Lana Del Rey feels everything. On three albums in less than four years, Del Rey's voice has been angry, sad, vulnerable, frustrated, blissful, and deeply in love. But looking at the woman with perfect hair and bright red lips, as she sing songs about being trapped within her own emotions, and she seems to feel absolutely nothing.
In the video for "High by the Beach," the first single off of her third studio album, Del Rey blithely lounges in a beautiful, expansive beach house. She reads a magazine. She wears a long, flowing night gown and robe. And when the paparazzi arrive on a helicopter to take away that bliss, Del Rey retrieves a hidden machine gun, and shoots them out of the sky.
It's a scene with energy, even when the song lacks it. From a more confessional artist, like Taylor Swift, listeners would have been treated to a kind of blazing frustration outcry track, but on Del Rey's "High by the Beach," it seems almost impossible to get Del Rey to care about her own self-proclaimed problem.
Her song isn't angry, it's filled to the brim with apathy. Lyrically, there's a sadness to "High By the Beach" when Del Rey sings:
Loving you is hard
Being here is harder
You take the wheel.
I don't wanna do this anymore
It's so surreal
I can't survive,
If this is all that's real
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And then her honesty, that terrifying reality, is cut off, as the chorus begins and she sings, "All I wanna do is get high by the beach, get high by the beach, get high."
She lets her listeners in, but only a little—she cuts them off quickly from her own story. It's a hardening that Del Rey has developed between herself and her haters.
For years, Del Rey has been scrutinized, gone over with a fine-toothed comb. She's been criticized for her changing hair color, for her weepy music, her name change, and her lack of authenticity. Before Del Rey morphed into a silky-haired emotional indie-pop artist, she was Lizzy Grant—a failed artist lacking a following. Lizzy Grant flopped hard. She was a timid singer. Her songs were too wispy and mostly unrelatable. On stage, she was a disaster.
But in 2010, that girl was swept away, and replaced by a woman who, perhaps, wasn't any more confident, but had learned how to create an outer shell of protection; mean words can't break through. That shell makes her a fairly unapproachable celebrity. In interviews, she plays a role—so built into her performance that it might have actually become real. Or maybe it's just an incredible performance.
But what makes her seem a little fake as a human, is exactly what makes her albums relatable for listeners.
Honeymoons are brief moments in time: A blissful period of happiness and unity, before reality sets in. A young couple in love, focused on each other, without the pressures and fears of savings accounts, and children, and aging parents.
On Lana Del Rey's third studio album, Honeymoon, she has created that blissful moment between the listener and herself.
Like many great love stories, Lana Del Rey had a rocky start. Listeners loved her 2012 debut Born to Die because it was a kind of happy reality of what it means to be a human so buried in her own feelings. As Del Rey sings on the title track of that album, "Don't make me sad/ Don't make me cry/ sometimes life is not enough/ and the road gets tough/ I don't know why."
But Del Rey's honesty—about what it means to live inside a brain that you can't always control, much less understand—was sometimes lost beneath a heap of overproduction. The music, for much of the album, drowned her out.
She leaned into that wistful honesty on her sophomore album Ultraviolence, yet even then there are moments where Del Rey disappears entirely, becoming a kind of voice among many instead of a guiding force.
On Honeymoon, some of the stark emotions heard on Ultraviolence are buried underneath a layer of deep, deep apathy. When she sings "I like you a lot," on "Music to Watch Boys to," it's almost suffocating, how emotionless she sounds. By layering her own voice in the lyrics, the beginnings and ends of her words become blurred, creating a kind of sonic uncertainty.
The apathy of this album is conveyed not only in its lyrics, though, but in its structure she creates in her songs—choruses and verses battle on this album between intense emotion and overwhelming detachment.
On "Salvatore," Del Rey sounds glossy. The song's melody has swelling strings that create a beautiful, romantic, old-Hollywood glow that Del Rey herself is so intent on embodying. But like many of the songs on this album, Del Rey contrasts a verse of explicit honesty with a chorus that dismisses it. She sings, "Summer's hot but I've been cold without you/ I was so wrong not to tell, I'm in regine, tangerine dreams," before immediately heading into the chorus: "Catch me if you can/ working on my tan/ Salvatore."
It would be far too easy to write off Honeymoon for the apathy that permeates it. "You want more," Del Ray sings on "Art Deco" before her own voice interrupts her note to whisper "why?"
It's a great question. Why do we want more from Lana Del Rey? Why do we want her to be explicitly honest about how she feels and what she's doing? Why do we think that our expectations of her matter at all?
In her distance, she creates a screen where our own emotions can be reflected back at us. By removing her own personal experience from her music, Del Rey allows us to inhibit her emotions, to claim them as our own and try to make sense of them.
On this album, Del Rey takes what can be perceived as indifference on the surface and crams it full of honesty and struggle. It isn't as straight-forward and ballsy as the anger and frustration of Born to Die. It isn't as confrontable as the obvious sadness of Ultraviolence.
No, apathy is a more interesting emotion than anything else Del Rey has been able to create thus far because it is so understated in the fears that it holds. In boredom there is fear, sadness, frustration… and sometimes bliss.
What Del Rey seems to have realized on Honeymoon is that not only does apathy give her the ability to stand back from the press and even her fans—apathy allows her to get closer to them than she ever has before.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.