Author’s Note: I meant to write this review when Born to Die was released in January but that never happened so here we are now. That being said, the album definitely has a summer feel to it, so it seems somewhat appropriate to post a belated review during the steaming month of June, amiright?
It’s common knowledge among the professionally creative that the only bad press is no press. Sure, Pitchfork could deliver a scathing album review with the disclaimer DON’T BUY THIS RECORD IT IS THE WORST RECORD IN THE HISTORY OF RECORDS DON’T DO IT I SEE YOU DOING IT PHILISTINE but people would still buy the record. We can’t help ourselves.
Whether she means to or not, Lana Del Rey is taking full advantage of her “bad press.” From privileged roots to those suspiciously plump lips to a certain Saturday Night Live performance, Del Rey has had more bloopers than wins (for those of you counting). However, to a publicist, it’s been a field day, mostly because people are still talking about her.
In the beginning, some of us wondered: why so much hatred directed at one person whose contributions are far less substantial than the surfeit of pop stars monopolizing the charts? Is Ke$ha on sabbatical or something? The answer, while obvious, is also ridiculous. When Del Rey attempted to redefine herself as a doe-eyed femme fatale she inadvertently called out the entire realm of “indie music” in the process. Her keepers were clever enough to realize that “indie” is as much based on image as your average mainstream diva and Del Rey’s mere existence was proof that a believable indie musician could be created by decidedly non-indie people. Naturally, the hip folk took offense.
Listen to Born to Die—Del Rey’s debut full-length album—and you’ll note that she did not write an “indie” album by common definition*. It’s a bit strange, actually, a true exercise in contradictions. As a lyricist, she wavers between anxious fixation and fanciful naiveté; a pouting Lolita one moment and a badass party girl the next. You won’t find Del Rey browsing the bins of her local record store but you might catch a whiff of Chanel N˚5 as she breezes past you on the back of some dude’s motorcycle. That’s her scene; at least that’s one of the many scenes she’s selling us. The real question is not “Why is she trying to sell us these different identities?” but “Which of these identities is most real?” One of them has to be. Even Britney has her moments of self-awareness.
Born to Die plays like the tiniest of winks in our direction. For all the ‘love’ she incorporates into her lyrics, this is clearly an album of infatuation. Most of the songs have a slight fanatical quality that might be interpreted as anti-feminist to some; yet, the simplicity of her phrasing just plain reinforces the fact that none of us are immune to the trivialities of “young love,” regardless of how stupid it seems in retrospect. If Connor Oberst wrote a song about being a stupid teenager he would, undoubtedly, fill the margins with oblique references to surviving as a sardonic, misunderstood wayfarer in Omaha. Not Lana. She ripped a page out of her 16-year-old diary and wrote “This Is What Makes Us Girls,” a remarkably visual tune that describes the plot of nearly every female coming-of-age story: think American Graffiti meets Foxfire meets Endless Love, as realized by Amy Heckerling and soon to be re-invented by Lena Dunham (with heavy sponsoring from Pabst Blue Ribbon).
Still, I find myself caring, and I can’t attribute it to the obnoxious “guilty pleasure” rationalization. It will be interesting to behold her next incarnation—I’m gunning for a “gangsta” Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood type duet (she’s already been spotted about town in a creepy May-December coupling with Axl Rose)—if she doesn’t get stuck in remix purgatory** or succumb to hype or go batshit insane a la Britney (circa Shaved Head). Her MO is to make us wonder what her MO is, and until that loses its appeal, we’ll continue to wonder, for better or worse. Maybe the singer herself summed it up best: On our drugs and our love, and our dreams and our rage, blurring the lines between real and the fake.
Born to Die is available at most online retailers. A deluxe version includes three bonus tracks. Visit her official website for more information.
*Not by the original definition where “indie” was used to describe bands on independent labels. Now it denotes a very stylized genre of music and an equally stylized “lifestyle,” for lack of a better word.
**Judging by the amount of remix press bogging down my inbox, the odds are not in her favor.