Achingly lovely and heart-rending in its poignancy, “Looking for America,” the new single from Lana Del Rey, is a perfectly timed reminder that pop music can be about important topics. Engaging with the monumental challenges of the day is one of the critical tasks of any artist, even those who specialize in dreamy soundscapes and cooing vocals. Del Rey has written and performed songs about disappointing boys and other similarly frivolous concerns, but that doesn’t bar her from peering around her society broadly harmed by pervasive gun violence and creatively wrestling with the circumstances using the same intimacy she might bring to a tender love ballad.
“Looking for America” recounts traveling, as the title implies. Mostly, it is concerned with the unwilling existential journey U.S. citizens have been forced to take because a legion of cowards and bullies have willfully warped the second inalienable right laid down in the nation’s foundational legal document. Del Rey sings of watching children play, reflecting, “We used to only worry for them after dark.” And she admits fears for her own safety have mounted, noting that wide public spaces that she once entered into without a care are now continually, instinctively sussed out as venues of potential mortal catastrophe, the place news vans will be stationed the next day so journalists can recite a body count.
I am grateful that Del Rey sings her truth in this way, at this time.