Music

Lana Del Rey: Born to Die

The Internet-famous chanteuse releases her highly-anticipated debut album. Does it live up to the hype?

Lana Del Rey

Born to Die

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2012-01-31
UK Release Date: 2012-01-30
Amazon
iTunes

For a moment, let's forget about Lizzy Grant, the privileged girl who grew up in New York City and may or may not have had a music career handed to her. She's probably fascinating, but she doesn't concern us, and enough time has been wasted talking about her and all the various implications raised when she decided to dive headlong into the deep end of the pop music pool. This review is about Lana Del Rey, the singer, the product, the self-proclaimed "gangsta Nancy Sinatra"; the woman who dropped one hell of an opening salvo with "Video Games" last summer, followed it up with two eminently listenable singles in "Blue Jeans" and "Born to Die", and then suffered massive backlash after a disastrous appearance on Saturday Night Live and plenty of hand-wringing over her authenticity (or lack thereof). She's finally released her proper debut album after six months of endless thinkpieces and debates all over the blogosphere, and now those of us who have followed her budding career have to try to listen to Born to Die with an unprejudiced ear.

Except that that's all but impossible with Lana Del Rey, perhaps more than any other artist in recent memory -- let alone one who, up until now, had only released three songs. At this point, the origin story of sorts that has Del Rey emerging from some sort of corporate transmogrifier as a fully-formed cross-demographic monster may be too firmly ingrained in the Internet community's consciousness to be separated from anyone's opinion of her. Detractors pointed to that origin story as a reason why she was the latest worst thing to happen to music; apologists argued that the considerable merits of her singles outweighed this brazen attempt of the music industry -- that vague, shadowy, cabalistic entity -- to create the very first pop megastar for the indie set.

It should come as no surprise, then, that every aspect of Born to Die feels carefully crafted. In the same way that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was intertwined inextricably with the public persona of Kanye West, Born to Die could not exist without the meta-narrative of Lana Del Rey. It's all artifice, style without substance, offering glimmers of artistic inspiration but too often resorting to easy tricks and gimmickry. By the time Del Rey drops a line about "Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice" on the album closer "This Is What Makes Us Girls", she's confirmed what you may have suspected all along: a pretty voice and some atmosphere can only go so far without a little heart.

Much of what makes "Video Games" so compelling can be found in bits and pieces all over the album, but it's as if Del Rey and her producers fixate on the wrong elements. On her singles, Del Rey's rich, velvety alto voice manages to sound both aloof and vulnerable, capturing the fragile beauty of the Hollywood starlets who inspired her look. Everywhere else, though, that voice gets squandered, alternating between cloying and listless. "Off to the Races" may be the worst offender: Del Rey starts the song off with a mediocre Lady Gaga impression before taking a left turn into Ke$ha territory, annoyingly chirping "I'm your little scarlet starlet / Singin' in the garden / Kiss me on my open mouth." There's also the baffling "National Anthem", a talked/purred hedonistic nightmare with aborted lines like "Money is the reason...we exist! / Everybody knows it, it's a fact (Kiss kiss!)"

Elsewhere, Lana indulges a number of other missteps, throwing around outmoded slang like "fresh to death" and sleepwalking her way through hackneyed choruses and meaningless verses. But the worst offense she commits is to offer up the same boot-licking, subservient gender role in every relationship she describes. "Video Games" portrayed what appeared to be a brilliant commentary on the kind of woman willing to completely sacrifice her own needs and identity to please a man. But in the context of neverending (and earnest) platitudes like "Dark Paradise"'s "No one compares to you" and "Blue Jeans"' "I will love you till the end of time", it could be that "Video Games" was never meant to be commentary at all. Naturally, you can choose to read "Video Games" however you want, but it says something about the bleakness of this album's worldview when it retroactively revises "Video Games"' entire meaning.

So are we to believe that "Video Games" was a fluke, an aberration, a jaunt into deeper territory by an artist who probably belongs in a category, for better or worse, with the likes of Ke$ha and Katy Perry? Or is it too early to judge a debut artist? (After all, not many people jump to dismiss Radiohead because of Pablo Honey, right?) It's hard to say, but in the meantime, let's take Born to Die for what it is: a deeply, deeply flawed meditation on love, image, and fame in the 21st century, and a collection of ideas thrown at the wall to see what sticks.

4

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10
Music

Kyle Craft - "The Rager" (track review)

Photo: Jeremy Kale (Sub Pop Records)

In the official video for Kyle Craft's "The Rager", the singer/songwriter brings a sense of poetic tragedy to an intoxicating folk ballad.

When Sub Pop released Kyle Craft's debut album, Dolls of Highland, in 2016, it received a slew of critical huzzahs for the Louisiana native's Dylan-meets-Bowie retro glam stylings. His sophomore effort, Full Circle Nightmare, comes out early next year, and a video for the album's song "The Rager" deftly interprets the sly, intricate wordplay of the tune.

Keep reading... Show less

Up-and-coming indie folk artists introduce captivating new layers of sound to "Hot Scary Summer" in their rendition of this cult favorite tune from Villagers.

When Villagers first released "Hot Scary Summer", it felt like a revelation. Not only did the indie folk outlet develop a truly captivating melancholy atmosphere with their music, nor did they just appeal to the heartstrings by singing about the negative feelings associated with aching loneliness. Rather, songwriter Conor O'Brien went beyond to highlight personal struggles of being called out in public and having threats thrown out by very homophobic individuals.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image