Though Born to Die is being touted as Lana's breakout album, it's not her debut. This New York City singer/songwriter, born Elizabeth Grant, released her first full-length album (the comically misspelled Lana Del Ray) a couple years ago, though good luck finding it legally now. According to this Billboard story, Grant erased the record's existence from the Web mere months after its release; she also scrubbed her entire social media presence to rebuild her image completely.
In October of last year Del Rey came back strong into our hearts and minds with this album's lead single, "Video Games." The buzz generated by that song's success not only made Born to Die a hot commodity, it landed Del Rey a performance spot on Saturday Night Live before she even had a major release under her belt, something that hadn't happened since the '90s. Anyone who saw that performance knows she miffed it; it was awkward, warbly, and almost unwatchable.
All of this has produced a pretty interesting situation where there's buzz around an artist who very few people seem to genuinely like. Many suspect that Del Rey's being completely fueled by the hype machine at Interscope Records. Now that Born to Die's officially out, we can judge for ourselves.
The Album: If you do want to assume there's a hype machine in play here constructing Del Rey's image, this record adds a lot of fuel to that fire. So many of these tracks seem deliberately structured to steal the styles of other lady pop stars, most significantly Amy Winehouse. Del Rey and her producers drown lots of these sounds in the "wall-of-sound" approach made famous by Phil Spector and used so well by Winehouse; there are strings, xylophones, fuzzy guitars and probably kitchen sinks. This Winehouse-style orchestration is most evident on "Off to the Races" and "Diet Mountain Dew." There's also a bit of Gaga-ripping (how can you call your album Born to anything without referencing Lady G or Bruce Springsteen?), especially on the faux-racy "National Anthem," which conflates nationalism, sex, and greed in a way that seems meant to enrage but just comes off as silly.
By the way, there are AT LEAST three tracks that use a random sample of a dude yelling "HEY!" as percussion. Like, throughout the whole song. Dudes yelling "HEY!" is the new cowbell?
The weird style mash-up here could be ignored of Del Rey herself was a powerful enough presence. But really, she's not, and that's the strangest thing about this whole thing. She's not as bad a singer as SNL would lead you to believe, but she's not very good, either. Her voice is fragile, but maybe appropriately so. It's not strong. It's strangely compelling, perhaps, but not in an enjoyable way. And that will be Del Rey's ultimate downfall. The back half of this record drops most of the Winehouse/Gaga shtick for some more singer/songwritery-type stuff (though still with lots of strings), and the album becomes… uninteresting. There's no relistenability here. The only thing that stands out about the last few tracks is the awful lyrics to album closer "This is What Makes Us Girls" ("we don't stick together cuz we put love first").
Geek Cred: Maybe you think Lana Del Taco is cool because she has a song about video games. GUYS, SHE'S LYING TO YOU. This song actually seems to be about her playing games with her man because that's what he likes, and she likes being with him. There's nothing wrong with that, but y'all, she's not a part of our world, she's just looking in. She's betrayed by lyrics like "It's you, it's you, it's all for you," unless she's singing to the Master Chief in Halo, which makes lines like "take that body downtown" more interesting/troubling.
Final Verdict: The hype's misplaced, but so is the hate. The truth is that when you take away Interscope's marketing powers Lana Del Rey is almost totally average. And that will doom her career faster than any hate. C
What do you think about Lana Del Rey? Have you heard any of her stuff?