Please watch this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate. In economics and other fields, people have been trying to measure happiness–how happy are various groups, how happy countries are compared to one another. I’ve seen Economist articles about quantifying happiness, like The Joyless or the Jobless (Nov 2010).
Kahneman deconstructs this quantification by saying the issue’s more complicated: do you care about happiness in the moment or do you care about happiness remembered?
His presentation addresses people’s fundamental assumptions about who they are. We have two sides: an experiencing self, who lives only in the moment; and a remembering self, who feasts on what we (remember we) have done in the past. The remembering self, for almost everyone, is the dominant one–it makes the decisions about what we should do next.
Our local public radio station, WFDD, has several HD radio stations, including one that plays a lot of “xPonential Radio.” When we lived in Raleigh I got spoiled listening to WKNC, NC State’s student-run radio station that would play lesser-known modern music; WFDD’s HD radio station #3 is the closest I get to WKNC over the air here in Winston-Salem.
Anyways, one of the songs on xPonential Radio’s playlist is “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey (see embedded video). I really, really like how this song sounds, and as I’ve listened more I really appreciate its lyrics. (Note: in the below analysis I’m assuming this song is about a woman and her boyfriend, but the song doesn’t explicitly say the partner is male.)
The song has an epic quality, in its orchestration and in Lana Del Rey’s voice. In its sound and its video it echos the 1950s and 1960s.
For me, there’s a jarring effect. Ostensibly the song’s lyrics are about a fawning woman who would do anything for the man she’s with. The 1950s/60s theme, and Lana Del Rey’s voice, reinforce that literal reading: a totally submissive woman.
However, you can also read the song as an undercutting of that theme: that the singer understands her boyfriend doesn’t respect her or value her as a person, and understands that’s his loss not hers. In this opposition to the primary message the singer is detached and doesn’t care about her boyfriend.
There’s possibly a third level of interpretation, too, that the singer is staying in the relationship because society believes the world is only worth living in if someone’s loving you, and her actions make him love her, although he doesn’t realize that she doesn’t love him back.
She sings about how one-sided the relationship is: he whistles for her and she comes. He wants her to play video games with her. (I hear this as “oh, you’re here–hey watch me play video games.”) She wears his favorite perfume and dress and does everything that he wants.
In the second verse, when she sings about being in his arms while he’s drunk, it reminds me of My Papa’s Waltz (poem) by Theodore Roethke, a poem about an abusive father and his complex relationship with his child played out as they dance while the dad’s drunk.
I think the turning line for “Video Games,” or the line that for me reinforces this reading of the song, is
I heard you liked the bad girls, honey / Is that true? / It’s better than I even knew
She’s said, openly, that she wants to know everything he likes, and she has to find out from someone else that he likes bad girls. This is particularly ironic because everything else in the song implies he wants a totally subservient (“good”) girlfriend. I think “It’s better than I even knew” is her acknowledging the irony and laughing or enjoying how her boyfriend is so unaware of others that he doesn’t realize the contradiction.