The strange engine of hype has been fuelling talk of one Lana Del Rey for quite a few months, but I’ve somehow avoided most of the fervent, slobbering discourse. With the release of Born to Die, her second studio album and major label debut, the opportunity to explore what the fuss is about has come.
The 25-year-old describes herself as a “self-styled gangsta Nancy Sinatra” and cites influences from Britney Spears and Kurt Cobain. According to an article from the worshipful NME, she still holds a babysitting job and leads a really normal life – or as normal a life as one can lead when a Google search reveals that one of the bigger questions pertaining to Lana Del Rey is whether or not her lips are real.
So with Born to Die in the open, a disastrous SNL performance in the bag, and her looks/lips generating wagging tongues from most of my male music blogger counterparts, where does Lana Del Rey fit in with respect to modern music’s fickle, hype-today-gone-tomorrow throng?
Del Rey’s main card is that of the disinterested tart with her legs spread in the backseat. She is the cooing but jaded vixen, the perfect woman for some knuckle-draggers and a picture of emptiness for other more perceptive listeners.
Make no mistake about it, she plays off her image well. Despite being 25, Del Rey thumps the Lolita gong throughout much of Born to Die and sets feminism back more than a few steps. She is lyrically submissive. She sings of waiting around for the fella who mistreats her and of lounging around in “his favourite sun dress” like a 50s housewife on crack.
Her “Video Games” is wrapped in gossamer strings and shadowy vapour, with her dejected drawl proclaiming that “heaven is a place on earth where you tell me all the things you want to do.” The video, featuring Del Rey’s lifeless eyes and plum lips in various poses of unresponsiveness, sets the stage.
“This is What Makes Us Girls” continues the theme, with Del Rey singing about not looking for heaven and putting “love” first.
The title track is another example of her distance, highlighted by her wonderfully versatile yet somewhat uncertain vocal texture.
More important than where Del Rey came from or whether or not she’s a manufactured superstar is how she communicates her experiences musically. The indifference, the blinding lights of Hollywood’s hollow party culture and the misplaced gamble of love add up to the gooey thrust of Born to Die, a record borne out of fumbling, unwanted backseat encounters with drunk fratboys.
The reviews for Born to Die haven’t exactly been kind, with many critics unable to match her modish image to her somewhat cold, detached musical production. I think that’s the point; she is the extravagant temptress because that’s all she knows. She is a few “cherry schnapps in the velvet night” away from another mistake.