Lana Del Rey’s debut LP, Born to Die, hits stores worldwide this week and is currently available to stream. Easily the most divisive and heavily debated album in recent memory, it’s expected to debut at #2 on the Billboard 200 next week regardless of the overwhelmingly mixed/negative criticism. By now you should all know the story: failed singer-songwriter Elizabeth “Lizzy” Grant transforms herself in model fashion, changes her name, signs with a major label, has a viral hit, fails on national television debut and comes to embody much of what everyone despises about the internet hype machine. Despite whatever reservations I may have had early on about Del Rey’s authenticity, after three remarkably strong singles I was certainly complicit in the hype and eagerly anticipating Born to Die. Who wouldn’t be after a debut single like ‘Video Games’? It remains one of the best songs of 2011. And that striking video for ‘Born to Die’? It suggested an exciting new pop persona.
Unfortunately, the album is a disaster. None of the promise of ‘Video Games’ or ‘Blue Jeans’ can be heard on Born to Die; instead we get cheap, crappy electro beats paired with awkward vocals (‘Off to the Races’, ‘National Anthem’), overproduced ballads desperately trying re-create the majesty of ‘Video Games’ (‘Dark Paradise’, ‘Summertime Sadness’), god-awful lyrics (“Money is the anthem / God, you’re so handsome / Take me to the Hamptons”), and every song overdoing the orchestral strings to death.
So what happened? I think Stereogum perhaps came up with the best analogy: Born to Die is what might’ve happened if Fiona Apple existed in the internet age and gave us ‘Shadowboxer’ and ‘Criminal,’ and then the rest of Tidal had been bullshit. I’m not going to delve into an in-depth analysis of blog-hyped artists in the internet age: check out NPR’s pieces here and here for that as well as thorough album reviews from Pitchfork and Spin. However, I will say that it’s now painfully obvious that Del Rey simply wasn’t developed enough as an artist or persona (not to mention likely rushed by Interscope, who clearly only had dollars in mind).
While it’s disappointing to realise that ultimately Del Rey may be just be another vapid pop star with a few hits, I don’t think she is deserving of the vilification that is being heaped on her by many of the same blogs/tumblrs that helped make her, especially some of the awfully cruel and sexist criticism regarding her appearance. Signing with NEXT Model Management clearly didn’t help her questionable image, but you only need to look at every second actress in Hollywood to find a similarly ambitious young woman with a fake name and appearance. Somehow, Del Rey has managed to bring out the worst in internet commentators, and unfortunately that may be her legacy if her career doesn’t survive the current backlash.
Following her disastrous SNL performance, Del Rey appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman tonight to perform ‘Video Games’ [See below]. It went down much better this time around, although her delivery was still nothing to rave about. Letterman and Paul Shaffer were mostly impressed with her looks, in a slightly creepy way.
Del Rey next plans to re-release her little-heard 2010 album Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant later this year. I’m still intrigued enough to follow her progress for now, but certainly not with the same level of interest and expectation as before the release of Born to Die.
Listen to Born to Die below [Note: you have to click the “Like” button on the player to listen to the songs in full].
Watch Del Rey’s performance of ‘Video Games’ on the Late Show with David Letterman below.