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An analysis of Tropico by Lana Del Rey

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Athina Chrissaki

on 9 December 2014

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Transcript of An analysis of Tropico by Lana Del Rey

An analysis of Tropico by Lana Del Rey
Music as a Narrative
"The exploration of instrumental music as narrative remains a tantalizing, confusing, problematic area of inquiry" - Fred Everett Maus (2001)
Music as a part of narrative
Music can become an integral part of a narrative, especially when it is used in combination with other media. Nicholls (2007)
Tropico as a Narrative
"Narrative is the principal way in which our species organizes its understanding of time...human tendency to insert narrative time into static, immobile scenes seems almost automatic, like a reflex action" - H. Porter Abbott (1981)
The Beginning
Opening scene: Garden of Eden - the beginning of the world since the birth of pop culture 1960s.
Mandler (2014)
The Middle
Second scene: Summertime in Los Ageles in the late 20th century
The End
Final scene: Heaven after death
"Music is not a narrative and that any description of its formal structure in terms of narrativity is nothing but superfluous metaphor" - Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990)
"Narrative theory and popular music are not the most obvious bedfellows" - David Nicholls (2007)
Short film (27:08)
Elements: Music, Vocals, Film, Prose narrative
Structure: Three distinct parts
1) Garden of Eden: modern perspective using
Biblical references and imagery
2) Los Angeles in the 80s: depravity, loss of
innocence, debauchery, hedonism, violence
3)Heaven: post-life experience, purity,
redemption, soul judged by free-will choices
Music is a primary element in the conception of a film. Martin Scorsese
"There are five basic levels at which narrativity can operate in popular music texts". Nicholls (2007)
Tropico chronologically ordered
Phases of human life
Three songs illustrate these phases
Prose inserted to link the phases (flow)
There is a beginning, a middle and an end
Roles: John Wayne as God, Marilyn, Elvis, Jesus, Lana Del Rey as Eve and Shaun Ross as Adam
Music: slow, melodic, harmonious, piano, simple notes leading up to Body Electric
Prose Narrative: John Wayne giving instructions on how to live, Elvis singing, Jesus praying, Marilyn mentions sex as part of nature
Song (at 2:38): Body Electric: sensuous music, slow beat
Lyrics: indicate the temptations faced "We get down every Friday night, Dancin’ and grindin’ in the pale moonlight." but no worries because "Mary prays the rosary for my broken mind. (So don't worry about)"
Chorus: " I sing the body electric" reinforces impulses
Imagery and Symbolism:
- lamb = purity, follower, good, the lamb of God which
takes away sin
- unicorn = incarnation of Christ
- snake = temptation, sexual desire
- apple = forbidden fruit (sin)

End of scene 1: apple eaten, leave the Garden of Eden
Roles: Lana Del Rey works as a dancer in a men's club but is a good person at heart and Shaun Ross, her boyfriend, works in a convenience store
Music: spooky, muted, radio signal with interference
Prose Narrative: Del Rey mono lexical utterances then sentences mentioning sensual parts of the woman's body, "the naked meat of the body", finally linking the body and the soul
Song (at 10:03): Gods and Monsters: sensuous music, strong drumbeat, orchestral backing, giving a dream-like drug induced perception
Lyrics: show the need to live for the moment without any moral guidance, purgatory. The cultural norm is indulgence in drugs, alcohol and sex "Fuck yeah give it to me this is heaven, what I truly want". Realization that "Me and God, we don't get along".
Chorus: "Innocence lost" as she is now living "in the garden of evil" and not in the garden of Eden
Imagery and Symbolism:
- guns/robbery = disregard for life, violence, crime, power
- strippers = depravity, lack of morals
- John Wayne = God not abandoning the sinner
- Lana blowing bubbles = innocent fun
Prose Narrative: "only the traces made from your free will decide your soul's final fate" meaning that if you are forced to do something you will not be held accountable
Roles: John Wayne as God, Lana Del Ray and Shaun Ross as corporeal presences after death, happy to be together
Music: repetition of music before the opening scene, produces a calming effect after the Los Angeles nightmare
Prose Narrative: Lana prays to John Wayne before she enters Heaven and he begins talking about the beauty in the world and the love for America
Song (at 20:37): Bel Air: melody building to a crescendo and the vocals follow, less sensuous, sensations of floating, weightlessness, reinforced by images
Lyrics: reveal the change from the garden of evil "So I run like I'm mad to heaven's door. I don't wanna be bad, I won't cheat you no more."
Chorus: portrayal of heaven "Roses, Bel Air, take me there,...Palm trees in the light"
Imagery and Symbolism:
-disposing of possessions= freedom from material requirements
-change from black clothes to white= sin to purity
-water= purity, life
-floating upwards= Lana and Shaun are spiritual beings
Tropico - Impressions
temptation is a human weakness
provides a cohesive narrative
music, vocals and prose may render it level 5 according to Nicholls
reassurance that redemption is always possible (ending that gives hope is well-received - P. D. James)
format too long for non-fans
symbolism not easy to grasp with one viewing
some negative reviews "white elephant art: bloated, pretentious, and untouchable" - Manny Farber
Tropico: 5 million views in 1 year on Youtube compared to "Born To Die": 175 million in 3 years: limited interest in this kind of format

However, personally after watching it several times I feel that it is a real art form, but one that other artists are unlikely to emulate because Tropico is Lana Del Rey
Allen, K. (2014). Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Polydor). Available: http://0-www.rocksbackpages.com.wam.city.ac.uk/Library/Article/lana-del-rey-iultraviolencei-polydor. Last accessed 7th Dec 2014.

Ashby, A (2013). Popular Music and the New Auteur: Visionary Filmmakers after MTV. USA: Oxford University Press. p1-9.

Calvert, J. (2011). Lana Del Rey: Original Sin. Available: http://0-www.rocksbackpages.com.wam.city.ac.uk/Library/Article/lana-del-rey-original-sin. Last accessed 7th Dec 2014.

Calvert, J. (2012). An American Nightmare: Lana Del Rey Live. Available: http://0-www.rocksbackpages.com.wam.city.ac.uk/Library/Article/an-american-nightmare-lana-del-rey-live-. Last accessed 7th Dec 2014.

Nicholls, D. (2007). Narrative Theory as an Analytical Tool in the Study of Popular Music Texts. Music & Letters. 88 (2), p297-315.

So, J. (2013). Lana Del Rey’s New Short Film ‘Tropico’ Is So Bad It Might Be Good. Available: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/05/lana-del-rey-s-new-short-film-tropico-is-so-bad-it-might-be-good.html. Last accessed 7th Dec 2014.

Sullivan, C. (2011). Lana Del Rey: Scala, London. Available: http://0-www.rocksbackpages.com.wam.city.ac.uk/Library/Article/lana-del-rey-scala-london. Last accessed 7th Dec 2014.
Gods & Monsters
Body Electric
Bel Air
Los Angeles
Garden of Eden
Full transcript