When you find a good cover song it’s not always similarity you’re getting attached to, it’s usually a marked specialness brought over the collaboration with another artist’s work. A certain sense that something is recognisable but just slightly off, just slightly mysterious. All things that Lana Del Rey, even when she’s not covering 60s classics, seems to inhabit all day, everyday.
But even when it’s the little differences that might be what entice us to cover songs, Donovan’s clicky, cloudy, “Season of the Witch” with Lana works because the fit is perfect. Who could be a more witchy, flowy contemporary singer than the gangster Nancy Sinatra who never seems fulfilled while never putting a foot wrong.
Elizabeth Grant, in her persona as Del Rey, encapsulates everything about the witchy world that is grabbing people’s attention more and more now. Not only is she an independent woman who holds a secret, individual power, there’s also always something missing. Something about Del Rey is, planned or not, inherently unknowable (read: near magical).
It’s a trick the best writers often talk about: that ability to use the negative space. While Del Rey pours out stories and emotions and angst in her songs, you get a tingle of a sense that there’s still things she’s not telling us. It’s all one big hint and she knows something and she’s going to let you figure it out on your own.
It might explain the continuing interest and discussion of her in the insta-stargazer camp. When Del Rey tweeted her birth time at astrologer and writer Randon Rosenbohm, it prompted a whole VICE article: ‘Lana Del Rey Is a Cancer, Not a Gemini,’ the headline told us. ‘Lana Del Rey is actually a Cancer, so do with that what you will,’ the Fader yelled out. Cancer makes more sense, the Fader told us, as it’s “decidedly the most sensitive and emotional sign of the zodiac.”
But while Del Rey’s sensitivity comes across in her work it never comes across as weakness. There’s drama but it’s her drama. There’s hardship but it’s her hardship. She is always, somehow, in control - she’s hurt but she likes it; she’s bleeding but it’s stylish. The power is otherworldly, a word that is used fairly constantly in any articles about Del Rey.
There was a hint at this great withholding once, a few years back. In 2012, still high off the strength of Born to Die, Del Rey was named GQ’s Woman of the Year. In the accompanying interview, Del Rey, sitting on the floor in a Monte Carlo hotel suite, told us one of the secrets that writers keep from their readers.
“A lot of the time when I write about the person that I love, I feel like I'm writing about New York. And when I write about the thing that I've lost I feel like I'm writing about alcohol because that was the first love of my life. Sure, there have been people, but it's really alcohol."
The interview itself was overshadowed at the time by a small furore over the accompanying photoshoot, depicting the men in suits and Del Rey naked. Despite Jezebel’s half-joking headline “GQ Ran Out of Clothes for Its Woman of the Year,” It didn’t dull her power. If anything, it’s just another example of it.
Del Rey knows that we want her and she’s fine with that - she’ll never want us in the same way. Maybe alcohol is in the way, maybe it’s her changing zodiac sign, maybe it’s the withheld mystique that just makes you want to keep listening over and over until you finally figure out what it is she’s keeping from you.
Del Rey’s upcoming album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ is out today and contains songs that have already captured us: “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it”; “Mariners Apartment Complex”; her cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” (covers; magical, unknowable covers). It truly is the Season of Lana Del Rey.