So familiar are we now with all the hallmarks of Lana Del Rey - swooning romantic; warped mirror to The American Dream; slightly problematic social media ranter - that it’s easy to forget just how intoxicating and drama-inducing a trail the singer otherwise known as Lizzy Grant left when she first wafted into view back in 2011.
Immediately alerting the online authenticity police with her carefully cultivated persona, as soon as ‘Video Games’ went from viral YouTube hit to the start of a huge major label campaign, the backlash started rolling in with a vengeance. Lana had released a previous, not very successful album under her own name - scandal! She tanked her first TV performance on SNL, looking (understandably) terrified and missing notes - fake! Does she even write her own songs? What’s with all the studied nostalgia? For every young fan getting swept up in Lana’s heady atmosphere, was an old man complaining that the singer wasn’t REAL.
Now, eight albums and a forthcoming imminent ninth later, it’s a path of questioning that’s all-but-redundant: Lana is as authentic as Prince, or Madonna, or any other pop legend well-versed in the ways to create the mystique and magic of an icon. Now, far removed from the context into which it was released - one full of impossibly inflated hype and a need for the singer to prove herself constantly - ‘Born To Die’ feels like a musical artefact, the immersive first steps into a singular vision.
Released: 27th January 2012
Key tracks: ‘Video Games’, ‘Blue Jeans’, ‘Born To Die’
Tell your mates: Slightly bizarrely, Lana’s highest ever US charting single is a remix of ‘Summertime Sadness’ by French DJ Cedric Gervais.
Indeed, possibly only Billie Eilish since has managed to create as instantly recognisable a sonic pop palette as Del Rey. From the opening string flourishes of its title track, ‘Born To Die’ introduced a star playing with the past and the present in a different way to anyone else. While her vocals were all doe-eyed starlet, lamenting mournfully on ‘Dark Paradise’ and lending a slow, sad meditation to the still-perfect ‘Video Games’, ‘Born To Die’ equally revelled in hip hop tropes, the likes of ‘Off To The Races’ and ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ swaggering with confidence and bravado.
It’s a duality that Lana has leant in and out of over the years, amping up the melodrama and embracing theatricality to create a canon of work that’s prompted a legion of pretenders to her throne. ‘Born To Die’ is not her most accomplished work; in comparison to 2019 opus ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ or even 2014’s ‘Ultraviolence’, much of her LDR debut sounds young and not quite fully formed yet. But it has all the hallmarks there of what would go on to be a history book-cementing career.
Lana might still often fan the flames of controversy, but there’s no denying that her success is as real as it comes.
As featured in the September 2021 issue of DIY, out now.