Early word of Lana Del Rey‘s new single “Lust for Life” made it sound like a future pop smash: a duet with chart darling the Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye), on a song conceived in consultation with hitmaker Max Martin. Would this, perhaps, be the song to push Del Rey out of the “indie” pop designation for good, toward a more Gaga-esque style of mainstream ubiquity?
Anyone who’s turned on a radio in the past two years knows Tesfaye’s voice by now, but from its first lines, “Lust for Life” is a Lana Del Rey song through and through. “Climb up the H / Of the Hollywood sign,” Del Rey intones in a thick, echoing whisper. The image is fantastic and a little ridiculous, which also describes “Lust for Life”—part self-determination anthem, part carpe noctem ballad, part fuck jam (“Take off, take off / Take off all of your clothes”). The verse and chorus melt together, crowded with harmonies and vaguely sci-fi synths. The song never quite crests, instead unfolding over an unhurried four and a half minutes.
When Tesfaye exclaims, “Gotta dance ’til we die,” “Lust for Life” displays a brief flash his own brand of nightclub nihilism (he’s also credited as a co-writer). But above all, it feels like a playground for Del Rey’s stylistic idiosyncrasies. The earnest totemiziation of the Hollywood sign and the gratuitous, winking references to vintage cultural touchstones are so patently LDR it’s almost a shame someone else invented them. Besides a title lifted from Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life” borrows from eternal girl-group classic “My Boyfriend’s Back,” reimagined and equally smug as, “My boyfriend’s back / And he’s cooler than ever.”
If you love Lana Del Rey, you find these self-created tropes endearing. You don’t care that rhyming “lust for life” with “keeps us alive” is fundamentally never going to work—sleek, smoky production goes a long way towards covering potential clunkiness, and in any case, you suspended disbelief long ago. I still prefer first single “Love” for its “Ride”-style subtlety, but who knows—maybe this one goes to radio.