Lana Del Rey’s “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind” as a Window into Our Baudrillardian Cultural Hell

There’s something immensely sad about listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind.” Not, perhaps, for the reasons that Del Rey might have intended in writing the song, which is a somewhat sappy meditation on the state of the world through the lens of a sort of epiphany that she apparently had at Coachella, but nevertheless, it’s a pretty bleak listening experience.

As with everything Del Rey does, it comes wreathed in an aura of post-modern nebulousness, meaning that one is never sure just how much of what’s happening is sincere, how much is someone playing at being sincere, and how much is someone sincerely playing at being playful. But still, the message is clear: Lana is at Coachella, Lana imagines being at Woodstock instead of Coachella, Lana meditates on how much the world has changed between those two events, and concludes that it has not changed for the better. The lyric itself is kinda hamfisted — it actually contains the phrase “What about the children?” (well, almost — it’s “What about all these children?”), quotes “Stairway to Heaven” to no discernible effect, and gets in a pre-emptive jab at people like me by noting that “Critics can be so mean.”

It’s true, critics can be mean — but in this case, I’m not as interested in the song as I am in the feelings that it evokes. For a start, the comparison between Coachella and Woodstock says a great deal about their respective eras; I’m no ’60s romantic, but there’s a big, big difference between an experimental, largely spontaneous gathering of music lovers and the bands they loved, and the two-weekend corporate desert nightmare into which Coachella has evolved. Even more than that, though, anyone under 40 can probably relate to the feeling of growing up in the shadow of the ’60s, and having that decade presented to you as the epitome of a realness that today’s culture can only try to replicate.

The relentless fetishization of the ’60s has left a whole generation with the feeling that, as Radiohead sang in “The Bends,” “I wish it was the ’60s/ I wish we could be happy/ I wish, I wish, I wish that something would happen.” This song is a product of that feeling: sitting at a festival that’s an imperfect facsimile of some imagined ideal, dreaming that you’re part of a past in which you never took part. And it’s sung by someone whose entire persona is a representation of that ideal; Lana Del Rey, the character, is like a sort of cheap mass-produced knockoff of a ’50s starlet and a ’60s flower girl, like one of those weird Chinese toys that’s half Transformer and half Voltron.

If this is all deliberate, then it’s probably the best thing Lizzy Grant has ever done. But either way, it doesn’t really make a difference: the point is that listening to this strange, sad song reminds you of how we’re living in Baudrillardian hell of our own making, an era where nothing is the real thing any more, and in which we’re sold the dream of the past as a way of monetizing the present. What a time to be alive, eh? You’d better start saving for this year’s Coachella right now.