A review of Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die, in the guise of an open letter to music bloggers

Dear hip music bloggers,

Fuck off and die.

I can just see all of you, sitting in your little rooms in the weeks since Lana Del Rey’s disastrous appearance on Saturday Night Live, coming up with the clever little bon mots you planned to sprinkle all throughout your review of Del Rey’s debut album, Born To Die, the day it dropped. How you giggled at your own oh-so-apt metaphors! How proud you were of your complex understanding of the nature of post-modernism and the Society of the Spectale as it related to Del Rey and her public persona! This, you thought, this is the review that’s finally going to make Pitchfork sit up and notice me!

You’re pathetic. You’re not clever. And none of you know a goddamn thing about music, because Born To Die is one of the best pop records I’ve heard in decades and perhaps in my entire life. If you don’t hear that, you don’t understand anything about what pop music is. Go back to masturbating every time some member of Animal Collective tries (and fails) to capture the syrupy, wretched exuberance of ELO’s playbook.

Fuck off and die.

We get so caught up now in the deconstruction of music and musicians that a lot of the time, we just forget entirely about what music is and how to judge it. It doesn’t matter one single fucking bit whether Lana Del Rey is really Lizzy Grant or Miley Cyrus or the ghost of Nina Simone. It doesn’t matter whether she’s rich or poor, whether she grew up in a New York penthouse or in a pig wallow in rural Alabama. It doesn’t matter if she writes her own songs, or arranges them. It doesn’t even really matter if she can perform them live or on TV, because pop music isn’t about live performance anyway, it’s about how you interact with the music in your car or your living room or the interior of your own head.

Pop music is about sex and intoxication and romance and beauty and sleaze and the ways we can transcend our own lives through these things, and by this standard, Born To Die is flawless. And make no mistake, not for a second: Lana Del Rey is a pop singer. She’s not an indie rocker, she’s not avant garde. She’s a pop singer like Britney Spears or, God help us, Ke$ha.

But unlike these lesser talents, Lana Del Rey obviously likes indie rock and alternative and avant garde music. She’s absorbed decades of Stereolab and Portishead and Cat Power and Fiona Apple and even Patti Smith, and taken bits and pieces of all of it and made it something that will appeal to the common denominator.

People say the same thing about Lady Gaga, but it’s not true, because Lady Gaga makes shitty fucking music. Look, you know it and I know it; the only reason anybody gives a shit about her is because she’s made her career selling faux controversy to people desperate for it. To paraphrase the film Se7en, just because Gaga rented The Cell on DVD once doesn’t make her Joel-Peter fucking Witkin. It’s still shite house music no matter how you spin it.

Lana Del Rey’s music is gorgeous. (And it doesn’t matter if we mean Lana Del Rey the girl, or Lana Del Rey the public face of a songwriting/production team, or anything else. Stop being boring and pay attention.) It’s a blend of Peggy Lee and Missy Elliot and Angelo Badalamenti, hip-hop beats filtered through the noir side of every bit of American pop since Pat Boone’s “Moody River”. It’s lush and intoxicating, like the smell of Chanel No. 5 and Marlboros. It’s drawing from everywhere, Bjork and Blue Velvet. The best thing about Lana Del Rey is that her influences are impeccable.

You know what? I was going to write a real review of this record, but I’m not going to, because I don’t want to convince you that it’s amazing. You’ll buy it or you won’t; you’ll like it or you won’t. In fact, I hope you don’t like it, because then it’ll still be my little secret, someone else’s music that belongs to me the way music used to belong to people before the relentless light of the Net was shined into every dark corner, before every useless snarky fuck with a Tumblr decided it was their personal job to either create or destroy artists, whilst never having the fucking guts or the soul to make art themselves.

Fuck you if you don’t like Born To Die, and fuck you if you do. Either way, it’s mine, and I love it, and that’s all that matters.

Leave a comment