What can I say about Elizabeth Grant, aka Lana Del Rey, that hasn't already been said... (either by Lana, herself, Brian Williams, Juliette Lewis, Hipster Runoff, Pitchfork, etc. etc)? Her trek to becoming a hipster's wet dream/worst nightmare has been well documented over the past year or so, and that makes writing this piece incredibly difficult, mainly for the following reasons:
Number One: You've probably already heard of Lana Del Rey, and have therefore, also probably made a judgement about her already. You either can not get enough of her, and will rush out as soon as you can to get the album. Or, on the other hand, you might be nauseated by the notion of more press for the songstress, thus making you unlikely to want to hear another note of her music.
Number Two: By writing this article I'm begrudgingly succumbing to the "hype." Lana Del Rey's name has become as polarizing as the word "hipster." She is, undoubtedly, the new poster-child of the indie music industry, a title she has publicly bashed. I'll be the first to admit that I understand the hype surrounding her as much as I comprehend the modern use of the term "hipster," which is not a lot.
And finally, 3) I'm a male. Now, I'm not one to use gender as a crutch or an excuse, but Born To Die is full of themes centering around feminism and sexuality, and I've never felt as (initially) alienated by the first listen of an album as I did with Born To Die. Lana Del Rey's songs rarely, if ever, feature lyrics not centered around sex and/or heartbreak... And there is absolutely no flaw in this; she earned the reputation she has by writing songs focusing on these controversial themes, and Lana Del Rey has been thrust into our world to sell records. But to be honest, by the end of listening to Born To Die the first time, I started to hate myself (listen to the track: "Video Games").
So... the album.
Set to release on January 27 here in the US, Born To Die is a legitimately great album, and will likely be granted more acclaim and attention than any other album this year, and for good reason. Her superb song writing is equally matched by the amazing production for the album. Satisfying a wide array of sub genres, Born To Die finds Lana Del Rey moving from soul, to rock, to blues, sometimes all in one track. And the phenomenal mixing and production on the album even channels some hip-hop influences as well.
It is undeniable that Lana Del Rey's voice is spectacular; as refined as it is chilling, as awe-inspiring as it is ominous. This leads me to the most polarizing thing about Born To Die: the conundrums that arise when listening to her songs.
Her voice is undeniably gorgeous, but her vocals are matched with lyrics that are simultaneously dark and visceral while being sexual and lascivious; giving way to her self-described style as a "'Gangsta' Nancy Sinatra."
As much as I hate that description, it's difficult to deny it. LDR's crooning talents are showcased on nearly every track on the album. Tracks like "Born to Die," and "Video Games" are unbelievably dreary and tragic (especially as a male listener), but still manage to maintain a sense of exquisiteness.
In fact, all of the songs on the album fit somewhere within that duality; any optimism brought on by a line of lyrics is immediately downtrodden by the pessimism of the next. One of the album's most beautifully written songs, "Million Dollar Man" appears to be the lone spirited track on the album, but LDR crashes this mood quickly: "You're screwed up/ You're brilliant/ You look like a Million Dollar Man/ So why is my heart broke?"
[Instead, Del Rey saves the most sanguine song for a bonus track, titled "Lucky Ones".]
And then there's the songs like "Diet Mountain Dew" and "This Is What Makes Us Girls," which showcase a little of the "gangsta" side of her persona. These tracks, as well as "Off to the Races" and "Lolita" (a bonus track, which is a rework of a track from her previous album) highlight as being catchy pop songs layered with hip-hop-style-sampling and production. While the tracks are good in their own right, they almost stick out like a sore thumb on Born To Die, as LDR steps away from her strong suit of bleak-yet-beautiful compositions.
Born To Die, as an album, suggests that Lana Del Rey is an incredibly smart musician. She plays off of the enigmas mentioned above, and creates a remarkably beautiful collection of music. She pushes the buttons necessary to get attention and notoriety, and with this comes backlash and cynicism. But unlike many others who have failed before her, Lana Del Rey delivers a solid group of songs that beg you to look past the "hype," as nauseating as it can be at times.
Now, go ahead... call me a hipster.
Album Rating: 4.1/5
Lana Del Rey's Official Website
Lana Del Rey's Official Video for "Born To Die":
Lana Del Rey's Official Video for "Born To Die":