Lana Del Rey Blends Naïveté, Nihilism on ‘Born to Die’

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Lana Del Rey is the ideal embodiment of a hollow culture on

The knock on Lana Del Rey is that she’s all style and no substance, a pouty product placement trading on unearned hipster cred that was essentially manufactured by a major-label marketing machine.

Put another way, she’s the ideal embodiment of an age of grasping artifice on her new album, “Born to Die” (Interscope). It’s a fascinating blend of calculated naïveté, cynical nihilism and naked ambition, sometimes juxtaposed one line to the next on songs that mix swirling string arrangements with hip-hop beats; retro-chic with a shrewd, modern self-awareness.

In fact, it’s hard to figure out whether the vitriol directed at Del Rey (nee Lizzy Grant, 25, an alumna of Connecticut’s Kent School boarding school) stems from a sense that she’s phony, or from discomfort that her alleged phoniness is a more accurate reflection of our values than we like to admit. She’s either superficially authentic, or authentically superficial, and neither is much of a credit to the ribbon-for-participation cohort to which she belongs.

That’s not to say that Del Rey — or, more accurately, the apparently incompetent team managing her career — hasn’t earned some of the backlash. It was, for example, a curious decision to book a singer with precious little on-stage experience on “Saturday Night Live,” where her paralytic performance generated the wrong kind of buzz, prompting a barrage of scorn that included a dismissive mention on Gawker from NBC news anchor Brian Williams.

Also, it obscured the fact that Del Rey can actually sing. She has a languid, throaty voice that she makes effective use of, pushing to breathy, fluttering heights on the title track and murmuring with discomfiting allure on “Video Games.” She exaggerates a coquettish yelp over a booming beat on “Off to the Races” and sounds wearily worldly at the top of her vocal register on “Lucky Ones,” bolstered by rolling timpani and gauzy strings.

They’re catchy enough songs, split midway between the sensual haze of Mazzy Star and Katy Perry’s candy-pop shtick, and they’re prone to sticking in your head. What’s truly striking, though, is the lyrical content, which is often a merciless evocation of pop-culture hedonism that has become codified by reality television and the tabloid media. Del Rey revels in pursuit of shallow self-fulfillment, and lyrically she’s always slipping into red party dresses with the air of someone who knows — and likes — that we’re watching. Her songs treat sex as currency, reenact teenage rituals from three generations ago and covet luxury, or at least the appearance of it.

“Money is the anthem of success,” she coos at the start of “National Anthem.” “So before we go out, what’s your address?”

That’s clearly an affected sentiment. What’s less certain is whether it’s intended for an audience likely to mistake it for sincere, or a dead-eyed parody of their materialism and self-absorption — or both. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. Even if she’s satirizing the hollow glamor of entitled youth, she’s beholden to it all the same. In other words, Lana Del Rey is the voice of her generation.

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12 thoughts on “Lana Del Rey Blends Naïveté, Nihilism on ‘Born to Die’

  1. bababooey

    She is not the voice of her generation. She is a singer who is being pushed down mainstream America’s piehole by a record label and she’s a hack.

  2. Anthony Newhall

    She is the BEST thing to happen to music in a long time. She is incredible and stands for the people who have talent and aren’t Lady Gaga. She’s the Anti-Gaga if anything. Not to say Gaga is bad, believe me, I am a huge fan. But there is amazing on both ends of a spectrum. All of the artists have their secrets, and hers is that she is not a great live singer. Who is other than Adele? She’s real. I like her a lot.

    1. Dave

      Not being a great live singer isn’t a “secret”, it’s the sign of a talentless performer. Isn’t being able to pull off your craft the essence of being a musician? It’s almost like you’re saying “he’d be a great magician except that he can’t perform magic tricks very well”.

      1. Lord Nevin

        Apparently you didn’t know that she has produced numerous videos and recordings, and she can sing quite well, with a unique style all her own. I suspect your only “talent” is to criticize those who have it.

  3. Dustin

    Please! No one cared that cat power sucked live early in her career. I attended one truly horrific show. All the hipsters and quasi music aficionados are just resentful because they were duped. Not all of lanas music is bad. Are some of the lyrics vapid and same-y? Hell yeah. Is her voice perfect? No. But she does show promise. The authenticity argument is moot because she’s not even trying to convince anyone of it! Hasty Internet saavy music bloggers jumped the gun and went ape shit for this girl before they knew what was really up. Not really lanas responsibility to debunk preconceived
    Notions.

  4. Pete

    You’d have to be a complete douchebag to think this artist cannot sing. She’s got a great voice driven by a know more than you know cockiness. She’s brilliant. And she undoubtedly could care less that her critics even exist as she most assuredly realizes they’re pedestrian know it alls who can only wish their lives meant anything at all.
    I love Del Rey..for those that don’t? Aha..go get fucked, we don’t care. :)

  5. Chevy

    Ugh, this Danton fellow needs to put the thesaurus down.

    I’m sure she’s aware of what she seems to the world.

  6. Christine

    I love her new album – the line in this review “She’s either superficially authentic, or authentically superficial” reminds me of Breakfast at Tiffany’s

    “Is she or isn’t she??

    When they are talking about whether Holly is a phoney and they end up saying she is a real phoney.

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