In the hysterical world of cultural criticism, nothing is more reviled than that which is deemed to be ‘fake’. The irony of this, of course, is that not much in the world of art can be considered to be ‘real’ because what is ‘real’? Anyone who performs is surely being fake even if their act is good enough at looking real. And then we have Lana Del Rey.
Unless you’ve been living on the moon, you’ve probably heard of her or seen her on the cover of basically every mainstream music magazine over the last couple of months. You probably also know that – shock horror – her real name isn’t Lana Del Rey. It’s Lizzy Grant. And she had previously made an album under that name, which she then withdrew from sale. And it didn’t sound exactly like her new album Born To Die. If you’re not deeply offended by this, then you damn well should be, apparently.
All of this, and an apparently poor performance on Saturday Night Live has led to the release of this album being met with snorts of derision and howls of condemnation from The Internet. Why? Because she’s fake. But wait a minute. Who’s career is this anyway? If she wants to change her stagename and start over again with a new one and a new album, that’s her choice surely? If it all comes across as an affectation or a performance, who cares? It’s entertainment and she’s doing what she thinks is entertaining.
As for the music itself, sure you can piece it together from its influences, and this has been done tirelessly already. Namecheck Nancy Sinatra, David Lynch and Portishead and you’re halfway to having written out one of her reviews. But Born To Die hasn’t been completely slaughtered because it’s actually pretty good. Whether it’s ‘real’ or not doesn’t matter if it works, and it mostly does. The title track and Video Games are both excellent singles and tasters for the style that Lana Del Rey has gone for here.
Yeah, it’s overproduced, but I don’t think it outstays its welcome and some of the highlights come towards the end, not least Carmen and the brilliant Million Dollar Man. She is a bit of a vocal chameleon, with her singing varying between sounding like PJ Harvey, Sia or Sophie Ellis Bextor to, of course, Nancy. But the album holds together stylistically and altogether doesn’t sound like anything other than a Lana Del Rey album. And being an eccentric musical magpie with a made-up name hasn’t hurt Lady Gaga too much, has it?
It’s hard to know what the future holds for Lana Del Rey. The hyperspeed world of the internet meant that she was a superstar before anyone had heard of her and the backlash had started before promotion for her album had even begun. She can’t help but be affected by it, but it’s impossible to guess what that effect would be. Certainly there’s nothing on the album to suggest that she’s going to be a superstar with a huge fanbase, she’s too quirky for that, so the hype will die down and so will the fury. What there is on the album is promise that an intriguing new talent has arrived, and hopefully she’ll be able to take it further.