Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.

From Pitchfork to MTV, the blogosphere has been erupting with praise for an artist named Lana Del Rey and her latest single, “Video Games”. Lana Del Rey is the moniker, or alter ego, for the young, singer-songwriter Lizzy Grant and “Video Games” is the first and only single she has released thus far. The video for the single is a self-produced piece of pure Americana nostalgia, incorporating grainy, Super 8 video edits, and shots of the artist lip-syncing into her webcam. But Lana Del Rey doesn’t just imitate previous music or fashion styles; she lives out the whole persona as retro queen.

One New York commentator said that attending one of her shows was like stepping into a set of Mad Men, fit with lavish 60s decorations and retro designs. And I know what you’re saying… and maybe you’re right. Maybe the last thing we need is another celebrity that has a bad habit hitting caps lock and loves tweeting things like “Do U Know How Expensive It Is To Look This Cheap LDR” to be bad examples for high schoolers. But something about the tone of Grant’s soulful voice and the somber mundanity of the lyrics kept drawing me back for listen after listen.

As the singer looks into the camera with pouty lips, she sings lyrics like “Swinging in the backyard/Pull up in your fast car/Whistling my name” and “He holds me in his big arms/Drunk and I am seeing stars/This is all I think of“. These might as well be lyrics out of the newest Katy Perry song, right?

Could be, but I would argue that there are some interesting and incredibly expressive things going on here. In the first verse, the song portrays a girl madly in love with and desperate for the attention of her lover. The name of the song, video games, comes from the line “I say you the bestest/Lean in for a big kiss/Put his favorite perfume on/Go play a video game“, where video games seem to represent a certain kind of distraction from intimacy. However, in the second verse, video games come up again, but instead presented in a more positive light: “This is my idea of fun/Playing video games“, as if commenting on the real-life, emotional games we play with the people we love. The nostalgic imagery is definitely pushed to the forefront of the song thematically, but the song’s use of the term ‘video games’ is undoubtedly contemporary and speaks of issues our culture is dealing with today. In this way, nostalgia and the desire for living in a previous generation or “glorification of the past” have important ramifications for how culture is functioning today.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Although retro culture is pervasive nowadays, few people, let alone Christians, have made any attempt at understanding it at all. The use of nostalgia in all kinds of media and what it does to our hearts is a big topic that needs addressing elsewhere, but what do you think about it? Is it just another passing trend or is it representative of something deeper going on in our culture?


  1. For myself, shortly before I became aware of the grace that was pursuing me and subsequent submission to Jesus two years ago, my thought and mind gravitated very much toward legacy and nostalgia. I feel like these are two sides of the same, at times self indulgent, coin. Both have a search for meaning or identity of self and both can become an idol, an escape or a vice, but I think there are valuable qualities to be taken from both.

    Nostalgia, an escape from the pressures of current expressions of existence. Nostalgic appreciation can act like a numbing agent. Conversely, it can also represent an appreciation for a certain perspective or lens for which to view reality. The stuff that makes it into nostalgia is often the stuff that matters.

    This aspect can be brought a little more current. I’m thinking of the vimeo photog trend, where some footage of friends laughing, set to arcade fire make a weekend cookout seem like the greatest place on earth. Maybe it is? And maybe an artistic representation or ‘editing’ of that moment highlights the beauty that could be overlooked in the moment, until one looks back.

    I think I was going to keep writing, but then I just ran out of steam.

  2. Interesting point, Luke. I think there is something fascinating about nostalgia. Some initial thoughts:

    The future is uncertain.
    The present is complicated.
    The past is comprehensible — and comprehensible is comfortable.

    As a culture we choose how and what to remember. We allow ourselves to be imaginative about the past. Bikers say that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. This is the same about nostalgia. For example, I remember the 80s with more fondness than I felt toward them as I was living through them. I recognise this, and I choose it.

    Finally, nothing that we do is free of the past. It always creeps into whatever we’re imagining and creating. There’s no point trying to resist that. We may as well embrace it. :-)

  3. I feel that being in todays culture we’re all looking for something, something to take our minds and absorb and get away from the world, and live in a world where we want to live, like a false reality, for example 2nd life, and many many games out there… I my self has been a christian for 2 years now and I play many games, and used to play 2nd life, it gives you another sence of freedom and forgetfulness from this world to another… Maybe Nostalger is the same type thing, presently we live in rough times of uncertainty and recesion with very little money and jobs. Like a person feeling depressed, we look to the past to try and dig up good memories, maybe we as a culture, we are looking back to try and look forward… :-)

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