Since her stunning debut, Born To Die, shot her to fame, Lana Del Rey has always characterised herself as a sort of anti-pop star. While she has been outselling many of her mainstream contemporaries for some time now, Del Rey has managed to retain a sense of authenticity and intimacy that many of her fellow pop icons have sacrificed along the way.
It’s possible Del Rey has been able to do this because of her in-depth understanding of Hollywood history, much of which finds its way into her lyrics. While many have accused her of glamorising the tragedies of Hollywood starlets and doomed musicians, tracks like ‘Dark But just A Game’ (Chemtrails Over the Country Club) reveal a sensitivity to the corrupting influence of fame. Ever defiant, she sings: “We keep changing all the time /The best ones lost their minds / So I’m / not gonna change / I’ll stay the same,” implying a determination not to succumb to the will of major labels and the music industry in general.
‘Dark But just A Game’ contains wisdom far beyond its creator’s years. Traditionally, it isn’t until pop musicians reach their autumn years that they begin looking at the industry with such an objective gaze. All Del Rey had to do was observe. Having lived in Los Angeles for years, she is well aware of how dangerous fame can be, something that became painfully apparent during a particularly harrowing encounter with one of her musical idols.
As Del Rey recounted to Mojo magazine, she met a high profile musician during an Oscar after-party hosted by Madonna, someone she had looked up to for many years. “Something happened, kind of situation like – never meet your idols,” she began. “And I just thought, ‘I think it’s interesting that the best musicians end up in such terrible places.’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to try my best not to change because I love who I am’. I said, ‘Jack [Antonoff], it’s dark.’ And he said, ‘Well it’s dark – but I mean, it’s just a game'”.
The conversation between the collaborators inspired Antonoff to give the track its evocative title. “Dark but just a game is so her to me,” Antonoff noted. “Fly down the rabbit hole and smile in the same breath”.