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At the end of the clip, Lana Del Rey calls it her “art video”: a new spoken-word piece called "Patent Leather Do-Over," accompanied by 4½ minutes of shaky black-and-white camera-phone footage tracking her leisurely descent down an outdoor staircase to the beach. In terms of its visual metaphor, though, the thing is practically a documentary.
Days after a series of earlier posts in which the 34-year-old singer raised tricky questions about race and gender — then repeatedly doubled down when commenters accused her of flaunting her white privilege — here she is blithely closing in on the frothing waters in front of her.
Why rise above when you can sink with a smile?
A week into Lana-gate, nobody needs more musing over whether or not Del Rey is a racist (or at best a Karen); plenty has already been said on the topic since her initial volley, in which she complained of being subject to a double standard that doesn’t apply to other female artists — most of them women of color — such as Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B.
“I’m fed up with female writers and alt singers saying that I glamorize abuse when in reality I’m just a glamorous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world,” she wrote on May 21, echoing comments she made last year in an angry tweet inspired by music critic Ann Powers’ (very admiring) review of Del Rey’s latest album, “Norman F— Rockwell!”
Yet as the singer’s final word on the controversy, as of Thursday at least, this new spoken-word poem and video feels worthy of consideration as an emblem of Del Rey’s approach to pop stardom.
That it appeared on Instagram was no surprise: The most visually oriented of the major social-media platforms — key for an artist as in love with images as Del Rey is — Instagram has also become the place where pop stardom happens during the pandemic.
A post shared by Lana Del Rey (@lanadelrey) on May 21, 2020 at 12:26am PDT
Indeed, the “Patent Leather Do-Over” clip can be considered a bit of promo for the singer’s upcoming projects: two books of poetry — "Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass" and "Behind the Iron Gates — Insights From an Institution" — along with an accompanying spoken-word album reportedly due this year. (In an earlier Instagram video she revealed what she said will be the title of her proper “Rockwell” follow-up: “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.”)
With its steady point-of-view shot of Del Rey’s long, tanned legs, the staircase video — actually the second featuring “Patent Leather Do-Over,” following one showing swaying palm trees — also shores up the idea of her glamorousness in the face of all her haters.
But it’s the poem’s historical framing, emphasized by the faux-vintage background music provided by the singer’s trusted producer Jack Antonoff, that really puts across the unbothered attitude she’s looking to project.
Del Rey opens the poem by addressing Sylvia Plath, telling the late writer that she knew what Plath meant “when you talked about swimming in the ocean and leaving your patent leather black shoes pointing towards it while you swam.”
The reference to Plath’s attempted suicide (as documented in “The Bell Jar”) is heavy, clearly; ditto Del Rey’s references later in the poem to Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. To invoke those troubled names, though — each with its tightly coiled history of celebrity turned toxic — is to suggest how much more Del Rey can take without breaking.
"All of my kind women who came before me / Blonde, I dyed my hair black for you," she goes on in a singsong voice that dares you to perceive her as a victim, "I turned my back on that black pond / I swear I won't stop till I'm dead / And here I am at 34 / And what for?
"To bring my pair of baby patent leather shoes / To turn them the other way," she says, Antonoff's guitar reverbing into infinity behind her, "Towards the sea-cliff stairs, not at the ocean."
It’s a confession that functions as a flex — and an invitation, as always, to keep watching.