Sad Girls & DIY Spirit: The Legacy Of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”

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Few songs have had as much impact on the direction and marketing of popular music as Lana Del Rey’s breakout hit. Officially released on October 7, 2011 (it had leaked months earlier), “Video Games” arrived at a time when Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Ke$ha dominated the airwaves with their upbeat, electro-pop bangers. Lana, however, offered an entirely different proposition. Here was a sullen songstress with an understated ballad that sounded a hell of a lot sadder than the lyrics gave it any right to.

Not only was the sound completely different to her contemporaries, so was the aesthetic. Instead of rocking outrageous costumes, face paint and body glitter, LDR looked like she had just stepped out of a Life magazine shoot circa 1955. In other words, “Video Games” should never have worked and it was predictably ignored by pop radio. Instead, “Video Games” became one of the first songs to chart on the back of an outpouring of love from music blogs and, subsequently, rabid support on social media.

While going viral is considered a standard launching pad for a music career in 2019, it was uncharted territory in 2011. And Lana doesn’t get enough credit for mapping those badlands. “Video Games” also ushered in the age of the DIY pop star. All of a sudden, artists were not only expected to write their own music, but also corral fans online. Moreover, the success of the self-directed video resulted in a demand for greater input visually. In the wake of “Video Games,” authenticity (or at least the perception of it) was king.

However, the impact of “Video Games” goes well beyond marketing. It birthed the dark-pop movement that still persists to this day. While morose pop music has been a thing since Nancy Sinatra picked up a microphone (and probably well before it), Lana made it cool and commercial again. Suddenly, the interwebs were clogged with a flood of sad girls and even sadder boys with copycat sounds. On a more uplifting note, the song also introduced fans to Lana’s influences and opened the door for other artists that didn’t fit the industry mold.

“Video Games” ultimately peaked at number 91 on the Billboard Hot 100. Happily, it was received very differently abroad. The crushing ballad topped the charts in Germany and cracked the top 10 in major markets like the UK and France. A phenomenon was born, and America could no longer ignore it. On its 8th birthday, take some time to revisit one of the most influential songs of the 2010s. It sounds every bit as mesmerizing today as it did in 2011.

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