Lana Del Rey’s “National Anthem”

Of the current batch of stars on the top shelf in pop music, standing apart from the others for several reasons, not least by dint of her rare and rather inimitable voice on the one hand, on the other the disillusionment and indeed the bitterness which may be discerned between the lines of the self-⁠written lyrics, is Lana Del Rey: these features play a role in rendering her songs difficult to cover satisfactorily, and even the mere number of attempts to do so, to judge simply by the quantity of what’s available on Youtube, appears to be small in comparison to the results of all the attention lavished by their fans on many of the others. Now, nowhere else is the nearly prohibitive difficulty more evident than in the case of her “National Anthem,” which with its uncommon style of delivery and the conspicuous irony in its lyrics might seem to be particularly unapproachable.

Yet on Soundcloud I have come across three covers that recreate it with success, all of them by men, as though to underscore, by the vocal recasting that was requisite, just how much of a challenge the task had posed. Each of these versions brings into greater prominence a few different facets which were, though not lacking, less than evident in the original, and in so doing they complement one another: thus, some minor flaws notwithstanding, they seemed to me to merit inclusion in a short playlist which, as a whole, would then serve as a counterpart or perhaps even as something like a key to Del Rey’s song.

Especially on an occasion like today.

When the very thing (taking the largest view) one would like to celebrate, namely, all of our various res publicæ (those of us, that is, fortunate enough to have or ever to have had one), appear much of the time off in the distance to tantalise us like mirages – when, in other words, the public realm all too often is buried under layer upon layer of private matters conducted in the open, to the point where the very distinction between the two is nearly lost altogether – then some serious reflection is in order, and to this an impetus could be tendered by the cynicism and disenchantment that’s so patent in this “National Anthem.”

The first two of the covers are the work respectively of Davi Shane, a singer who goes by the moniker Davi, from Los Angeles, and the Parisian vocalist and guitarist Vincent Karaboulad, who’s active as a recording artist under the rubric of a band called Paris-⁠by-⁠Night; there follows, by way of an interlude, a striking revision of the original by the Irishman Gowan Royd, who achieves a surprisingly beautiful and dance-⁠worthy result when he plays everything in it, lyrics and arrangements alike, in reverse: and the set concludes with a remarkable rendition harbouring flashes of vocal and instrumental wit by a young talent in Longview, Texas, Zackary Hinson, from whom further interesting performances may well be forthcoming in the near future. (In fact, one would not realise how young Hinson actually is, were one to venture a guess based solely on his music itself.)

Finally, around a year ago, some enterprising individual uncovered the recording of her original demo of the song, in the form of a video, and posted it on Vimeo: so in order to furnish an additional point of comparison by which some facets in Del Rey’s final version may be brought out more fully, I’ll turn the last word over to its predecessor.