Hype is a tricky thing. For Lana Del Rey, hype made her into an instant Internet sensation. After releasing her first single, “Video Games”, online, Del Rey catapulted onto the front page of every music blog on the Internet. Her silky voice, retro fashion style, and honest lyrics gave her a mysterious persona, and she was bathing in praise and attention as people were desperate to find out more about a woman that seemed to appear out of nowhere with just one song.
In the weeks leading up to the release of her major label debut, Born to Die, the very hype that turned Del Rey into a instant star threatened to kill her career before it even began. With a disastrous and critically panned performance on Saturday Night Live and a string of interviews that revealed the young singer as a giggly, squeaky-voiced young woman who seemed to reek of naivety, praise turned to dislike and dislike turned into unadulterated animosity.
When putting on Born to Die for the first time, one might be tempted to skip the first four tracks. “Born to Die”, “Blue Jeans”, “Diet Mountain Dew”, and “Video Games” have already been dissected by Internet users for weeks leading up to the album’s release. By piling the well-known songs on top of each other, Born to Die establishes a strong beginning for itself, but also creates a suspicion that the rest of the album will only disappoint, that the album has already reached its peak before it has even really started.
But given the arrangement, the rest of the album is surprisingly good. While none of the songs are as immediately great or as attention-grabbing as “Video Games” or “Born to Die”, they are still thoughtful and well done.
The record is immaculately produced, sometimes so produced that it doesn’t always match Del Rey’s vocal ability, but nevertheless always conjures up a dreamy, slow-moving soundscape that matches the tragic lyrics of love lost and of hopelessness. Songs like “Dark Paradise” and “National Anthem” are catchy and kind of breathy. The songs work, and while Die doesn’t stretch its lyrical content beyond images of Americana and the Hamptons, one could argue this as an intention to create a thematically strong album, rather than proof of Del Rey’s inability to write about anything else.
Despite being a perfectly satisfying pop record, Born to Die is an album conceived by an artist that people love to hate, an artist who’s been under such heavy scrutiny and criticism since her arrival on the music scene that her major label debut could never truly succeed. Each moment of slight weakness on Die becomes an elaborate reason to condemn and denounce an artist who never once claimed or tried to convince the public that her music was groundbreaking or deserved attention.
Born to Die is an album that’s born to disappoint, given such high expectations from a public that wants to see failure. For Del Rey, an artist who can inspire loathing with a simple pucker of her supposedly collagen-filled lips, Born to Die should be seen as an accomplishment. Del Rey has created a collective work that’s been anticipated by many on the strength of one song, a work that experiments with an interesting soundscape, subtle but well-crafted hooks, and if not always strong at least consistent vocals—something that can’t be said of every debut album. Born to Die is an album that might be appreciated years after the smoke surrounding the Del Rey phenomenon lifts, and people will be able to hear the music without fixating on her public image. But until then, prepare to see some pitchforks and torches.