Truth in Beauty
We need more of what’s going on in “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.”
I reviewed Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, for the Blaze. I liked the record a lot, and said so, but really I like Lana, and her artistic project, and the review was an essay about her far more than this particular album. Her music is a baroque or gothic celebration of femininity, what I’ve decided to call “gender euphoria.” This is in marked contrast to the androgyny and subversion of sexual dynamism of so much contemporary pop music, which in its preoccupation with sex as mere pleasure, rather than intimacy, reduces people to so many individual bodies. The majority of “love songs” today are exercises in narcissism; that’s not true of Lana.
The standout track of the album is called “Let Me Love You Like a Woman.” It’s beautiful. It’s reminiscent to my ears of the folk rock of the ’60s, and details a twofold escape from Los Angeles. Yes, Lana wants out, to find a refuge in small-town America. But she also doesn’t “care where as long as you’re with me.” It’s the love of a man and a woman, a woman for a man, that can truly upend the prison of economic existence. To quote the conclusion of my review:
Sometimes Lana takes the fantasy of a midcentury Americana and gives it a voice. But more often, she reminds us that our wasteland of respectability and power dynamics and critique and consumption is subject to death, and that there is re-enchantment and maybe even life to be found in the romance and comfort of a woman holding a man in her arms.
I’m reminded by Chemtrails Over the Country Club of a recent NYT column by Ross Douthat, titled “What the 2020s Need: Sex and Romance at the Movies.” Douthat, like some other shrewd observers of contemporary society, notes that for all our sex talk as a culture we are shockingly unsexy and unromantic. There’s an especial loneliness to all our smut. Douthat writes, “there’s a cultural void where romance used to be. And it doesn’t seem coincidental that this void opened at a time when the sexes are struggling to pair off — with fewer marriages, fewer relationships, less sex.”
A friend of mine likes to say—when dating trouble, birth rates, or loneliness comes up—“people aren’t horny enough.” He’s making a similar point to Douthat. It’s a restatement of an ancient philosophical account of eros, eros not just as lust, or sexual desire, but as the compelling force that draws us from ourselves to another. Without true eroticism, we are left self-obsessed addicts, looking, not for intimacy, but to be soothed. Lana is a woman, and doesn’t make didactic points as she philosophizes, but in her art she shows us the other way.