Six months ago, a relatively unknown singer-songwriter working under the grandiose moniker Lana Del Rey posted the song “Video Games” on YouTube. The song set the Internet ablaze, and, in a matter of weeks, Del Rey signed a major record contract and promised her rapidly expanding fan base an album. As songs from the record slowly trickled onto YouTube, Del Rey’s runaway hype machine collided with a wall of fiery hatred, igniting the age-old debate of authenticity in music. After months of squabbling, Born to Die is finally here.
The album opens on a surprisingly pleasant note with its title track, “Born to Die.” Like most of the record, the opener weaves Lana’s seductive croon into a dense web of pop production that is particularly heavy on strings. Unfortunately, after “Born to Die,” it’s almost all downhill.
The worst aspect of Born to Die is without a doubt its atrocious lyricism. Each song is a catalog of uninspired clichés: “I will love you till the end of time,” “love hurts,” “you’re no good for me,” “money is the reason we exist, kiss, kiss.” The sappy, superfluous strings, which slowly leach the life out of the album, feel like an attempt to cover up the lack of depth in Del Rey’s songwriting.
At its best, Born to Die is catchy yet completely forgettable pop, and at its worst, it’s absolutely unlistenable.
Ultimately, Born to Die feels like a desperate grasp for mainstream attention. Despite describing herself as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra,” there is nothing daring, racy or exciting about Del Rey. Her mixture of generic music and sterile lyrics is not only safe for the pop world, it fits in perfectly beside Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and the other dregs of mainstream female pop.
I suppose Lana Del Rey does give profit-addicted record executives a chance to rejoice. They’ve managed to pluck yet another blossoming Internet sensation and transform it into bland and uninspiring mainstream pop while somehow managing to keep the hype machine churning.
However, despite all the hatred, there is one gem on Born to Die. “Video Games,” the song that launched Del Rey into the mainstream, is an undeniably gorgeous piece, driven by a graceful melody steeped in longing and sadness. Instead of detracting from the work, the beautifully swelling strings make lovesick lines like “heaven is a place on Earth with you” seem shockingly poignant.
Given “Video Games,” it’s not surprising that Lana Del Rey was originally seen as the antithesis of trashy radio pop. Listening to the song gives a hint at what could have been had Del Rey stuck to the style that briefly captured the attention of both the mainstream and independent musical spheres. Unfortunately, the evil lure of the major record labels won her over. Now, she’s just another run-of-the-mill, generic pop star.