I think we all need to relax about Lana Del Rey. The lobbied insults regarding inauthenticity, and shameless ploys to gain success and stardom that Del Rey has received in the past year following the release of her inextricable debut Born to Die were quite uncalled for. It’s a little difficult to swallow the polemic arguments that either paint Del Rey as superbly fake or a massively sincere airhead, especially considering who they’re coming from. Said without any trace of irony, Del Rey has been subjected to a turgid amount of sexist scrutiny over her suspicious beginnings by the very people who scoff at authenticity. Ultimately, she found herself in the most impossible of Catch 22’s without a prayer of coming out unscathed.
Born To Die could easily be considered the most widely misunderstood album of the year. While some wrote it off as a sad attempt to make a name for herself, others criticized the record for being filled with idiotic Ke$ha-isms, and some saw the thick character-driven songs as an inarticulate commentary on the tired (but somehow still incredibly true) theme of American dreams gone terribly wrong. One review characterized the record as being the epitome of a “faked orgasm” and although it probably wasn’t meant as the superlative that I’m gracing it with, that’s exactly what the record is: a faked orgasm. But, how could she still need to fake her orgasms in an age where women are so liberated and men are so attuned to the needs of women? HOW!? And that’s where this record goes over most people’s heads.
There is something that is definitely underlying in the perfect pop played behind an occasional deadpan and often faked vocal delivery. It’s unnerving. It’s especially unnerving to think that this is a “faked orgasm” by a woman pretending to be someone else — putting on a character, because she’ll be damned if she’s going to through herself into a den of lions to be ripped apart. Instead they’re ripping apart the dummy that she’s tossed in to look like her. I don’t believe for a second that any of the tracks from Born to Die or even the additional eight from Paradise are remotely about Lizzy Grant. Listening to Del Rey is like watching your favourite actor perform the most fucked-up character in a mesmerizing film. It’s not indicative of who that person actually is, so trying to call them out on being inauthentic is like trying to tell Madonna she’s not a real blonde. For all intents and purposes, Del Rey is the epitome of Fiona Apple meets Madonna meets Liz Phair — embodying the best and most mesmerizing aspects of all those fantastic artists while twisting them in new and sometimes shocking ways.
It’s mesmerizing to listen to Del Rey create these characters and perform these stories with such vocal precision and beautifully lush instrumentals. None more so than the lead single “Ride” from this re-release. A track that plays through the sad, messed-up-ness of a girl trying to find her father in her elder lovers. Although her lyrics may leave a lot to be desired — God knows the opening line of “Cola” where she sings “My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola / My eyes are wide like cherry pies” is kind of difficult to take — they still manage to paint a perfect picture of the girls that Del Rey is embodying in these songs. The tracks play like sad little character studies. “American” gleams of idealistic kids enveloped by drugs who still have that earnest belief that their country can provide the reality to their perfect little dreams, all the while boasting a catchy little chorus. “Blue Velvet” is a haunting and deadened rendition of a track originally meant as a romantic tribute of lovelorn and loss. In the hands of Lana, it’s twisted and disturbing and conjures up images of abuse and fear.
Paradise is definitely a more explicit portrait of the tracks featured on the original release, lengthening the entire album to a whopping 23 tracks. It’s head spinning at times, and will most likely leave listeners incapable of getting through the entire record from beginning to end in one sitting. The sheer magnitude of Born to Die (The Paradise Edition) is it’s main detractor — 23 songs is simply far too long. And while Del Rey definitely does her best to keep your attention, it’s trying for even the most die-hard fans to sit through. Ultimately, Paradise is best enjoyed as a follow-up EP of b-sides and bonus material, equally poignant as its main predecessor, but a separate project altogether.
What Del Rey has managed to do with her lengthy debut is present a moving portrait of pretty girls and boys, slowly but surely highlighting the cracks in the veneer, and pulling at the loose threads fraying along the inside. It’s chaotic and bold and difficult to look away. But, if you’re looking for something to relate to, you’re SOL, because these are the stories that you can’t ease up to. They don’t comfort you, they don’t console you, they don’t provide an earnest and sincere representation of the singer behind the song. These are the disturbing movies that you watch because of the intensity behind the storytelling.