Perhaps one of the keys to understanding the album as a whole is Del Rey’s cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman” at the end of the album. In many ways Del Rey (either autobiographically or as her persona) views herself as an outsider, an interloper in her various relationships with men. To me that is the connecting thread, how lonely, unsatisfied and powerless one is being in that position of the other woman and the very human ways she tries to find satisfaction and gain power over her situation.
This identity takes various meanings and forms on the album, from actually being the other woman in “Shades of Cool” and “Sad Girl”, conflicted as to who she is in “Ultraviolence” (is she deadly or submissive), one of many women in “Cruel World” or the woman who is other (“I am a dragon, you’re a whore”) because she “passed the test” in “F*cked My Way Up To The Top”.
The album begins with her giving herself up to a man (“Share my body and my mind with you”) but when we come to the end she is alone (“And as the years go by the other woman will spend her life alone, alone, alone”). The journey from surrendering herself to these relationships to isolation plays out in dichotomies between power/weakness, submissiveness/femme fatale, violence as beauty/using beauty for violence, spiritualizing relationships and self/dismissing God, trusting in money/money doesn’t satisfy, etc. I can relate with Del Rey because I have given all of myself to someone before, felt the multitude of conflicting emotions that Del Rey has and used language about God in the context of that romantic relationship while refusing to seek out God.
In the final scene of the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie, his Grandfather and Wonka fly over the factory as Charlie becomes the candy mogul’s successor. And like any fairytale, it ends with:
Willy Wonka: But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie Bucket: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.
But is this really happily ever after for Charlie? The journey up to this moment was fraught with difficulty, as Charlie and four other children traversed a candy-laden world filled with the curses and blessings of on eccentric candy man. Unbeknownst to the children, Wonka is able to dole out the rewards or punishments because of the contract that each of the children signed at the beginning of their journey together. So these blessings and curses (to be honest, mostly curses) are not dispensed randomly or erratically by Wonka but are rooted in an agreement, a covenant if you will, that the children made with Wonka.