This Song is Actually About Video Games

Full disclosure: for the last few months, I’ve been obsessed with Lana Del Rey’s song “Video Games.” I probably haven’t disclosed this because it’s a weird thing for a thirty-six year old man to listen to while jogging. And while “Video Games” fits my jogging playlist standards for inclusion (matches my breathing rhythms, rises to a crescendo after moments of repetition), I think my weird preoccupation with the song is based on a misinterpretation.

Because I’ve been meaning to write about the way song is the most damning critique of pre-and-post millennial hipster masculinity that I’ve heard at least since people started using the word “hipster” to describe people who know the names of all the members of Animal Collective. I based this reading primarily on the first verse:

I’m in his favorite sun dress
Watchin’ me get undressed
Take that body downtown
I say youre the bestest
Lean in for a big kiss
Put his favorite perfume on
Go play your video game

Now, perhaps it’s because I’d never actually looked at the lyrics before, and because I was usually jogging across a busy street when listening to it, but I assumed the lyrics were describing something different than those lyrics suggest: Lana is dressed for romance, while her dude just wants to play video games – a conflict that the rest of the song (I thought) plays out. Combined with Lana’s persona – a torch singer who would have been iconoclastic in the 1970s (her entire image construction seems impossible without the pre-existence of Joan from Mad Men), I assumed the song was laying into all the dudes drinking PBR and sitting on a bean bag chair and playing A Boy and his Blob as Lana Del Rey is wearing their favorite sundress. Lana is so hopelessly in love that she’ll reinvent herself again (I heard that you like the bad girls, honey / Is that true?), while some Dmitri Martin look-alike wanders around virtually to find out if there’s a way to get out of the dungeon without using the wizard key. Women continue to be awesome, while men have been increasingly ineffectual and detached. I thought that sentiment, savage yet exact, made the song damningly relevant.

But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here. It seems like Lana actually wants to play video games with her amour.  That’s her idea of a romantic evening, and it’s why she puts on a sundress. Or it’s a euphemism for sex, which is stupid. The consistent refrain doesn’t make sense in any other context, unless it’s ironic, and there’s nothing about the way Lana sings the song to suggest that. For instance:

He holds me in his big arms
Drunk and I am seein’ stars
This is all I think of
Watchin’ all our friends fall
In and out of Old Paul’s[?]
This is my idea of fun
Playin’ video games

In other words, Lana and her hunk snuggle up together and play ICE CLIMBER. That’s the romantic bliss the song is describing.

This blogger seems to affirm my reading, even though it has a different, empowering interpretation. She thinks it’s about a woman participating in a gendered setting, while I now assume it’s just a way of making the torch song culturally relevant. She says, “Despite all her lyrics about sundresses, perfume, and big kisses, ‘Video Games’ is mostly about playing video games” when I thought it was about sundresses, perfume, and big kisses and  heavily flannelled hippie-johnnies who would rather play video games.

When Lana Del Rey was widely mocked for her performance on Saturday Night Live, I assumed it was because this degree of anti-charisma combined with celebrity ambition was never going to work in this cultural moment. She wasn’t the kind of icon anyone was asking for, and that therefore she (and whoever else talked Lorne Michaels into putting her on) had made a huge miscalculation. But now I’m just baffled. Lana continues to be reasonably popular while remaining mostly out of the Top 10 List on Youtube. There’s room for her, in other words, but not at the top. But perhaps confusion – about what she’s trying to be and what her songs mean – is the most appropriate way to approach her. And I guess that’s why she remains on my jogging playlist.

(The video, by the way, explains nothing. Except that, like Lana Del Rey, it exists uncomfortably in the present and the past).


5 thoughts on “This Song is Actually About Video Games

  1. Interesting. I love this song and have always thought your first interp was the right one. Are you sure the lyric that inspires your new interp says “This is my idea of fun: playin video games”? I thought it was “This is my idea of fun” where she’s referring to the preceding lyrics–being held and drunk while star-gazing–and then adds “Play your video games,” where there’s like an apostrophe in front of “Play” for the implied word “Go”, i.e., “Go play your video games, if that’s what you want to do, despite all these objectively better things we could be doing.” This interp also seems to better match the mood of the music, which is something more like resignation in the face of beauty than fun video game timez with the BF. There’s a tragic feel to it.

    • I thought so too, Paul. But I tend to agree more with the reading of the blogger I quoted. They actually are playing video games and liking it. I think there is a sense of resignation that supports my initial reading, and perhaps that’s the irony… I don’t know: this came out of me listening to the song this morning and kind of coming to the awareness I wrote above – that it’s not the critique of masculinity that I’d made it out to be. Part of their happiness is playing video games. I also am starting to think that video games is a metaphor for something else, and that it possible changes in each verse. I guess what I’ve come away with is more ambiguity than I originally thought it had, which leads me to think that Lana’s thing is to be always baffled by what she’s up to.

      And I still like the song a lot. The part where she sings “I heard that you like the bad boys . . .” always gets me.

  2. Maybe it’s agree to disagree (or maybe I’m putting more emphasis on the atmosphere of the music as a guide to interpretation than I should), but there is this:

    The money quote is this one:

    “[Interviewere] What inspired ‘Video Games’?
    LDR: A boy. I think we came together because we were both outsiders. It was perfect. But I think with that contentment also comes sadness. There was something heavenly about that life – we’d go to work and he’d play his video games – but also it was maybe too regular. At the time I was becoming disillusioned with being a singer and was very happy to settle with a boyfriend who I loved, but in the end we both lost sight of our dreams. Maybe there’s something not-so-special about domestic life.”

  3. That’s interesting. I’m curious – given how crafted every aspect of Lana’s persona (that she originally tried to become a pop star under her own name, didn’t, and then used media events to establish herself as LDR), do you really feel like she wrote it? I don’t know . . . I haven’t really followed her career very closely. But I will admit that that quote is very suggestive to the original interpretation my counter-interpretation challenges.

  4. I find the song fascinatingly unusual as are several of her others, such as Ride and Blue Jeans. She has a unique voice and tone. Her music is poetic. The use of “wedding bells’ to start this particular song is almost ironic, and I love the harpsichord….most unusual. All that being said, she ain’t for everybody. I just find her voice and her approach to be appealing. She’s very different. By no means, do I like every song she does. I’ve read her comments on this song, and I honestly preferred thinking there was some deeper hidden meaning. Apparently it was indeed motivated by a guy she previously dated….I think he played Dungeons and Dragons all the time…and things didn’t work out.

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