Shades of Cool: Deep Inside The Many-Colored World Of Lana Del Rey

Where “hell” is a color

Photo via Lana Del Rey

Spend enough time—spend any time—in Lana Del Rey’s world and you start to see things differently; teeth gleam gold, eyes are sky blue or darkest black, lips are rubies or cherries, socks are white and so are lines; everything is, at one point, dark—even paradise. Del Rey’s music is atmospheric to a degree unparalleled by any other singer-songwriter working today. She traffics in mood; she invites us into her world, and we are captive until the music stops. Del Rey manages this feat because of how completely she floods our senses with her music; she ties us up not only with her auditory entreaties but also through all our other senses. We don’t just hear Lana Del Rey, we feel, smell, and taste her; it’s not simply the tickle of Pepsi-Cola we feel on our tongues, but also the Aspirin-drip of lines down our throats, the soft cool fur of her coat, the cold, sharp edges of a diamond, the grit of the sand under our feet, the slap of the water on our skin.

And then there are the things she makes us see. Del Rey employs touchstone words and phrases throughout her body of work. Her lyrical universe (so beautifully mapped out last year by Emily Yoshida at The Verge) displays the gamut of Del Rey’s most-favored things: party dresses, hydrangeas, Cadillacs, yayo, trailer parks, the beach, boys. Del Rey sings of a world filled with icons—some of them gleaming, some crumbling and in various states of decay—all of them made visible through her language, and vibrant through her use of color.

“I got my red dress on tonight/ Dancing in the dark in the pale moonlight” 

“I paint my house black/ My wedding dress black leather too/ I keep my lips red, to seem like cherries in the spring/ Darling, you can’t let everything seem so dark blue” 

“Crying tears of gold like lemonade”

In “Brooklyn Baby,” Del Rey sings: “They judge me like a picture book, by the colors, like they forgot to read.” And it’s true that judging her by the colors she uses—reds, whites, blacks, and blues, mostly, with flashes of gold and silver—would be a mistake. But then to judge Del Rey at all would be a mistake because it means evaluating her on terms and as part of a reality in which she doesn’t exist—ours. Del Rey, in her music, is existing in a world that only she is capable of defining, one of red, yellow, and blue lights, black-and-white waves, pink cigarettes, and Diet Mountain Dew. It’s a world that, once you enter, holds you enthralled, as if glasses—heart-shaped ones, of course—have been forever planted on your face, affording you too the ability to hear things like Lana does, in the “key of blue.”  

Just about every color of the rainbow (and then some) is mentioned in Lana Del Rey’s work. Some colors appear far more often than others, and all evoke the world of shadow and light in which Del Rey dwells. Other less frequently used hues still make a strong impact when they insinuate themselves into a song. Here, then, is a guide to every time a color gets mentioned in a Lana Del Rey song. And, yes, “hell” is a color. It’s Lana’s world, we’re just living in it.