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Authenticity and sadness: Perspectives on Lana Del Rey’s ‘Blue Banisters’

"Nothing if not powerfully authentic" 

Lana Del Ray’s eighth album subtly slipped into the music scene, but that does not mean it should go unnoticed. “Blue Banisters” curated an overarching sense of authenticity in a collection of songs that distance her from any labels of being solely a pop artist. Her vulnerable songwriting in front of slightly hypnotic instrumentals set up her audience for a trance-like listening experience not to be overlooked.

To be completely honest, my first impression of what would become Lana Del Ray’s “Blue Banisters” album was far from impressed. When she released the title track as one of three singles back in May — the others being “Text Book” and “Wildflower Wildfire” — I could only focus the cover art, which so many fans claimed looked like it was made on PicsArt. I agreed, so my expectations for this album were comically low before its release. 

Despite this rocky start, “Blue Banisters” and its delicate piano accompaniments are remarkably cohesive. Because of this consistency, more attention is drawn to Del Rey’s lyrics, through which her storytelling allows a particularly intimate view into her true emotions and her life as of late. 

The entire album is deeply emotive, a quality many fans look for in Lana Del Rey’s music; the stories told in “Blue Banisters” detail different aspects of her life during the pandemic as if each song is a diary entry. 

“Blue Banisters,” the title track, specifically, exudes details of Del Rey’s personal life — most clearly through the mention of her friends Nicki and Jenny, her two dogs Tex and Mex and her sister Chuck. This heartbreak ballad also alludes to her most recent ex-boyfriend and how her friends have comforted her during the breakup. Through soft and echoey lyrics, Del Rey presents blue banisters — which her partner would paint for her — as a symbol of happiness and inner peace that was taken from her upon their split. The seamless lyrical flow over subtle harmonies and piano chords provide the perfect framework to illustrate an achingly vulnerable time in Del Rey’s life.

I was surprised to find “Black Bathing Suit” among my favorite tracks. The lyrics are a romanticization of her weight gain, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the constant online scrutiny she has faced. Yet, out-of-sync drums and a sort of crying-yell echoing the lead vocal in the latter half of the song contribute to a beautifully messy narrative of how Lana perceives herself and how she wishes others — namely the men in her life and the broader media — would perceive her. 

“Blue Banisters” as a whole is nothing of an album if not powerfully authentic. If it was a test to show her audience who she really is — instead of the picture the media has painted her as — I would say she passes with flying colors. Her willingness to be explicit and vulnerable with what she experienced during the pandemic allows a unique opportunity for fans to truly relate to the artist – like this line in “Black Bathing Suit”:

“And if this is the end, I want a boyfriend / Someone to eat ice cream with and watch television / Or walk home from the mall with / ‘Cause what I really meant is when I'm being honest / I’m tired of this shit.”

Same, Lana. Same.

-Anna Rebello, staff writer

"Turning blue into something beautiful"

Since she burst onto the music scene in 2011 with her glamour-and-nostalgia-infused music video for “Video Games,” Lana Del Rey has come to embody the “Sad Girl” cultural trope. There’s good reason to associate Del Rey’s work with sadness — she frequently sings about ill-fated relationships, she broke into the Billboard top ten with her sleeper hit “Summertime Sadness,” and she even has a song titled “Sad Girl” on her 2014 album “Ultraviolence.” But Del Rey’s critics have often used the “Sad Girl” trope as a reductive, dismissive label to dilute her entire discography, and some have even denounced her for romanticizing sadness and glamorizing abusive relationships, leading Del Rey to retaliate with her controversial “question for the culture” Instagram post. On “Blue Banisters,” her second album of 2021, Del Rey subtly but profoundly responds to her diminishers and does what she does best: “[turning] blue into something beautiful.”

That’s a line from “Beautiful”, an aptly titled ballad that distills Del Rey’s thoughts on her reputation as the emblematic “Sad Girl.” Over twinkling piano chords, Del Rey wonders, “What if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad? / Never known who he was or the man he'd become / There would be no blue period.” It’s a simple analogy, but Del Rey’s earnestness shines through in her captivating vocal performance. Del Rey continues the blue motif on the album’s title track, whose lyrics are so evocative and precise that they could very well stand alone as a poem. Unlike “Beautiful,” “Blue Banisters” is less forthright and more nuanced: Del Rey masterfully alludes to recent heartbreak with a mention of “[dried flowers] sittin’ on the dresser” from “a place [she doesn’t] remember,” revealing how painful it is for her to talk about her former lover. Although she still sorrows over the man who promised to fix her issues and “take away [her] pain,” Del Rey is ultimately consoled by the presence of “all [her] sisters” who band together to paint her banisters a different color than the blue her ex preferred, offering a bittersweet image of female solidarity and symbolic closure. 

But the album’s standout, from both a production and vocal standpoint, is undoubtedly “Dealer.” Anchored by a hypnotic beat and splashy hi-hat, the track alternates between Miles Kane’s spaced-out, almost slurred verses and Del Rey’s exasperated pleas. “Why can't you be good for something?” she screams at her metaphorical “dealer,” her voice sounding more powerful and impassioned than ever.

Del Rey ends the album on a softer note with two songs written for members of her family, both present and posterior. On “Cherry Blossom,” she envisions pushing her future daughter on a swing and comforting her when she’s afraid, cooing “It's a cruel, cruel world, but we don't care / 'Cause what we've got, we've got to share.” Not only is Del Rey contemplating her future, but she is also projecting images of her past (“dandelions in your hair” and “blonde hair with lemonade tea”) onto her imaginary daughter, giving the track a simultaneously nostalgic and dream-like quality. It’s the perfect prequel to the album closer “Sweet Carolina,” a lullaby-esque piano ballad addressed to her sister Chuck, who was pregnant with her first daughter at the time it was written. Pairing her ethereal, flitting voice with sweeping piano melodies, Del Rey reassures her sister that she’ll be there for her if she gets the “baby blues” (a euphemism for postpartum depression) and throws in some light-hearted jabs, like “‘crypto forever,’ scrеams your stupid boyfriend / fuck you, Kevin.” It’s arguably the most personal song on what Del Rey has described as her most personal album to date, yet its soothing message resonates with audiences far beyond Del Rey’s immediate family. For an artist who has long been pigeonholed as the spokesperson for her generation’s angst and sadness, Del Rey once again shows that she has much more to offer on “Blue Banisters.”

-Lily Zhu, contributing writer

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