As cinematic as Lana Del Rey’s music may be, her music videos are surprisingly narrative-free. With a few exceptions (“Born To Die,” “Summertime Sadness,” “National Anthem” (sort of)), nothing really happens in Lana’s videos. This isn’t by any means abnormal, but in her case it can be sort of jarring: we see Lana as a plot-driven performer, and when a video starts and ends with no signs of character growth, we ask the (pretty unreasonable) question: what was the point?
This is not a question one typically asks after watching a Jake Nava video. Very little “happens” in “Single Ladies” (his biggest hit to date), but very few who would question its place as one of the best music video of all time (OF ALL TIME!). Beyoncé dances, flashes upper thighs/hips; non-Beyoncés follow. This is great entertainment. But when Nava turns his camera to a trans-technicolor Lana Del Rey twirling around and fawning after a confusingly made-up older man in a vintage Malibu, it’s harder to accept the video for what it is. This is in part due to the fact that Beyoncé is miles more entertaining than anyone else on the planet, but it also has something to do with the way we’re inclined to process Lana Del Rey. We experience her as a persona. Personas have narratives – they’re supposed to do something. In “Shades Of Cool,” Lana doesn’t do anything. She loves her man, he loves her too. Nothing happens. I feel cheated.
“Shades Of Cool” reminds me of another Brooklyn Baby’s video from earlier this year, Tei Shi x Nicolas Pesce’s fantastic “Nevermind The End.” “Nevermind The End” and “Shades Of Cool” follow similar trajectories. Like Lana, Tei Shi (Valerie Teicher) finds herself in a dimly lit romance with a much older man. Like Lana, Teicher spends most of the video seeming pretty okay with that. But, unlike “Shades Of Cool,” something happens. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but Teicher kills the dude with a pillow. It’s shocking, and awesome, and makes you feel gross. But it’s ultimately cathartic. There’s a point. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but that point makes “Nevermind The End” a very different kind of music video.
There are a lot of reasons, many of them good, that make it uncomfortable to watch a romance play out between a young woman and a creepy-looking old man without any sort of commentary. Lana shouldn’t just swim past this guy in his luxurious, glass-walled private pool and smile; “Shades Of Cool” shouldn’t end without any hint of dramatic resolution. But that lack of resolution is what makes “Shades Of Cool,” both video and song, so emotionally effective. Killing the old man in the end allows us to step outside of the experience and look at it objectively. Leaving him alive and gloriously blue forces us to experience the romance as it is, uncomfortable or not. What is it like to be a young woman in love with an old man who loves his drugs over his baby and who treats you as just another shade of blue? I have no idea, but Lana seems to, and by refusing to step behind a reasonable narrative she gives me the opportunity to almost feel it too.