In Defense of Lana Del Rey's Burning Desire
  • FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2013

  • Posted by: Dorit Finkel

There's a clusterfuck going on, and Lana Del Rey is caught in the middle. A new film called Desire is going to feature both the Jaguar F-Type and music by Del Rey, written for both the movie and the car. It's kind of like if the Charlie's Angels movies (remember that Destiny's Child song?) had also been selling a certain gun, or the James Bond movies were brought to you by Gucci, and Adele was singing about suits.

We'll admit that this new project wasn't exactly what fans were hoping for: the pop singer/songwriter literally wrote "Burning Desire" for what will probably be an extended Jaguar commercial dressed up as cinema, and the "music video" (released via Jaguar's YouTube account) is basically just that: Del Rey sings in an abandoned theater as images of a speeding F-Type fly by in conjunction with lyrics about riding, cruising, and driving fast with the wind in your hair. But instead of being actually about driving a car, or freedom, or adventure, it follows the very old tradition of melding a product with sex. The song is about driving to a booty call, breaking the speed limit in order to get to the object of your desire, even touching yourself in the car. To be honest, aside from the lame bridge rhyming "everyone knows it" with "you know it," it's a damn good pop song. It's got a sensual trip-hop beat, Lana's signature impossibly-low growl, an addictive six-note piano hook, and a sultry chorus. It's almost like it was written to be a sex song.

But here's the thing: it wasn't. It was written to sell a car, and no amount of artsy class is going to get past that ugly fact. Not that this is anything new: advertisers' use of pop icons is as old as the industry itself, and it's hard to think of a major-label siren who hasn't appeared in the promotion of some product at some point. Growing up, I remember feeling kind of sick when I watched Britney Spears' Pepsi ad because it was insulting on so many levels. For one thing, they were selling Britney. The commercial showed men of all walks of life basically becoming aroused as they watched the commercial that we were ostensibly viewing, from hospital workers to someone's dog. It had nothing to do with Pepsi.

So how does this ad compare? For one thing, the music is great. More and more advertisements are picking up "indie" artists - Fun and even the Flaming Lips - in order to sell their stuff with superior music. This is both insulting to us as hardcore music fans, and refreshing to us as people immersed in ad culture despite our best efforts. It also poses a well-discussed dilemma for artists: the commercials help get their music to a larger audience, but it also means they've sold out. The issue is far less dramatic for a singer who's already classified as "commercial" (see: Beyonce, Elton John) and despite the fact that "Video Games" was played on a bunch of alternative radio stations, Del Rey is signed to Interscope (same as Lady Gaga) and is considered at this point a well-established pop singer. So should we give her a break?

I've heard lots of listeners complain that her songs all sound the same, but manage to get stuck in your head for days, so it seems pretty logical that she'd be a contender for car endorsements at some point. I mean, really, is this any different from Britney's bewildering video for "Hold It Against Me," which basically played out as an extended ad for Sony, Make Up Forever, and Plenty of Fish? Yes, "Burning Desire" was written for a car commercial, but when it comes to the often-cringeworthy world of pop music, I'll take a well-written sponsored song over a terrible one any day. We're not going to take it as serious songwriting, but we're willing to give Lana the benefit of the doubt here, and enjoy this slow jam.

That being said, I'm probably not going to go out and see Desire. Or buy a Jaguar.

Watch the video for "Burning Desire" below. What do you think: trashy or passable?

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