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Whispering sweet post-structuralist nothings

My favorite love song of the past few years is “Video Games,” by Lana Del Ray because of the third line of the chorus. It's the song's most burlesque moment, a come-on that should feel scuzzy and hackneyed, that should ruin everything: “I heard that you like the bad girls, honey.” But it catapults the song over all the barricades I’ve erected in my soul against love songs and against songs in which the singer self-identifies as “bad.” The reason is that the melody in which this particular line is sung cuts against its meaning. Because the words are about sex, you’d expect the song’s heretofore sultry melody to remain sultry or wax sultrier. Instead, on the words “bad girls, honey,” the vocal goes high, chaste, folky. If you only heard this snippet of melody, without words or context, you’d guess it belonged in an Indigo Girls song about ghosts or injustice, or in a lament about Scotland. That’s why the “bad girls, honey” kills me: The words are able to register as hot because the notes are cold. The operative principle here — you can get away with saying something very warm if you deliver it in a cold medium — also explains why Lana Del Ray gave this warmest of torch songs the coldest of names.

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