While Lana Del Rey has been incessantly assaulted by a hailstorm of criticism since the release of her single “Video Games,” most of the insults have had little to do with the quality of the rising pop star’s music. Despite being accurately described as spoiled, contrived, and dead inside—or perhaps as a direct result of these qualities—Del Rey has released an album that is far more refined than her debut LP, A.K.A. Lizzy Grant, and more enjoyable than her critics are willing to admit.
Born to Die features less experimentation with synthesizers than her debut, instead utilizing a generally simple background rhythm that aids in accenting Del Rey’s distinctive voice, the most prominent feature of the album. On “National Anthem,” for instance, bass drum beats follow the pitch of Del Rey’s voice, focusing attention on the song’s message. Critics have pointed out a tone of boredom on a number of the album’s tracks, like “Radio” and “Blue Jeans,” but the songs are by no means devoid of emotion, and the effect is not one of apathy—rather, Del Rey manages to add a hypnotic element to her album, further emphasizing her powerful lyrics.
Del Rey’s voice provides the perfect forum for the underlying theme of Born To Die: the inevitability of death. The title track, however, quickly establishes the carpe diem attitude of the record, which sharply contrasts songs generated by characters like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. While all three singers deal with navigating unrestrained drug-and-alcohol-fueled parties in high heels and short skirts with the stereotypical bad boys, Del Rey approaches the subject from a well-orchestrated melancholy position driven by the poignant awareness of death. This sentiment is especially clear on “Summertime Sadness” when Del Rey croons, “got my bad baby by my heavenly side / Oh if I go, I’ll die happy tonight.”
Born To Die will doubtlessly continue to gather both support and criticism, inexorably locked in a battle between fame and infamy. Removing Lana Del Rey as a person—and her well-publicized, disastrous recent appearance on Saturday Night Live—from the equation, however, provides a more objective view of her album. Born To Die is a powerful, well-produced record that deserves more than a contemptuous eye-roll and a thoughtless dismissal.
Voice’s Choices: “Dark Paradise,” “Radio”