Hyperreality in the Age of Ultraviolence A review of Lana Del Rey's sophomore major-label record, Ultraviolence, and a hyperrealist look at the modern world

This album is a Harmony Korine film, it is hyperrealist art. There is no possibility that titles like "Cruel World", "Money Power Glory" or else lines like "I'm churning out novels like beat poetry on amphetamines" or "he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed" are meant to be taken literally. If anyone can listen to those lines, take them seriously and not recoil, there is something fundamentally wrong. Just like Born to Die was a sarcastic experiment and a half-cynical, half-earnest look at opulence as a part of the American dream, Ultraviolence is a similar Shaviroesque look at America. Per Woody Allen, “life does not imitate art, it imitates bad television.”

Indeed, the presence of high art in everyday life has eroded with mainstream media taking its place. Media in the form of small-screen TV shows, celebrity culture, the paparazzi media, bestselling novelists, The Juliet Society, Dan Brown, etc. We are now connected by being disconnected. Facebook is taking the place of conversations, condos the place of nightclubs; it is a universal trend. These replacements are trivial to the main change: the willing exchange of our reality for hyperreality, true existence for a simulacrum.

Interestingly, this change is most obvious for those that are most actively involved in it and therefore it is unsurprising that it is often discussed by the very same people taking part in the orchestration. Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers come to mind, Sasha Grey's interviews, and of course Lana Del Rey's own Born to Die. However, these artistic statements are themselves misinterpreted by the mass audience which has for the most part already chosen hyperreality over what is truly real. An outcry that says you have it all wrong always sounds disconcerting and so we choose to ignore it for the majority cannot be wrong, cannot be mad. Instead, we single out the dissenters and destroy them with criticism - the weakest tool becoming the sharpest in the great replacement. Spring Breakers was a stupid film about nothing, Sasha Grey's a dumb cumslut, and Born to Die is an earnest embracement of the American Dream. The illusion is unbroken because we can simply choose to ignore anything that points to the truth. Of course, Spring Breakers was actually a tremendous criticism of post-American culture, Sasha Grey's work and art a statement levelled at our prevailing sexual monogamy, and Born to Die is the harshest criticism of modern America since The Great Gatsby. It is ironic that these ironic works become the unironic anthems of the very things they seek to criticize. In this manner, National Anthem can be used as a rallying call for wealth, Jay Gatsby can become our role model. This is the very proof of our acceptance of hyperreality. Our stereotypes have become the basis for truth.

On the other hand, Lana Del Rey has never been afraid to challenge the archetypes, the definitions of our success, the fundamental clichés of modern society and here she goes after our depression. She exposes and highlights the fundamental aspects of our lives until they are deconstructed, until they sound profoundly ridiculous. We want to feel that we are "pretty when [we] cry." We have our poseur obsessions with drugs and Parliaments (of both types) and each element is deconstructed extensively. It is precisely by addressing them in this seemingly unwavering fashion that they can be disassembled. The best way to make someone do something is to encourage them not to. Here, the supports to our façade are being attacked because Lana Del Rey embraces them in this pseudo-earnestness. One of hyperreality's defining features is that of unflinching emotional shallowness. Ironic then that Lana Del Rey pretends to wallow in darkness, sadness, to be pitied on Ultraviolence. This is done precisely to underscore the ridiculousness of this tepidness - this lukewarm and ill-defined sadness. Indeed, how can we be both ultra-confident and self-loathing, sexually successful and intimately depressed? In the real world, that's clearly bullshit, but here in our favored hyperreality, paradoxes become the founding truths of our pretend existence.

If our Founding Fathers loathed and feared the common man, how can liberty possibly be the founding uniting principle of America? If the American dream is for universal success and social upward mobility, how can it ever be universal? The single fact of our life is that for someone to win, someone must lose. For someone to move up in the rankings, someone must move down. Disneyland becomes reality, and then suddenly the fundamental motivating factors of our lives are exposed as lies. And slowly, adagio pianissimo, new generations grew wise to this fact. To the fact that the Baby Boomers built nothing but instead destroyed the key truths of human existence of the generations that came before them. And so, we scream, "WHY? THIS IS SO UNFAIR." We are the children of the great, we are the sons and daughters of the Yuppies, this doesn't make sense. We are unhappy because happiness is meant to be reality less expectations. In systematically repressing reality and replacing it with hyperreality, we threw off this strict formula. We have great ambition and a competitive spirit, but we are terribly lazy because we are entitled, because we've been taught that we are anything but ordinary. The fact is that by the definition of the word, all of us cannot possibly be 'extraordinary.'' For one person to be outstanding, one hundred must be completely ordinary, average. This statement is aversive to the point of rage for us because it goes against the grain of what we embraced as the truth and embraced it we did because it was comfortable, it was enticing. If someone tells you you are amazing your whole life, slowly you begin to believe it yourself. Likewise, if you consistently tell everyone that you are a golden god, you start to believe it yourself. Our generation is self-destructive because we are so unhappy. We are disillusioned, we are cynical, and we seek out, no, desperately need excess to survive. It is no coincidence that "Do you believe me, I don't believe in anything" became a rallying cry along with "Kill people, burn shit, fuck school."

Lana Del Rey is herself the champion of exaggeration, of false patriotism and false materialism because the transience of our society's symbols lends itself to the greater picture. She recreated herself, created a new identity, an identity that is founded in creationism instead of evolution. Her identity, and by extension, our entire society, is fed by celebrity culture, by rampant consumerism. We steal for the rush, to get caught, and to get that elusive media exposure. "Prison don't mean nothing to me."

And so, what's the point? What do we live for if everything is built on lies because we as a society, have selected hyperreality in place of the decrepit truth? Let us recall The Matrix. Forget Neo because there are no Neos in the real world. No, The Matrix has one character that makes a realistic choice, a choice that we have all embraced. Cypher is our role model, not Neo, because the realization of the falsehood of that what we choose need not diminish our joy from making that choice. And so I work for a meaningless piece of paper, studying shit that I don't care about, to get more experience and more qualifications so that I can do more shit that I don't care about and all this can make sense because these choices are what drive us forward. They bring us a career which brings us money which allows us to purchase things like $500 lamps. But these lamps are no longer lamps, they are literally shining symbols, validation both to ourselves and to others that that person must be doing something right if he can afford to buy a Maserati convertible. We make choices that seem wrong because we want to impress others so that we can impress ourselves. We want to establish dynasties, teach our kids how to play American football, sail and send them to the top schools of the world. We want to do blow, and get blown, and blow others away because we live in fear. We are scared that one fine morning, this illusion we have collectively embraced will somehow break and we will find ourselves caught pantsless looking out onto our bright green endless rolling lawn into the bay and see. See that post-modern-self-awareness will not save us. And we will ask ourselves was all this ever worth it? Isn't it the same as it ever was? And we might despair, or we might not, but even if we do, whatever, we have neatly packaged that into a concept as well and called it a midlife crisis. We'll buy another convertible, we'll be alright. Money, power, glory. Full stop. Poverty, feebleness, nursing homes, death.

Cruel World.