Imagine if your average pop singer – Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kesha or Lady Gaga made a song called “This is What Makes Us Girls”. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that. There are songs called “We R Who We R” and “Run the World (Girls)”. In the world of Lana Del Rey though, girls don’t run the world, and who they are isn’t something to be proud of. The teachers said they’d never make it out alive, and Lana sings it with a sad agreement. The girls are not united, and instead they put their love first (Can’t run a world like that). The most telling moment is when Lana’s sing her best friend’s line – “Lana, how I hate those guys”. Lana sonds so vulnerable in that line, the complete opposite of the images other Pop singers are trying to project.
In a world saturated with empowering anthems, Born to Die is a dark album exploring the psych of the girl who’s attracted to bad guys, hard drinks and all that excitement. Happiness always comes with gloom. The aforementioned song makes it most obvious, but there’s also a summertime that’s full of sadness, and all the mentioning of swimming pools, make-up and Cristal in “Off to the Races” can’t cover up that insane reality. As soon as the chorus hits, it gets heavy. The hard drums don’t bang like a dance track, but are aggressive in the same way the drums rattle in Drill tracks. As the choruses go on, they get darker. Lana’s character is crazy, misbheaving, and wasted and falling down. There’s no joy, except perhaps a little spite at herself. When she sings “you are my one true love”, it’s not an expression of romance but of dependency.
The music is just as a departure as the lyrics. While it’s not exactly a sonically experimental album, it has a clear, unique sound that fits the lyrics. If most Pop singers drive their empowerment anthems with triyng to reach the highest notes, Lana’s singing is more subdued. The choruses, as catchy as they are, are never big and anthemic. Lana’s calm singing is closer to Dream Pop than anything. Even when she uses her higher voice, it never reaches Stadium territory. “Off to the Races” is the most energetic thing here, but its chorus is more aggressive than anthemic, something an Industrial Rock band would feel comfortable covering.
Where Lana departs from her male friends who revel in their self-loathing is in her treatment of it. Lana’s gloom is not as oppressive as Local H’s or Sadistik, and she doesn’t punish herself like Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson. “This is What Makes Us Girls”, again, is the best at illustrating it. They might be no joy in “Off to the Races”, but when she mentions her beauty queen friends and partying all night in “Girls”, there’s a sad nostalgia in it. As if she’s saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all this fun didn’t come with all this sadness?”. Perhaps this is why Lana was bashed as ‘antifeminist’. She explores her flawed and broken characters, but she doesn’t suffocate them with regret, or paints them as utterly clueless and shallow. There’s a reason bad boys and hard drinks are attractive. They’re fun.
That’s why there’s still room for gorgeuous pop melodies. Even if you strip away that concept, you’re still left with a ridiculous amount of great pop. Every song here has a great melody, and every one can be a single. After you manage to get beyond the first four tracks – it’s hard, they’re all brilliant – they quickly become just some more good songs. The sequencing is just as great. “Girls” appear at the end, wrapping up the album’s themes while “Born to Die” appears in the beginning, which gives us the basics of crazy relationships with crazy guys.
Some on internet go off talking about her being ‘manufactured’, faking her past, being antifeminist and behaving awkwardly in interviews. Reznor was also not that tortured while making The Downward Spiral, but that doesn’t it any less gripping. Music speaks for itself, the singer doesn’t. While the antifeminist accusation make more sense and are more interesting, they’re missing the point. Born to Die does more than tell girls how cool they are. It gives them a voice, explores their issues and talks about their falls and shortcomings without beating them up. Women are equal to men, and just like men deserve to have their issues explored and expressed through music. It sure answers a lot of questions than just telling a 15-year-old with a crush on a weirdo that she runs the world. As for how she acts in interviews, I’m a banana octopus.
4 bottles of diet Mountain Dew out of 5