Lust for Life, the singer's fourth album, greets Trump-era anxieties with an eerie flower-child grin.
Scroll through the photos that David LaChapelle recently shot with Lana Del Rey and you may be hit with a whiff of linoleum, or microwave dinner, or asbestos. She descends a spiral staircase next to a gaudy fake Christmas tree of the kind you just don’t see anymore, wearing an equally gaudy coat, her eyes squinting, the camera having snapped at the wrong moment. She stains a wedding table with red wine, her mascara running and the flash catching the blood behind her retinas, as a man in the foreground smokes in ripped whitey tighties. She poses in a ruffled dress in front of a tiered garden styled with person-sized candles, next to a sign reading, “Happy Birthday America … 1776 1976.”
Pop culture has been mining the heyday of Polaroid in this fashion for a while now, and Lana Del Rey has led the way. Ever since the Los Angeles singer first achieved fame in 2011, she’s rarely been described without mentions of Instagram filters that make new photos look old, or of the way that platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest encourage young people to collage the bygone. So the nostalgia kick should be played out by now. Still, I can’t stop staring at these LaChapelle photos. In small ways—say, the body types of the people posing with Del Rey—they capture something about the era they reference. But in the colors, the couture, Del Rey’s impish glint, they’re novel. Most striking is the sense of menace underlying the garishness. Psychedelic burnout, Watergate disillusionment, serial murders—all tingeing images that otherwise might evoke “a simpler time.”