It Holds Up: Lana Del Rey — ‘Born to Die’
Posted: by The Editor
Seven years ago, music critics eviscerated Lana Del Rey’s debut album Born to Die. The Needle Drop’s Anthony Fantano likened it to a Disney soundtrack. Pitchfork described it as “awkward and out of date.”
As a Lana stan, I often find myself acting as her defense attorney. People have told me they find her boring, possibly because a sizable fraction of her work encompasses stripped down, muted production. Also, she’s usually not in a hurry to wrap up a song.
However, this effectively shifts the focus to her vocal range—which she possesses much of, by the way, from the drawn out crooning on the album’s title track to the ascension in the chorus of “Blue Jeans.” Soft, but chilling, Del Rey bounces between daintiness and gloom.
Another common critique, which Fantano implied with his comparison, is that Del Rey lacks substance. And to that, I sigh and say, “fair enough.” Born to Die isn’t profound, but perhaps, that was never her intention. Music can serve as commentary on something bigger, but it can also just be music. Her aesthetic is shallow, sure, but that’s not a crime. It’s just for fun; I’m not going to sport tattoos that spell “LANA = GOD” across my knuckles.
No, money is not really “the reason we exist,” as she claims in “National Anthem.” And it’s hardly true that life is “only worth living if somebody is loving you” (“Video Games”). The world she paints is clearly fiction; vivid enough to entice listeners to live vicariously.
Del Rey pushed boundaries with this album, exceeding what the average person would deem melodramatic. The album’s title itself is oozing theatrical energy—you mean to tell me that you exist for the sole purpose of no longer existing? She takes on a full throttle approach to love—if the average person falls for someone, Del Rey dives. She’s not incomplete without her partner, she’s “nothing” (“Without You”). She won’t be in love until the end of her life, but “until the end of time” (“Blue Jeans”).
The album’s stand out track is “National Anthem,” an enthralling tale of Americana romance and luxe. It’s patriotic, as the title suggests, but not in a xenophobic manner. Rather, it’s reminiscent of an earlier era. One must watch the accompanying music video to wholly contextualize the track. In the video, Del Rey stands in place of Jackie Kennedy while A$AP Rocky takes on the role of John F Kennedy. The lyrics are just as much of an act (“Do you think you’ll buy me lots of diamonds?”).
Born to Die didn’t change my life. But it did make it a bit more enjoyable, adding flair to my day to day mundanities. This album allows me to, for a moment, pretend I’m the pinnacle of glamour.
Bineet Kaur | @hellobineet
The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.