Lana Del Rey: ‘Born To Die’
Given that this album is this album and that it came out like three days ago, this review is already maybe 10 blogyears too late. Irrelevant. Oh well. The very fact that mere days matter so much says volumes about Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die, an album that, on its own, says volumes about the internet culture we’re living in. It’s a terrifying, imaginary place. And Lana Del Rey’s greatest contribution to the world––even greater than her perhaps immortal “Video Games”––is that she showed us just how terrifying and how imaginary it was. This album, really, isn’t all that much about the music. Lana, really, isn’t all that much about the music. This album is about the internet. What’s going to happen to it? What’s going to happen to us? I don’t know.
First, let’s go back a few months or so. Late summer 2011 an obstinately hipster music video began circulating the blog scene. The song was called “Video Games” and the video was made up of the sort of Instagram’d haze collage that has come to stand in for and easily represent hipster culture. The video was cool, though, and the song was actually pretty amazing. It’s a stately, smoky affair made weird by the modernity of its titular subject, etc. Lana Del Rey’s voice, too, got everyone’s attention. It had a dark, Cat Power thing going on. She was new and fresh but somehow old and classic at the same time. She was called the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” in one unfortunate MTV post. With one song, she became a sex symbol. With one song, she became a divisive, polarizing icon. With one song, she became an enduring human meme.
So. LDR is on top of the world circa “Video Games.” Then some (I can only assume) disgruntled bloggers got skeptical. Who was Lana Del Rey? Well, she was Lizzy Grant. She was, it was unearthed, not authentic. She was in a way “not a real artist,” apparently. Studio-backed, fake, a figurehead. Lana and the inauthenticity immediately became inseparable. Those fickle bloggers that had so hyped up “Video Games” now began to hate and hate and hate. Mother of God, what was going on? The internet was moving too fast, eating itself, hating something that, just months earlier, it had told everyone to love. This is all going on Fall/Winter 2011. Haters gon hate, sure, but when the concept of authenticity in the modern age is at stake, somehow everything is more serious. People who write words on the internet were forced to choose. People continued to write about her because she generated hits but they were now unable––for the sake of credibility––to write anything positive. Lana Del Rey was thrust into the unique position of being a content-generator by not really doing anything.
Now, fast-forward to this Tuesday, when Born To Die, LDR’s debut album was released. The music itself is not bad. It’s something like an amalgamation of current trends and sounds; it’s rich in strings and subtle hip hop beats. The songs are fine, catchy. The lyrics are absurd to the point of parody, but they, like the music, work to support the Hollywood glitz and drugs and consumerism YouTube famous Marilyn Monroe gangsta Nancy Sinatra Las Vegas singer leather jackets and gold necklaces VIBE that the album (and Lana Del Rey herself) are pushing hard. It’s a noble cause, really. No other pop star (now we’re calling her a pop star?) today has such a defined aesthetic. But there are problems.
In general, Born To Die accentuates the negatives, but not in an ironic enough way. There is bad line after bad line made up of the sort of he’s a bad guy tropes that “Video Games” actually handled a little too well. Over and over, Lana Del Rey is telling us about these horrible, rough guys that she will still stand behind, no matter what. It’s a classic pop music move, but today it’s different. Somehow. In “Blue Jeans” (pretty good song!), she sings “I will love you till the end of time.” He says he has to “leave to start [my] life over.” She was like “no please/ stay here.” Obviously, dude peaces. But. But. But. But. “I will love you till the end of time.”
This is fiction, this is pop, but this is 2012 and the shitty boyfriend/”bad boy” character in “Video Games” is actually extremely, damagingly realistic. Damaging in the sense that in real life he’d just be so fucking lame. To illustrate this, allow me to borrow a segment of Rob Harvilla’s own ingenous and animated review of this same album, posted Monday, January 30, on SPIN.com. He describes the sort of bad boys of today, the people that the songs on Born To Die are all about: “It’s instructive to picture what this guy would actually look like IRL, some clown with a real emotional haircut, Crocs hanging off his feet, Urban Outfitters leather jacket hung over his IKEA futon, remnants of that Taco Bell burrito with the Fritos in it congregating at the corners of his mouth as he binges on Skyrim, blasts “Pumped Up Kicks” on infinite repeat, and gargles dozens of shots of, like, Goldschläger.” When you put it that way (and, believe me, that’s the way it is, especially the part about the Urban Outfitters leather jacket), it…weakens…everything.
“Off To the Races” features the line, “He doesn’t mind I have a Las Vegas past/ he doesn’t mind I have an L.A.-crass way about me/ he loves me/ with every beat of his cocaine heart.” Yeah, really. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It is pretty out of control though. And Lana Del Rey’s lifeless delivery is somehow not quite lifeless enough to pull it off. When listening to the very catchy “Nationl Anthem,” you don’t hear lyrics so much as you hear words. The ideas Lana is pushing here (money is king) are dumb but the modern simplicity with which they are delivered is sort of great. Or just even more dumb? Somewhere in the middle? Maybe it’s too obvious? After a few lines like, “Money is the anthem of success/ so before we go out what’s your address,” “Money is the anthem/ god you’re so handsome/ take me to the Hamptons,” “Money is the reason we exist/ everybody knows it’s a fact/ kiss kiss,” you really get the point. It sounds good, though. But. But. But. But. I don’t know.
There are good songs here, but, it’s like who cares. It’s not bad music, but no one who knows enough about her, in light of the past half year of contention surrounding Lana Del Rey, will listen to it very seriously. And everyone that doesn’t know anything about her won’t really care either, just because. What Born To Die really does, then, is open our eyes to the dangers (this is all relative, but dangers nonetheless) of our current internet-obsessed content cycling culture. Where does it end? Why can’t this music stand on its own (it can’t, not now at least)? Why is Lana Del Rey so hated for making music in the pop-conscious business-like way that countless other beloved stars do? Was it because she lied about it? Wait, “money is the anthem of success”? What? What? What? What? I don’t know.