Something in me loves the cliché.
Of course, as a writer, I also hate the cliché. I avoid it like the plague (cliché), run screaming from it (cliché), and am constantly attempting to drive a stake through its heart and rub it with garlic before topping with brushcetta (certified toridotgov mixed metaphor).
Point being: I have always had a tempestuous relationship with the cliché, which I’m sure makes me really unique. Lemme define “cliché” real quick: I mean anything that has that unmistakable aura of heard-before. I don’t just mean idioms (raining cats and dogs) or situational cliché (boy and girl are snarky arch-rivals oh wait they’re in love), but also sheer melodrama (masked intruder knifes the pretty blonde girl first) and predictability (the mysterious woman is…wait for it!…Chuck Bass’ mother!). I dread all of it. I want originality, creativity, freshness, unpredictability, blah, blah, blah, if you’re one of my undergraduate students I hope you’re listening.
In college, I wrote a story that purposefully used every ghost story cliché imaginable, and in doing so I thought I was being super radical and subversive (four years later, Cabin in the Woods comes out. I AM SO AHEAD OF MY TIME). But upon reading the story, my professor said something that has always stuck with me. He said: “But–they’re still clichés.”
Therein lies the horror of the cliché–in its inescapability. If you try to enter into a dialogue with it, it will always win, by its sheer force of cliché-ness. It Is The Cliché. It has been around for decades before you were born and it will survive long after you are dead. Ultimately, trying to reimagine the cliché is a little bit boring (Cabin in the Woods didn’t really have a satisfying payoff, am I right?). I truly love anything meta but I have to admit that meta/4th-wall-destruction/general subversion gets old really quickly, because there’s only so much you can do before running into the formidable, battle-scarred bulk of the cliché.
But here’s where Lana Del Rey comes in. I have a soft spot for this melancholy crooner, despite the fact that all the musicians I know hate her. And for good reason, maybe: Lana Del Rey’s most popular songs are quite literally a string of clichés. There’s barely an original line to be found in Del Rey’s oeuvre. For example, here’s the chorus of Born to Die:
don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry (cliché-ish)
sometimes life is not enough (cliché!)
and the road gets tough (cliché!)
I don’t know why
keep making me laugh (cliché!)
let’s go get high
the road is long (cliché!)
we carry on (cliché!)
try to have fun in the meantime (cliché!)
come and take a walk on the wild side (cliché!)
come and kiss me hard in the pouring rain (cliché–THE NOTEBOOK)
you like your girls insane (cliché–MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL)
choose your last words (cliché!)
this is the last time
cause you and I, we were born to die (cliché!)
Video Games is similar, sauntering shamelessly down the idiomatic indie-romance gamut with everything from “his favorite sundress” to “take that body downtown” to “seeing stars” to “I heard that you like the bad girls.” Not convinced yet? Blue Jeans features slogan-y superstars like “fresh to death,” “you fit me better than my favorite sweater,” “ride or die,” and “dancing all night,” culminating in a chorus that is literally a Hallmark card: “I will love you till the end of time/I will wait a million years./Promise you’ll remember that you’re mine/Baby, can you see through the tears?” BAM BAM BAM BAM. Happy Valentine’s Day month, feel free to re-purpose as necessary.
HOWEVER: I love Lana Del Rey. I think her songs are these beautiful little cultural fabrications. There’s something about the incredibly languid way she murmurs each cliché that makes it okay. She’s got this attitude of so what? I’m using these lines because they’re here. Her songs are weirdly heartwrenching and unmistakably romantic because that’s what love is! Love is till the end of time, wait a million years. Love is not I discovered the God particle for you. And the whole point of Lana’s aesthetic is its sleepy, easy relatability, right? She’s the Youtube miracle of our generation, her music videos take place in this melodramatic hipster dream world, we get her, she gets us, she is not afraid of the cliché. In fact, she embraces it. And isn’t that what makes it okay? The self-awareness? Knowing that what she’s doing is simply stitching together idioms and video clips and handing them to us along with a crown of flowers, just because?
So what I love about the cliché is this: it’s part of us. I mean, what are we but a collection of clichés? These are our bones. Sure, it’s really exciting to open a book of poetry and read that the moon is a great white shark or whatever, but that’s not what “moon” is to me. To me–your average East Coast baby who migrated West over the course of her childhood, mid-twenties, daughter of the new millennium, likes neon, worries about the future–moon is man in the moon, moon is made of cheese, moon is Many Moons and Goodnight Moon, moon is the Dreamworks logo, moon is werewolf, moon is eye and silver coin and little sun. Moon is a beautiful cliché, familiar and strange all at once, but what matters is that it’s lovely and that I know it.
And THAT is why Lana Del Rey might be a genius. Maybe she’s not the voice of a generation–but she’s a mirror. (I mean, the video for Blue Jeans alone has everything from Coca-Cola to Tupac…and I’m pretty sure she’s wearing that American Apparel rose sweater that we all wanted at some point.)