Wealthy & Successful: What Cars Symbolize in Music

Lana Del Rey photographed by Theo Wenner for Rolling Stone

What’s the first thing you would buy if you became a millionaire? Different people might give all sorts of answers: their dream house, a brand new wardrobe, a lifetime of unlimited travel. Or a car. Cars, in particular, seem to have become the symbol of accomplishment and success in today’s society, and such perception reflects in contemporary music.

Many artists have consistently used cars as synonyms of wealth, relying on such images to, perhaps, flex their possessions, prove that they “made it” despite anything and anyone else, or simply as an aesthetic choice which recurs in their music videos.

Cars in Rap Music

The best example of how cars are strictly linked to fame and success is in rap music: the most popular rappers often sing about owning an exaggerated amount of expensive cars as a status symbol and brag about it in their hits. In Post Malone’s “rockstar,” a song about how rappers and MCs are the new rock stars, 21 Savage claims he has a “12 car garage” but he “only” owns six cars.” Similarly, in “Abracadabra,” a track by Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta, Atlanta MC Future raps “Four hundred thousand, brrt, for the cheapest car in my garage,” once again flexing about the quality of the cars he owns.

On the other hand, in “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X adopts a unique approach: instead of a car, he’s riding a horse, symbolizing the fact that he started from zero. He sings, “Ridin’ on a horse, ha / You can whip your Porsche / I been in the valley / You ain’t been up off that porch, now,” meaning that, although other MC’s might be more successful than him, Lil Nas knows they didn’t have to overcome the same obstacles he had to face.

Cars in Pop Music

Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, references five specific car models in his 2016 hit “Starboy:” a P1 McLaren, a red Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, a Bentley Mulsanne, a Marcedes Benz G Wagon, and a Rolls Royce Wraith, according to the breakdown made by genius.com. The way he uses them is interesting because he’s trying to flex while also make a point about our society, which worships material things instead of an actual god.

A person sitting in a car

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The Weeknd in a Porsche 911 (image credits: Motorious / Reddit)

In the lines “P1 cleaner than your church shoes, ah / Milli Point two just to hurt you, ah,” he clearly expresses how most people care about their material belongings more than their spirituality. He reiterates the same thought a few verses later: “A hundred on the dash get me close to God / We don’t pray for love, we just pray for cars.” Danger is what makes most people pray to God, as opposed to because they actually believe in one. Given that The Weeknd himself collects cars, this criticism might as well be referred to himself and his loss of faith. 

Cars in Music Videos

Besides some artists using cars in the lyrics of certain songs, others might also feature them in their music videos as a visual metaphor. Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey, who has mentioned plenty of car models since the beginning of her career in 2010, often appears riding a car in her music videos, such as in “Born to Die” or “National Anthem,” which launched her as a major indie artist.

In both cases, cars symbolize death and loss: while in “Born to Die” Lana and her lover become victims of a car accident, which also represents the death of the relationship the song is about, in “National Anthem,” inspired by the lives of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, played in the video by ASAP Rocky and Lana herself, portrays the moment the beloved American president is killed while riding on the back of an open-top limousine, and it’s in those same car scenes that we hear Lana’s romantic monologue that works as the outro to the song. In both tracks, cars do not only represent the luxurious lifestyle of a well-off couple but they are a metaphor for pain and grief.

In conclusion, musicians might choose to use cars for their stylish design, their fast nature, or their cold outlook, all of which might stimulate their imagination and suggest connections to themes and emotions. Far are the days of the artist who sees God in nature: to reiterate what The Weeknd sings about, we don’t pray for salvation anymore. We pray to own more and better cars.

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