Born to Die

Give Lana Del Rey credit: At least she didn’t break down and cry on Saturday Night Live. She’s a starlet to music bloggers, who’ve been buzzing over her for the past year. But for the rest of us, she’s just another aspiring singer who wasn’t ready to make an album yet. Given her chic image, it’s a surprise how dull, dreary and pop-starved Born to Die is. It goes for folky trip-hop ballads with a tragic vibe, kinda like Beth Orton used to do. Except she could sing.

Her strength is the lyrics, which have the pop-trash perversity that the music lacks. The big theme: femininity as a scam, as lost girls preen for the gaze of imaginary sugar daddies. (Loads of Lolita references, though her literary template seems to be Poison’s "Fallen Angel.") She has clever lines; in "Diet Mtn Dew," she rhymes "Take another drag, turn me to ashes" with "Says he’s gonna teach me just what fast is."

But her voice is pinched and prim, and her song doctors need to go the fuck back to med school. As any fan of Madonna, Britney or Steely Dan could tell you, lyrics about the perils of seduction work better when attached to seductive tunes. In case you miss the concept, "Without You" spells it out: It’s all about "the dark side of the American dream." But American dreams are tempting, which is why they’re dangerous. Unfortunately, this one is neither.

Listen to Lana Del Rey's "Video Games":

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From The Archives Issue 1150: February 16, 2012