Lana Del Rey has been a buzzword in music chatter since the debut of her self-released music video for “Video Games” — a mash-up of faded vintage clips and beautifully bizarre scenes of Lana — and her recent, awkward performance on SNL. Del Rey-converts have deemed her enigmatic and charming, comparing her to Marilyn Monroe. Lana-haters criticize her for her manufactured nature, dismissing her as a product of her CEO father. Even her identity is a controversial subject — Lana used to go by her birth name Lizzy Grant, back when she was a thinner-lipped, jeans-wearing, overall-average girl who would sing in New York bars.
Lana Del Rey
Born to Die
Born to Die marks Lana Del Rey’s first LP, a highly anticipated album by those wondering if she has anything more to offer than her single “Video Games.” While it may be tempting to deconstruct her interviews and speculate about where she has or has not had collagen injected, doing so could mean missing out on appreciating a rare voice in the realm of female singers.
In almost every track on Born to Die, Lana flaunts her wide vocal range, creating a sound that is versatile but distinguishing. She has chilling deep-voiced moments, beginning the album’s namesake track, “Born to Die,” with a rich lowness that channels Florence Welch and Cat Power. She sounds mature and experienced, at times fazed, but soon begins begging in an eerily childlike voice, “Kiss me hard in the pouring rain.”
Her instantaneous transitions from breathy vocals and sensual lyrics to girlish naïveté offer a somewhat unsettling dichotomy to her image. There’s something off about Lana’s music — she’s youthful to the point of being babyish, yet pushes the sex-kitten image. Nothing exhibits this more than the song “Lolita,” a nod to the novel by Vladimir Nabokov. She sings in a little-girl voice about kissing in a dark park, joined by a chorus of children warning, “I know what the boys want, I’m not gonna play.” The song is menacing but backed by an irresistible beat and syrupy singing, demonstrating Lana’s ability to be simultaneously coquettish and creepy.
But the transfixing nature of Lana’s vocals isn’t enough to carry Born to Die. The album is unashamedly produced, incorporating orchestral flourishes, innumerous sound effects of incoherent yelling and a hip-hop backing in almost every song. Born to Die beguiles, enticing listeners with cheap appeals to pop and hip hop.
Even with these studio additions, bombastic anthems begging to be remixed such as “Lucky Ones” and “Dark Paradise” drag on for four minutes. When the melodies are unable to distract listeners from the largely unoriginal lyrics, it becomes apparent that Born to Die is an hour’s worth of anti-feminism. Virtually every song declares Lana’s willingness to submit to some guy. At times, Lana seems critical of the cognac-chugging gamers she falls in love with, but mostly she sounds defeated and willing to accept a life of unreciprocated longing.
Despite spending 15 tracks getting to know Lana, her status as an artist remains ambiguous. She sings repeatedly about the American Dream and seems to predict her fame in the song “Without You” with lyrics about her time in the limelight. At the same time, she claims she’s willing to give it all up for a man and relies heavily on in-studio additions to accompany her admittedly impressive singing. But interpret Lana however you want — she doesn’t need your money and she’s already getting her 15 minutes.