By Nick Desideri, Staff Writer
Aside from maybe superstar Rebecca Black, no pop music star has truly emerged from the Internet and into the mainstream. There are a few fads and phenomena, but no one has really stuck in the public consciousness and made a career out of their 15 minutes.
Blame the disposable nature of Internet culture. Maybe we as a society cannot appreciate anything beyond the three minutes and 19 seconds it takes to watch a Youtube video.
The career trajectory of Internet sensation Lana del Rey, from humble Youtube beginnings to her most recent album, Born to Die, certainly reinforces the above assertion. In a span of sixth months, del Rey has alternately been heralded as both the savior and nadir of music.
It all began when del Rey’s debut single, “Video Games,” began floating around the blogosphere to critical acclaim. The single transcended traditional genre boundaries, embraced by pop fans and indie kids with equal enthusiasm. And it makes sense – “Video Games” is a fantastic song.
With such buzz, Internet sleuths immediately began digging for information about this mysterious indie babe. Who was she? Had she previously released music? And, most importantly, what’s with her lips? The respective answers: Elizabeth Grant. Yes. Maybe collagen.
Before taking the “Lana del Rey” moniker, Lizzy Grant released a self-titled debut album on iTunes and Amazon, then quietly took the album offline again. Hipsters immediately cried foul, arguing that Lizzy’s transformation mirrored that of Stefani Germanotta’s to Lady Gaga.
Her abysmal performances on Saturday Night Live, where she sounded off-key for the entirety of her performances, further hurt her reputation. Even NBC news anchor Brian Williams chimed in, noting that “Brooklyn hipster Lana del Rey had one of the worst outings in SNL history.”
Lana fans hoped that Born to Die would redeem her and prove she was truly a transcendent talent. After all, del Rey’s leaked music and Lizzy Grant debut were fantastic. The girl did not have one bad song to her name. But Born to Die changed that. While it’s not terrible and is often brilliant, Die fails to live up to the massive hype surrounding it.
I mean, it’s not entirely del Rey’s fault. She’d have to birth a cancer-curing unicorn to satisfy the public’s expectations. But Die fails to hit the highs that the crooner set for herself.
The upbeat “Off to the Races” highlights del Rey at her best. Slurring over the structure of the song, she croons about her man, who loves her “with every beat of his cocaine heart.” From the chirps of “I’m a little starlet/scarlet/Queen of Coney Island” to the way her voice drips over the boundaries of her verses, del Rey sounds completely comfortable in her sound and image.
If only Die exhibited this side of her more often. Instead, it feels like del Rey takes all the elements of “Video Games” – the strings, the marching band beats, the nostalgic melody – and shoves it into every song on the album. Though del Rey seems unaware, there’s a point where cohesiveness begins to sound boring.
Take “National Anthem” as an example—this song so obviously just wants to have fun. Lyrics like “Sugar, sugar, how now/take your body downtown” don’t lend themselves to orchestral production. So many strings, even in standout tracks like “Diet Mtn Dew,” bog down Die in a needless morass of uniformity. Even a guitar twang here or there would help move the songs along.
It’s this mixture of message that is probably Die’s biggest fault. Which Lana is better: the trashy Americana gangster-goddess who moans “I’m so crazy, baby,” or the mortician who makes every song sound like a dirge?
In order for something to truly perish, it actually has to be alive for some period of time. Die oftentimes just sounds dead on arrival.
But beneath the swamp of violin strings, del Rey pulls off some masterful songs.
Del Rey is fantastic at juxtaposing gloomy themes with uplifting melodies. “Dark Paradise” and “Without You” sound heartbreakingly gorgeous, but are incredibly depressing on further listen. The title track, one of the few songs that use its production well, opens with a nostalgic swell of strings that is simultaneously exciting and upsetting.
But aside from a few standouts, Die fails to evoke much emotion, sometimes due to del Rey’s clumsy lyrics. “Summertime Sadness,” with its basic stuttered chorus, seems more fit for pop stars of far less caliber. The worst, though, is “Carmen,” where her inability to craft a character finds her resorting to clichés (poor rhymes involving the word “lightning” reach offensive levels).
While it’s not difficult to pinpoint what’s wrong with Born to Die, qualifying the album is difficult. It’s not as if a majority of the tracks are horrible. Rather, Die doesn’t reach high enough, instead sitting back on a tested formula and descending into a swamp of somber orchestras and muffled hip-hop beats.
Separated from the excitement surrounding Die, it’s still a decent debut from an artist with potential. But if del Rey was trying to prove to her haters (and Brian Williams) that she’s more than a one-trick hipster pony, she definitely missed her mark and a big opportunity.
Rating: two out of four