New Sounds: Lana Del Rey’s ‘Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind’ should stay in the VIP tent

Just in time for festival season, Lana Del Rey has graced us with a new single, titled, if you can believe it, “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind”.

If you want to stop reading right now and extrapolate what the whole thing sounds like based on name alone, you’ll hit pretty close to the mark. As the title implies, it’s a Lana Del Rey song that sounds like a brutal parody of a Lana Del Rey song, complete with multiple flower crown references, an ‘80s baby’s rose-tinted nostalgia for the ‘60s, and the sort of hollow melancholy that’s more of an aesthetic than an emotion. The melodic arrangement shoots for ethereal but drifts away with the shapelessness of festival smoke.

But it’s worse than that, too. With lines like “For a minute it was Woodstock in my mind/In the next morning/They put out a warning/Tensions were rising over country lines,” it’s laced with just enough performative political concern to warrant an eyebrow raise. “Maybe my contribution could be as small as hoping,” she sings, as if that sort of self-assured bystanding wasn’t a contributing factor to any major world issues in 2017. She offers an apologistic take on music festival luxury, too, as she watches a charismatic performer (suspected to be Father John Misty) from backstage, lamenting about how all the world’s turmoil can exist concurrently with the magic of festival revelry.

“I had complex feelings about spending the weekend dancing whilst watching tensions w North Korea mount,” she’d written on Instagram while on her way home from the actual Coachella weeks earlier. Unfortunately, any meaningful sentiment from that moment gets left out of the track, which feels disingenuous in the emotion that it does convey: Sure, I’m soaking in all these famous-people festival vibes here backstage, but leave me alone, because I’m also thinking about some pretty heavy stuff, which I shan’t actually name!

Music festivals are fun. Music festivals aren’t inherently bad. But to write a song about a privileged experience and dress it up with political seriousness without ever naming an issue reads more like a calculated marketing move, doling out the heroism of taking a stand without the controversy of choosing a cause. Worse still, it gives Del Rey the meaningless glamour of rebellion while actually discouraging any real action.

At least the vagueness leaves room to dream about a more pleasant theory: In a kinder alternate universe, all of the above is deliberate. There, this is Lana Del Rey leaning so far into the LDR persona that she’s actually taking a stab at the kind of ironic caricature preferred by Father John Misty himself — which would make it a mind-boggling success. Regardless, she’s pulling all of her usual levers so hard that she stands to rip them clear off the machine. We can only hope that something better awaits when that happens.

Follow Karen Muller on Twitter @KarenLottie.