Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

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1. It was an absolute spectacle to watch Pitchfork brand “Video Games” with the “Best New Music” tag in 2011, and proceed to be on top of Lana Del Rey-related news like glitter on skin. However, come January 2012, there was her infamous, abysmal performance on SNL; besides not delivering as a singer (which she’s not much of to begin with – more on that later), she rather awkwardly swayed in the same place (not that her outfit provided much motility). Truth be told, there are worse performances by other artists, and Lana Del Rey has better performances to put on her resume, but few on a program as big as Saturday Night Live. Soon after, Pitchfork reviewed Born to Die, giving it a 5.5, the Pitchfork-review-equivalent of a nail hitting the coffin, and the Lana Del Rey-related traffic ceased. Hype’s a bitch.

(A few years later, Lana Del Rey released her follow-up Ultraviolence, where she mellowed out both in terms of tune and production (by hiring the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach). It was a better album by being more consistent in its grey blur, but nothing on it even approached this album’s two best singles. A year later, an even more mellower album.)

2. “Video Games” is the best thing here, and also the best thing in her discography so far; likely forever. A good choice introducing the elements one at a time (opening church bells giving way to a harp, before strings, piano and eventually, a soft-spoken drum at the 2:29 mark). Lana Del Rey doesn’t have the most powerful voice (probably a result of cigarette smoking), nor does she command a great range (more specifics on that later), but here, everything came together perfectly; every line was a hook.

3. “Blue Jeans” proved she wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and is the second-best thing here, and also the second-best thing in her discography so far; likely forever. This ones mixes hip-hop (the beat, the recurring vocal sample that sounds like it’s been in everything; the wordier verses, especially with lines like “You’re so fresh to death and sick as ca-ca-cancer / You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop”) with a string-tinged pop ballad. What results is something people called trip-hop (too kinetic) or art pop (not eclectic enough) but regardless of the handle, it’s just a really well-written, well-sung, well-made song. Love the trade-off between her falsetto melody and the tear-faced wail in the choruses (“I will love you ’til the end of time / I would wait a million years…”) – like a call-and-response; love the way certain syllables just roll off during the verses, despite their wordiness (“But he headed out on Sunday, said he’d come home Monday / I stayed up waiting, anticipating and pacing”); love the bridge which actually adds to the song, adding a different melody and pace, coming off of the previous chorus and nicely segueing to the next perfectly.

4. So she’s not a one-hit wonder. Two-hit wonder’s more accurate: follow-up single “Born to Die” sounded generic as opposed to the chamber pop “Video Games” and genre-blurring “Blue Jeans.” Its b-side, “Off to the Races,” is considerably worse, thanks to a complete disregard for actual tune, aside from the chorus which does okay but she runs through it rather awkwardly, and the instrumental is nowhere near as memorable as the previously mentioned three songs. These four songs were packaged together as an EP and than placed as the first four songs on the album in one of the most unimaginative tracklists I’ve ever seen, not to mention the fact that “Blue Jeans” was released afterwards as a standalone single, as if we didn’t have a thousand ways of accessing it already by that point.

Another example of said “unimaginative tracklist”: let “Video Games” play out and listen in horror as Lana Del Rey’s gratingly falsettoed and repeated line “You’re no good for me” immediately kicks “Diet Mountain Dew” off.

5. There’s also the matter of recycling: “Born to Die” has a sound (see the 2:40 mark) that becomes repeated ad nauseum on “Million Dollar Man,” while the “Take your body downtown” token lyric of “Video Games” is seen again almost immediately after in “National Anthem.”

6. I liked “Born to Die” more when its line read “Wanna fuck you hard in the pouring rain.” I’m not sure why it was changed to the G-rated “kiss you hard,” especially since she’s not adverse to swearing elsewhere on the album (“Love you more / Than those bitches before” from “Blue Jeans”) that was enough to warrant her a “Parental Advisory” sticker.

7. The main reason why her voice works on songs like “Video Games” and “Born to Die,” and why it doesn’t work on “Off to the Races” and “Diet Mountain Dew” is because she’s able to transition from her normal range to her falsetto (she has no middle range, apparently) really well. On those mentioned songs, there isn’t at all a transition, and the falsetto just seems out-of-place.

8. I’m not one to focus on lyrics on pop albums, but the ones on “National Anthem” are pretty terrible, chief among them are the opening couplet, “Money is the anthem of success / So before we go out, what’s your address?” and the more embarrassing “Money is the reason we exist / Everybody knows it, it’s a fact / Kiss, kiss!” Both seem to have been written after the rhyme was decided.

9. Pitchfork‘s Lindsay Zoladz: “The conversation surrounding Lana Del Rey has underscored some seriously depressing truths about sexism in music. She was subjected to the kind of intense scrutiny– about her backstory and especially her appearance– that’s generally reserved for women only.” Absolutely: who cares that Lana Del Rey was originally known as Elizabeth “Lizzy” Grant? Who cares that she underwent a huge change? Who cares that she had surgery on her lips? You shouldn’t, but we should care that the music wasn’t worth the discussion in the first place.

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