31
Jan
2012
Lana Del Ray: Born to Die
Born to Die
Ashley
I'm convinced that there's literally nothing to say about Lana Del Rey that hasn't already been said. I don't mean that to sound like a cop-out; as an English major, I've long ago surrendered any attachment to the elusive "original idea." But the oversaturation of LDR-related material on the internet in the last month or so has induced a level of fatigue that makes me reluctant to say anything at all, lest I contribute to the glut.

I'll begin by saying that, like many people, I really enjoyed "Video Games." I thought the video was hackneyed, self-indulgent trash, but the song itself appealed to me. Even the cheesy baroque touches (the persistent harp, for instance) worked - isolated from Del Rey's controversial adopted persona, it comes off as a very earnest, quirky ballad. But the perception of Del Rey as a failed trust fund baby who was recycled and recast by canny record execs and PR teams as an indie goddess ultimately overwhelmed the positive buzz around the song, and by the time she bombed on SNL, public interest in her debut album seemed rooted in predictions about just how bad it would be.

Unfortunately, Del Rey doesn't do much on Born to Die to convince anyone that she's worthy of the hype. Though the title track and "Video Games" are both reliable, Nancy Sinatra-inspired slow burns, nearly every other track on the album is either forgettable, or inspires intense second-hand embarrassment. Though "Off to the Races" could have merely been crappy pop filer, the lyrics alone are enough to certify the song as truly awful. Lines like "I'm your little harlot, starlet, queen of Coney Island" are supposed to be retro-rockabilly ironically trashy, but just come off as desperate. Really, the entire album is a case study in trying too hard. On "National Anthem," which I think is intended to be a critique of materialism, she repeats the line "money is the anthem of success" over and over again. What the fuck does that even mean?

Another grating component of Born to Die is her insistence on sticking with a pervasive Lolita motif. Clearly Del Rey is ignorant and culturally isolated enough not to know how played out that imagery is in popular culture, because only someone who thought their references were subtle would put so many in nearly every track. In "Off to the Races," she repeats the book's opening line "Light of my life, fire of my loins," in a high-pitched voice. I didn't realize it until I heard this song, but I never want to hear anyone sing the word "loins." Later on the equally infuriating "This is What Makes Us Girls," she sings about imaginary small-town teenage exploits in a creepy baby voice. I'm not sure why her crack PR team has yet to point out that sticking to the lower register she uses on "Video Games" and "Born to Die" is far preferable to hitting those higher notes.

I realize that the bulk of my criticism is of the lyrics, which is partly because they're so distractingly horrible ("Diet Mountain Dew, baby, New York City") but it's also an effect of the musical arrangements being so bland. The tracks fall into two camps: they're either "Video Games"-style ballads sung in Del Rey's more popular low voice, or they're up-tempo fluff tracks that sound like they're being sung by one of those Japanese hologram pop stars. And while there are numerous orchestral arrangements, the lushness overwhelms; it's okay to drag out the strings for a few bombastic, melodramatic tracks, but when such descriptors can be applied to every track on the album, it's certainly overkill.

Though I imagine that Lana Del Rey is not without potential, she's debuted a truly soulless album that doesn't redeem her disastrous live performances. I'm not sure why any of us expected the album to be any less manufactured than the artist herself, but considering the strength of "Video Games," it's disappointing to think that that may be all there is.

Grade: C-
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