Lana Del Rey just released the cover art for her new single "Blue Jeans" (click at left to enlarge) and—oh, boy—is it controversial! Or it's boring and trying too hard. Either way, she's being choked. Or maybe she's being caressed. Or maybe the heavily tattooed hand is checking her pulse? Oh, the ambiguity! She really makes us think, huh?
If this is, in fact, a photo of Del Rey in a choke-hold, it is the daintiest choke-hold I have ever seen. This is how you hold your hand while choking a dormouse or a doll made out of light bulbs (to be fair, "glass doll" is not that far off course from Lana Del Rey's image). Advertising your product (and this is nothing more than a product) by showing a woman getting choked is gross, violent and sexist, but there's something even grosser about just hinting at it.
The art direction on the "Blue Jeans" cover does nothing to detract from Lana Del Rey's manufactured image. The way it toes the line of controversy screams marketing campaign (it worked, too— I am writing about it, but, to be fair, I am bored and very simple). If you are going to court controversy, at least let it say something about you as an artist. It reminds me of the scene in Spinal Tap when Fran Drescher tells the band that they can't depict a naked woman as a dog on the cover of their new album "Smell the Glove." Yes, the idea is offensive and terrible, but so is Spinal Tap. At the very least, the cover art would let us know immediately that we hate them. The same can be said for real life examples. Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" immediately says something about the group's political point-of-view, Madonna's "Justify My Love" cover says something about her sexuality and the original art for Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" tells a real story about how he likes to bone succubi.
What does the cover art for "Blue Jeans" say? That Lana Del Rey likes her neck held gently like a tea cup? That this is going to be raw and violent? That she looks as quaalude-hot as ever? Del Rey loves to say that only her fans get what she does, but maybe that's because she doesn't really do anything. She doesn't move around on stage, she doesn't play instruments, and she doesn't do a lot vocally. I am not saying she is talentless. I thought "Video Games" was catchy and felt guilty for being one of the many who said some not-so-nice things about her following her performance on SNL, but it's things like this promotional "Blue Jeans" photo that makes it hard to defend her. It is both controversial and apathetic, present and non-committed, offensive and declawed. It's actually the perfect allegory for Del Rey, herself. She has the potential to test limits, be interesting and unique, but ultimately her lack of daring and contrived Lolita image make her fall short.