The ubiquitous Lana Del Rey: Internet meme, late night comedy fodder and sex icon for the blogging generation. It’s a story that could be told in anecdotal headlines or a simple Google image search. From SNL to Letterman and MTV to NME, Del Rey’s meteoric rise to fame is nothing short of a bona fide pop culture phenomenon.
“Video Games,” the first single off her album Born to Die, has been in physical release less than a year and has already become a top 10 hit in eight countries, including number one in Germany. She won the Q Award for Next Big Thing and has been almost universally lauded by European critics. American publications haven’t been nearly as enamored.
It is indeed a strange paradox that someone who sings about video games and Diet Mountain Dew can be held to such high acclaim. Yet a quick Internet search yields hundreds of derogatory videos and pictures describing the amount of collagen in her lips or her overuse of the words gorgeous and beautiful.
Billed as a gangster Nancy Sinatra, she does have the undeniable x factor that makes a star. Her pouty lips and exaggerated contralto are part of a calculated aesthetic. A pastiche of 60s Americana and trailer trash royalty, Del Rey seems light-years away from the Lizzy Grant who attended boarding school in Connecticut and enjoyed the pleasures of her father’s success as a real estate domain investor.
For someone who cites Kurt Cobain, Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan as her greatest influences, she probably has more in common with Ke$ha than any of her idols. Del Rey has taken a cue from the Heidi Montag locomotive, that snarling media bonanza that has transfixed America with its sheer audacity and unflinching reverence for beauty.
Beauty is a recurring theme on Born to Die. Between spending time wrapped in American flags and making inadvertent Janice Dickinson impressions, Del Rey sings, “money is the anthem of success/so put on your mascara and your party dress.” Her lyrics are like bad standup poetry, with enough plodding rhyme schemes to make Shakespeare roll over. In order to understand the utter banality of her songwriting craft, I’ve handpicked some of the best examples.
“Maybe I like this rollercoaster/Maybe it keeps me high/Maybe the speed it brings me closer/I could sparkle up your eye.”
“Wining and dining/Drinking and driving/Excessive buying/Overdose and dying/On our drugs and our love.”
“Now my life is sweet like cinnamon/Like a fucking dream I’m living in.”
“Light of my life/Fire of my loins/Gimme dem gold coins/Gimme dem coins.”
“It was like/James Dean/For sure/You’re so fresh to death & sick as ca-cancer.”
Born to Die is packaged in such tragic camp that it’s a wonder John Waters hasn’t filed suit. Del Rey’s motif is that of a drug-addled Marilyn Monroe, pining for the days when post-war teens drove hot rods over cliffs and wore polka dot bikinis. Delivered in half-rapped, half-sullen-pill-popped diva drones—Born to Die does meld each track seamlessly throughout. The problem is that the combination is so simultaneously off-putting and intriguing, you can’t decide whether it is the best or worst thing you’ve ever heard. Professionals have engineered the music, geniuses have marketed the album but a rich girl obsessed with Hollywood overdoses and Lynchian melodrama has constructed the product.
The Lana Del Rey train has been so deliberately manufactured that even her disastrous SNL performance hasn’t been enough to knock her album out of the second spot on the Billboard charts. In fact, she has even put a hold on a string of March tour dates in order to let the critical backlash die down. It is this desperation that is perhaps most disheartening about it all. Born to Die’s success should serve more as an indictment of modern society than a monument to Del Rey’s talent. With album sales already approaching the hundreds of thousands, she can sing “baby love me/cause I’m playing on the radio/(how do you like me now?)” and laugh all the way to the bank.
Words: Brian Noonan