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‘Snow on the Beach’: Elusive artistry of Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey

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TYLER WU | STAFF

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NOVEMBER 09, 2022

Listening to “Snow on the Beach” feels like tapping on a snow globe. The long-awaited collaboration between Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey welcomes listeners into a glittery, albeit off-kilter winter dreamworld. But just as the snow settles on the sand, it’s shaken up — a staccato note here, a sustained pause there. Rather than obtaining a crystal clear view, listeners are stuck pressing their faces against the glass. 

Many have pointed to a notable lack of Del Rey in the track, her voice simply melting into the background. But from the springy introduction to the abrupt octave shifts, the song bears all the marks of her handiwork. As an artist, Del Rey has always walked a fine line between reality and fantasy; her music glints with the promise of authenticity before blurring into an opaque snowstorm. She may be quiet, but her influence speaks volumes — not only in “Snow on the Beach” but throughout the entirety of Midnights

On the surface, Swift and Del Rey share a range of similarities. Both artists have expertly shifted between distinct eras and styles, delighting fans while confusing and frustrating critics. However, while Swift’s movements have more or less neatly aligned with the events of her life — a move to New York in her 20s, a public feud with Kanye West — Del Rey’s have remained enigmatic. Though her emotive lyrics speak to personal experience, her music has fueled accusations of a falsified persona. It’s difficult to discern the real Del Rey from her shapeshifting image, and as this question carries from song to song, it lends to her lasting appeal. 

In 2012, Del Rey made her debut as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra,” all-American and unafraid to cause trouble. Two years later, her aesthetic darkened for her controversial sophomore album Ultraviolence. Thriving in a world of cult leaders and cocaine, she hovers between subversion and reflection, and she never neatly lands on either side. On her latest release Blue Banisters, she appears to pull back the curtain and offer a peek into the person behind the facade; but even then, she distorts more than she clarifies.

On her last two original releases before MidnightsFolklore and Evermore — Swift appeared to move in the opposite direction. Shifting away from the autobiographical, she instead told stories of summer affairs and proposals gone wrong. Swift may have never been a star-crossed swindler, but one can imagine she’s felt the pain of loving someone who can never be tied down. Like Del Rey, she elicits real emotions without expressly locating them in the realm of lived experience. 

As Swift emerges from the folklorian woods, Midnights marks a distinct shift back to the autobiographical but with a difference. While songs such as “Anti-Hero” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” open up about Swift’s deepest insecurities, they also beg the question of where the line between fact and fiction is drawn. The songwriting style of her early pop career and her Folklore era converge to create something much more hazy and intriguing. 

Perhaps part of the beauty of Midnights is its ability to obscure the line between reality and fantasy. As dusk settles and eyes hang heavy, senses become available to invention. One can create scenarios and shape new identities, all while remaining tethered to a unique sense of self. There is a lucidity that only comes at twilight — a different type of clarity that relies on collapsing the boundary between the lived and the imagined. 

“Snow on the Beach” both epitomizes and complicates this quality. It draws upon a perceptible feeling, but it lingers beneath an indeterminate blur. Much like Del Rey’s “Black Bathing Suit,” it offers a clear snapshot of a serendipitous moment before plucking the image away. It appears to offer one thing, but then it delivers another. Swift’s style more directly aligns with that of Del Rey, toying with the senses and withholding complete legibility. 

In her music and in the public eye, Dey Rey continues to evade complete understanding. The real person behind the public figure remains out of reach, available only through cryptic lyrics and an occasional social media post. Swift, on the other hand, still allows clarity to pierce through the 3 a.m. mist. On “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” her references are distinct — her voice aches with regret that has persisted for more than a decade. The Swift that fans know and love is still there; she’s just learned to more openly embrace the art of fiction. 

Though the track has received mixed reviews, “Snow on the Beach” sounds exactly how one would expect a Swift-Del Rey collaboration to sound. As Swift’s distinct, sometimes cheesy, lyrics meet Del Rey’s winking musicality, the track shakes up one’s senses, leaving listeners searching for an elusive image in the midnight haze. The result is jarring, but sweet — disruptive, but welcoming. Like snow on the beach, it’s weird, but f—ing beautiful. 

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LAST UPDATED

NOVEMBER 09, 2022