Lana Del Rey: Born to Die
Unless you have been living under a rock the past few months, then you are already privy to Lana Del Rey‘s rise from internet sensation to worst SNL performer. What is most striking about the trajectory of Del Rey’s career is that the people crucifying her seem to be the same people that created her to begin with.
It is not like we have not seen this happen before–Black Kids come to mind. But with Lana Del Rey, the demonization seems to be particularly ridiculous. She is not a good live act. Anyone who heard her striking breakout single “Video Games” could have predicted that. When a song has as much open space and atmosphere, it is hard for one singular person to stand on stage and capture that without it feeling awkward.
Then people tried to demonize Del Rey for not being authentic. Saying that disregards the last 60 years of musical history. Her image is the 1950s pin-up model for the hip hop generation. How is that different than David Bowie‘s image as a rock star from another planet? Or the Wu-Tang Clan‘s image as a ghetto ninja troop? The truth is imageless music does not exist and largely musicians or artists with full fledged images have a much better chance to “make it” than those who half-ass it.
Listening to Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die, it is obvious she has committed to her image and it pays off. Lyrically, she steeps her words with Americana images. On “Diet Mountain Dew,” she casually mentions heart-shaped sunglasses, dashboard jesuses, and white Pontiacs all jazzing up what would otherwise be a banal love song. But she does not create her pathos through interspersing Americana images alone, she uses the language of Americana. Phrasing like “my old man” which begins “Off to the Races,” helps set the tone.
That tone is carried through the album and is supplemented musically by production that, like Del Rey’s lyrics, mince old with new. The production nods to hip hop, downtempo, and Nancy Sinatra-style rock. My only problem with the problem with the production is that it almost too obviously tips its hand at its influences. No one can listen to the opening strings of “National Anthem” and not recall The Verve‘s “Bittersweet Symphony” or the track’s deep organ and not think of Matt and Kim‘s “Camera.” “Born to Die” blatantly rips off Kanye‘s drum sound and the ending ambient yell of “louder” sounds like it was directly lifted from Common‘s “The People.”
I can overlook my issues with the production because of how stunning the production is. Although the album uses upward of six producers, they all seems to have the same singular vision to create an album with a sense of space while still seeming lush. There is no track on the album that falls short of this goal. With that said, there is no way to call this album a failure. If Del Rey can weather the storm of tabloid cattiness, she has the talent and the vision to make truly great pop albums.
MP3: Lana Del Rey “National Anthem”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! Vinyl
Lana Del Rey: Born to Die