“I’m still looking for my own version of America, one without the gun, where the flag can freely fly. No bombs in the sky, only fireworks when you and I collide, it’s just a dream I had in mind,” sings Lana Del Rey as she opens up the chorus on her newest track, “Looking For America.” In teasing the song on Instagram, Del Rey was explicit about its subject:
Hi folks came back early from Montecito with my brother this morning and asked Jack Antonoff to come into town because I had a song on my mind that I wanted to write. Now I know I’m not a politician and I’m not trying to be so excuse me for having an opinion-but in light of all of the mass shootings and the back to back shootings in the last couple of days which really affected me on a cellular level I just wanted to post this.
Del Rey’s whole brand is nostalgia—not for a specific era but for some vague sense of 20th century Americana situated somewhere between the Camelot of the Kennedys and the Laurel Canyon of the ’70s. There’s the Jackie Kennedy inspired video for “National Anthem.” (A$AP Rocky is featured as the John F. Kennedy doppelgänger.) There’s her song titled “American.” There’s her cover art. It’s nostalgia for nostalgia itself.
Her talent for evoking a place that never was is brought fully to bear on “Looking For America,” one of her best tracks to date. The song’s beauty is in the lyrics. They’re full of classic Del Rey nostalgia, yet instead of defaulting to escapism as she usually does (“High By The Beach“), she wanted to depict a shattering reality. “Pulled over to watch the children in the park, we used to only worry for them after dark,” she sings. “I used to go to drive-ins and listen to the blues, so many things that I think twice about before I do, no.”
That last lyric reminds me of the horrifying video of people fleeing Times Square after mistaking a motorcycle backfiring for gun shots.
Mistaking motorcycles backfiring as gunshots, crowds flee Times Square in mass panic https://t.co/oCUbLVYMz2 pic.twitter.com/jI9M1vBwtO
— TIME (@TIME) August 7, 2019
Places of worship, music festivals, schools, bars, shopping centers. The unfortunate reality of living in America means that we have to be prepared for any public space to become a war zone within minutes.
“Looking For America” is tasteful and thorough—all proceeds of the songs are going to relief programs for the shootings. Del Rey has taken on one of the most pressing issues of the moment and managed to capture the ambient longing for relief.