What Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" says about video games

Damn straight, video games should get casually referred to in popular love songs. How long have we had songs about going to the movies? I'm sure that topic used to seem like a strange and modern activity to write a song about, but now it's normal. And it's about time that gaming - one of my favorite romantic pastimes - should get taken completely seriously in a love song.

Of course, whenever anyone so much as brings up music by Lana Del Rey (née Elizabeth Grant), one must first backpedal by acknowledging her "fakeness" - her maybe-racist appropriation of a stage name that sounded "Spanish" to her, the boatloads of inherited money she used to fund her fame, her manufactured image as a bohemian artist, her inability to carry a tune live ... the list goes on.

The best interpretation of Del Rey's public image and work has to be Flavia Dzodan's "I sing Video Games for the fourteen year old girl I once was," over at Tiger Beatdown. Dzodan explains that one of Del Rey's worst qualities, according to her detractors, is her intentional embrace of vintage femininity. In our post-feminist age, being feminine just isn't "cool" anymore. We're all supposed to be "empowered" women now (read: masculine). Because masculinity is superior... oh, wait, Lana Del Rey is the one who's regressive? Gosh, I must've gotten turned around somewhere.

Despite all her lyrics about sundresses, perfume, and big kisses, "Video Games" is mostly about playing video games - a pastime that tends to be seen as either incredibly masculine (since competition is coded as masculine, in our society), or at the very least gender-neutral. Del Rey's lyrics even refer to other competitive games like darts and pool. And although Del Rey doesn't look like she could win a co-ed push-up contest, it doesn't take big biceps to hit a dartboard bull's-eye, set up a shot in pool, or to win at Soul Calibur. The reason these activities make for a great date night is because they level the playing field ... and give you the opportunity to find out how your date reacts to winning and losing.

Unfortunately, I can't find evidence that Del Rey plays video games in real life; her song was based on a relationship she had with a gamer. But her lyrics certainly make it sound like she's playing the games along with him: "this is my idea of fun, playing video games". Whether or not Del Rey has ever picked up a controller, this song is clearly about a woman who does. And she does it all in perfume and a sundress - imagine that!

This concept comes with its own baggage in the gaming community. It's said, all too often, that games women play aren't hardcore or masculine enough (Bejeweled and Farmville are, of course, not "real" games because women play them), that women who do play allegedly masculine games secretly hate them and only play such games to impress men, and that all "girl gamers" are just performing to get attention. It doesn't help that Lana Del Rey's image appears to epitomize the worst of this. After all, she talks the talk about loving video games in this song, but then follows that up with a chorus that repeats, "it's you, it's you, it's all for you / everything I do ... tell me all the things you want to do." It's all a performance. And Del Rey's current reputation for being a master of fakery sure doesn't help her case, here.

So perhaps as a woman gamer I should disown Del Rey and everything this song seems to imply. But I don't feel the need. Perhaps because I've successfully separated the artist from the song - not such a difficult feat, since the Del Rey singing in this song doesn't seem to exist in real life, anyway (there's a reason people were so disappointed with her live performance of this song on SNL; she's what's tactfully referred to as a "studio artist").

This song only exists in a hyper-fantasy world crafted by a recording studio, where with enough clever audio re-tooling and flash and mirrors, anyone can seem sensational ... and, guess where else that is the case? Video games. For a hefty chunk of change, you can feel like a hero, beloved, beautiful, and worshipped by all. Lana Del Rey sounds great, as long as we stay within the confines of her virtual reality soundscape, courtesy of a very talented (and, I hope, well-paid) audio production team.

Speaking of which, pay attention to this song's elaborate instrumentation. When non-gamers think of video game music, they think of chiptunes, but modern video game music is more often sweeping, orchestral and epic. The most well-known originator of this style would be Nobuo Uematsu, composer for most of the Final Fantasy games. Music student and gamer Holly Boismaison pointed out this song's similarity to Nobuo Uematsu's work on Twitter, and once she said that, I couldn't un-hear the resemblance. Not only is this song about games, it sounds like it belongs in one.

Holly Boismaison posits in her tweet that Del Rey has cornered the market for video game-inspired, Uematsu-esque pop songs. I certainly hope not - I'd love to see more songs like this from other pop artists willing to embrace and utilize the video game aesthetic to create music, beyond just your basic chiptunes and old-school synth effects (although I will say that Leeni's chiptune cover of Del Rey's song is damn impressive). Video game music has come a long way since the 80s, and gaming as a pastime has come a long way, too.

Not only does Del Rey's song suggest that even the most femme-presenting among us may well enjoy gaming (a notion that I dearly hope will soon become a commonplace assumption), her song also affirms the presence and influence of video games in society and relationships, without making them sound like some weird niche hobby for nerds.

Yet, it would be nice if Del Rey's talents existed in a more tangible reality than one crafted by audio technicians pressing buttons. As it is, she's no more real than Princess Zelda, Samus Aran or Commander Shepard - but we all pay for the privilege of being them, too. If you could afford to pay for the privilege of being Lana Del Rey, would you keep being Elizabeth Grant?

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