In 2011, Lana Del Rey showed up to the chillwave party with flowers in her hair and a video she’d made herself. She was awkward, a pity guest tugging at the hem of her hand-me-down dress. She didn’t know how to do eyeliner. The video—for “Video Games”—looked something like a camcorder montage played at an early funeral, and something like a collection of messages left on Skype for a long-distant lover, and then like something less altogether, a naive and half-stoned distraction from full-time basement life. Singer and video both were accused of the ultimate high school don’ts: “being fake” and “trying” (the new “selling out”). In response, Lana shrugged and said that really, she should’ve tried harder. “Had I known so many people were going to watch [it],” she told The Daily Star in 2012, “I’d have put some more effort into it. I would have got my hair and makeup done and tried not to be so pouty, seeing as everyone talks about my face all the time.”
That year in fashion, the yen for pastels reached a zenith, and few stars went paler than Lana. I remember trying the trend, sort of—I’d bleached my hair to death in 2010, then infused it with lavender, rose—but when it came to clothes that matched, I felt ridiculous. I balked at what I then called “the bad girl gone Lula” look, which a “hazily pastiched” Del Rey embodied in and around her “Video Games” fame. I didn’t care if her lips were fake; I cared that the cigarette between them went unsmoked. (As a failed evangelical Christian, I have never understood why anyone would pretend to have sin.) Her songs I liked, but the outfits bored me: stiff, prim, and so often pastel, a hue synonymous with sweetness and artificiality. Pastels, and the Pleasantville styles they come in, also connote (to me) an anodyne, ladylike feminism that prizes smartness and self-righteousness at the expense of not only sex appeal but those who use it to win, as if brains are any less a thing of luck and cultivation than bodies, or as if the average intellect is any less artificial than (allegedly) Lana’s lips or Lana’s nose.
I find it funny-sad-true that in trying to look “smart,” she basically just dressed “non-slutty”: Google-image “Lana Del Rey 2011” and “Lana Del Rey 2012,” and you’ll get gowns to the floor, shirts buttoned all the way up, fuzzy sweaters, and cinch-waisted frocks. She dyed her Lizzy Grant–era, Britney-blonde hair a respectable, honeyed shade of brown. She lowered her voice, because “people didn’t take [her] seriously with a high one,” but then they didn’t trust her femininity with a low one. So she sang “Blue Velvet” but wore strawberry pink and mint green, peach and lemon and violet. And white—never white like a bride, but white like the girl who wears white to someone else’s wedding.