In just a matter of months, Lana Del Rey has transformed herself from a struggling New York musician named Elizabeth Grant into the most polarizing indie-pop icon in America today.
In October of last year, Del Rey released her first single, the hauntingly infectious “Video Games,” which received excessive amounts of attention and praise from critics and also led to a joint record deal with Interscope and Polydor records.
Her meteoric rise to prominence has simultaneously incited a movement of resentment against her. Her accusers claim that Del Rey lacks authenticity and talent, and has relied on marketing ploys to achieve her success. The debate, which raged on long before the release of her first album “Born to Die” has made Del Rey into the Tim Tebow of indie culture.
Like Tebow, Del Rey has instantly been condemned solely because of her image in lieu of any substantial body of work to accurately attack or defend her proficiency in her field. However, instead of taking a knee in prayer after a touchdown, Del Rey pouts her ruby-red lips in homage to the former titans of the silver screen, setting herself as the spiritual successor to the likes of James Dean, Nancy Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
That being said, “Born to Die” leaves much to be desired, and the lack of time spent on crafting the album results in a compilation of songs that sound underdeveloped and unimaginative.
In the ordering of the tracks on the album, Del Rey places her previously released singles and B-sides at the start of the album in an attempt to hit the listener over the head by reminding them why she is famous to begin with. This makes the LP lopsided, and listening to the later tracks can become a tiresome chore, because they never match the sincerity and effectiveness of her earlier singles.
A bulk of the production on Del Rey’s first album on a major label gets handled, albeit rather clumsily, by Emile Haynie, best known for his work with Kid Cudi and Eminem.
While at times the combination of punch-drunk breathy vocals and the hip-hop infused drum samples seems novel, the repetition of this formula for twelve continuous tracks can make your head spin. Also, the thick swatches of theatrical strings that wind up in every single song start to lose their luster after about 15 minutes.
As for the actual talent of the singer-songwriter, clearly Del Rey has potential and deserves at least partial credit for attempting some form of diversity in the delivery of her choruses. While she always returns to her withdrawn monotone inflection, a tone that differentiates her from most current pop artists, she does try different registers, which she handles with relative ease.
The lyrical content of each song fails to recapture that same lingering detachment that made “Video Games” such an overnight success. The stark entrancement of Del Rey telling you to go play your video games seems to suggest a representation of an independent female character that has becomes disillusioned with the youth culture she finds herself in.
However, to say that any other song on “Born to Die” mimics that kind of representation would be a glaring inaccuracy. The lyrics adhere more to the traditional, lovesick, defenseless pre-teen who will cease to exist if she loses her man: “Every time I close my eyes / It’s like a dark paradise / No one compares to you / I’m scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side.”
Though it might be easy to write this album off as just a fatal misstep for the blooming career of this new pop sensation, one can’t help but wonder what sort of success she could have had given more time to polish.