music clip, exactly.
No, these kids are here, prepared to populate the 400-seat room in half-hour shifts until it’s over at 10 p.m., because Lana said she’d be here too. And still, when a lanky host announces her presence to the inaugural crowd, even though they know it’s coming, they lose their minds completely.
It sounds like sitting at the wrong end of a jet engine, like a circle of hell where souls are being dipped into acid pools, or a cloud in heaven where wonderful things are happening to people who were only ever shit upon in life. It is utterly loud and rapturous, and a little terrifying to hear.
But Del Rey glides out to a standing ovation and is instantly gushing, in her way: “You make everything that was ever hard completely, completely worth it. You don’t have to be as good as you are, and you just, you always are. We’re not even having a concert. We’re just showing the film.”
The end of her sentence is consumed by her own demure giggles, and then enveloped by audience cheer. She seems both perpetually surprised by everything and also weary of it all. When she speaks later during a Q&A, she answers in lazily drifting circles that verge upon the New Agey.
But first, the 10-minute “short film,” as it’s billed: We open on Lana swinging on a tire tied to no tree we can see, the Nevada desert beneath her. Soon she’s on the back of a motorcycle, helmetless, riding with a gang of armed biker droogs in a novelty shirt that says “Buttwiser: King of Rears.”
In other beautifully shot narrative threads, she stalks an off-Strip Las Vegas sidewalk at night seemingly looking for suitors, or wears a yellow Belle-style gown as she plays a singer in a red-curtained lounge, or dresses in lacy white while doing leisurely things with a wealthy older man.
Her disembodied voice adopts its breathiest, most poetic cadence to explain, “I was in the winter of my life and the men I met along the way were my only summer … Three years down the line of being on an endless world tour and my memories of them [were] my only real happy times.”
She goes on: “I was a singer, not a very popular one, who once had dreams of becoming a beautiful poet, but upon an unfortunate series of events, saw those dreams dashed and divided like a million stars in the night sky that I wished on over and over again — sparkling and broken.”
It is all overwrought and intensely dramatic and that is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Because this is Lana, an “unusual girl” whose mother, if you didn’t know, told her she’s got “a chameleon soul.” But LDR does believe in things — like “the country America used to be” and the open road.
Truly, her onscreen avatar seems happiest whilst rolling with the skeezy leather daddies. She waves Old Glory overhead, feels the wind in her hair, even lets one take her from behind atop a pinball machine. She dons a feathered headdress, taps her skull with a revolver and whispers, “I am fucking crazy.”
These things beg many important questions, but none are asked of her or director Anthony Mandler, who also helmed the A$AP Rocky-starring “National Anthem.” Instead, when the film is over and they open it up to the crowd, a girl walks to the front, gets down on one knee, and asks Lana to prom.
For her part, Del Rey is gracious — she asks the fan for “a snuggle” and kisses her on the cheek — and when someone else inquires about her tour plans she says, “I’ve got a new idea. What if we just met down at the boardwalk every Sunday and we just took walks on the beach.”
Asked about her and Mandler’s methods, she explains she assembles mood boards for him. Regarding motorcycles, she says “custom choppers are the coolest,” but admits she’s a “longtime professional passenger.” She praises Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and A$AP as the future of music.
But before she goes, the 26-year-old woman born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant delivers a most salient bit of cockeyed wisdom that brilliantly could be read two ways — as confirmation of her critics’ accusations that she’s a fake, or affirmation that she is realer than we’ll ever be:
“People say your imagination is your greatest tool to success, and I think it’s because things manifest in reality from the visions you have in your mind’s eye. And so the most important thing is to really have a rich internal world, and live there, because reality will never meet your expectations.”
It went down like Kool-Aid on a hot day in Guyana.