“For Free” by Lana Del Rey (ft. Weyes Blood & Zella Day)
A major female artist like Lana Del Rey dropping an album subthemed on the drawbacks of fame and success, as is “Chemtrails Over the Country Club”, may feel revolutionary in 2021. But under the sun, Joni Mitchell had already done similar way back in 1970 with her third full-length, “Ladies of the Canyon”.
Okay, maybe Mitchell was never quite as popular as Del Rey is as of the release of her cover of “For Free”. But the bottom line is that she was able to pick up on and express some of the same feelings, known only to celebrities really, which underline Chemtrails before Lana was even born. Or more specifically, considering that Lana is in fact covering Joni’s song and acknowledging her in other ways on the album, we can say that Mitchell actually influenced the artistry of Del Rey.
Lyrics of “For Free”
And along those lines we’re also appreciative of the relatively-simpler days of the 1970s, when artists can drop a song like this one with deep meaning yet unreliant on head-scratching metaphors to relay them. For the narrative featured in this piece is simple yet effective. The vocalist is a celebrity singer. In other words, she doesn’t perform without being handsomely paid for it or unless it’s for a friend.
You know, she has the limousine and the bodyguards and the ice and the whole nine yards. She is, for all intents and purposes, someone just like Lana Del Rey is now.
So one day she’s standing on the corner, just like the rest of us normal folk. And there’s some dude akin to a busker playing a clarinet across the road, adjacent to her. And she’s totally impressed, one can say even taken aback, by his level of skill.
Now the fact that this dude is really good in and of itself isn’t what shocks the vocalist. After all she is a celebrity musician and by default would regularly interact with some of the best musicians in the world. Rather it’s the fact that he’s actually doing so “for free”.
Or let’s look at it like this. Here is someone who has the same level of musical skill as the singer herself. Yet whereas she is getting paid millions of dollars for her artistry, her peer is just performing, if you will, to the edification of the general public. Indeed no one is even minding him considering that, unlike the narrator, he isn’t famous.
Song’s Primary Messages
So at the end of the day, there appears to be three messages which Lana Del Rey and co. want to relay.
First would be something like celebrity isn’t defined by skill (and vice versa).
Secondly is that some people actually have artistry in their hearts – for instance being willing to ‘play for free’ even with no compensation or even applause.
And lastly would actually be a criticism of the masses, who are so blinded by Hollywood, if you will, that they ignore those who are equally talented yet not as famous. Or put differently, the vocalist is able to perceive that celebrity status is more important to them than the actual skill level of the performer at hand. And this is a state of affairs which Lana and her cohorts are lamenting.
Facts about “For Free”
This is the final track on “Chemtrails”, Lana Del Rey’s seventh album. Lana produced the cover herself, in collaboration with her regular musical collaborator at the time, Jack Antonoff.
“For Free” is actually a song written by Joni Mitchell and first released as part of her album, “Ladies of the Canyon” in 1970. This is the same album which produced classics such as “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi” (which Janet Jackson interpolated into her 1997 tune “Got ’til It’s Gone“).
And as far as the playlist of Chemtrails goes, “For Free” follows a track entitled “Dance Till We Die” in which Lana Del Rey gives a shoutout to Joni Mitchell.
This is Lana Del Rey’s first on-track collaboration with either Zella Day or Weyes Blood, who are both West Coast-based artists. However, the three of them have rendered this song before in unison. And that occurred during Lana Del Rey’s Norman F–king Rockwell Tour in 2019.
This track was released by Interscope Records and Polydor Records, both labels Lana Del Rey first signed with (jointly) in 2011. This was already after she had established herself with “Video Games” (2011), Lana’s very-first single which was a major global hit (albeit not particularly catching on in the US).