(Today we introduce our new column, Dialogue. Every month, editors Keith Meatto and L.V. Lopez will discuss an ongoing controversy in pop music. This month, the editors take on Lana del Rey’s Born To Die. Click to read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this discussion)
For those of you who don’t follow such things, Lana del Rey is the stage name of Lizzy Grant, the 25-year-old daughter of multi-millionaire/”domain legend” Rob Grant, and the most hyped newcomer to the pop-music scene in at least a decade. She slithered onto the scene in June of last year with “Video Games,” a sepia-toned video that highlighted her sultry voice and aloof strain of beauty and seemed to justify her outlandish appropriation of the title “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Grant subsequently dropped the video for follow-up “Blue Jeans” and, on the strength of nothing more than two YouTube videos, signed a reportedly massive deal with Interscope Records, home to other small-scale DIY pop acts like, um, Eminem and Lady Gaga.
Then it all went bad. Once the public-at-large came into the agreement with the press over Grant’s appeal, the press (and the hipster community that drives it) turned on Grant in a monumental way. All of a sudden the popular discussion shifted away from Grant’s music and toward her monied past, her various cosmetic procedures, and her choice to cede her image to her corporate overlords. She did herself no favors by appearing on Saturday Night Live, a performance so depressingly wretched that Brian Williams felt the need to publicly trash it (where have you gone, Peter Jennings?).
All of which leads us to January 31st and the release of Grant’s Interscope debut Born To Die. Over the course of the last 6 months, the record has gone from “massively anticipated artistic statement” to “massively anticipated wanton catastrophe.” Like a 18th-century public hanging or a 19th-century midget fight, the public is lining up to laugh heartily at the spectacle. The past two weeks have seen a series of efforts by rock critics web-wide to be the first to tell you how bad this thing sucks.
And so Keith, after one full spin of the record, I pass the following verdict on to you: it’s really not that bad. By my estimation there are two songs that are quite off-putting (“National Anthem” and “Carmen”), but the majority of Born To Die is in fact quite enjoyable. The moody, lilting, bubble-gum beats that underlie most of the tracks are nothing if not mood-enhancing, and I think anyone with two ears and a pulse will find himself humming some of these tunes throughout the day after one quick pass through the album. If there is any obvious criticism to be leveled, it is that Grant herself doesn’t really add much; indeed, I have the feeling that she could be replaced by any one of thousands of singers and the record would have the same effect. I’ll admit that there were a few times I thought she should have been replaced; she has a tendency to change the timbre of her voice drastically within an individual song, and this effect can be quite grating. But all-in-all I felt like her vocals were kind of beside the point: she’s there to enhance the flavor rather than to provide it.
Of course, as someone who follows the machinations of the music press far too closely, I will admit that it is difficult for me to trust my own evaluation. After all, my expectations were so low that the bar wasn’t difficult to clear, and my contrarian streak is so strong that I have to think it factored in to my favorable impressions. Keith, as someone who views himself as something of a music purist, and more to the point as someone who does his best to stay clear of the often-catty cultural fray, I’m very curious as to your impressions of Born To Die. You may be able to answer the question that is on many people’s minds: what does this music sound like to someone who hasn’t been biased by months of build-up?
Looking forward to your impressions,