When “Friday” by Rebecca Black came out, I thought it was a sharp parody making fun of the sad lyrical state of Pop music. As it turned out, she was serious. I tend to give every bad thing the benefit of the doubt, thinking it’s actually a hilarious parody, but this time, I think I’m right: Lana Del Rey’s recent release, Born to Die, is a satire.
Del Rey began her music career as Lizzy Grant, a kid from Brooklyn, New York, with bleached blonde hair and an awkwardness she decided to keep. One flight to LA and a rumored collagen lip injection later, she was Lana Del Rey, the newest pop star on the sunset strip. Her first single, “Video Games,” was a great success and earned her a lot of praise in the music world. Some thought she was using the metaphor of video games to cleverly direct our attention to problems like detachedness and apathy. When the rest of Born to Die came out, all of those people ran madly into corners with their laptops to vent their anger online. She didn’t put out an album that could “save” pop music, nor did she give Americans a poppy version of Adele they could brag about and were anxiously awaiting. What she seemed to give them was a lazily catchy compilation of songs that sound kind of like the oldies-influenced Zooey Deschanel—if Zooey was really into synths, electronic drumbeats, and her idol was Paris Hilton.
Despite getting a lot of hate for her album and her terrible SNL performance, perhaps she is much smarter (and less boring) than she’s getting credit for. If the album is a parody, it is a wonderful one. From the opening song/title track, the listener is enveloped in a world dominated by glamour, alcohol, and lust. Sound familiar? Sounds like most pop culture to me. Del Rey’s world, however, seems to be hyperbole of the typical young, dumb, and always drunk or drugged party girl who tries too hard to be sexy.
Much of her album is dominated by platitudes, which makes the listener wonder what she’s trying to say—for instance, in “Radio” where she sings the common anthem of a recently successful artist: “Baby love me ‘cause I’m playing on the radio / How do you like me now”—but just a few songs ago she was singing about how she wishes she was dead. Clichés often have some merit, because most of them hold true, which is why it is not impossible that her use of trite themes and sayings is her poking fun at the way a lot of us live. “National Anthem” seems like a critique on American consumerism. The opening lyrics: “Money is the anthem of success / So before we go out, what’s your address?” Later on, “Excessive buying overdose and dying / On our drugs and our love and our dreams and our rage,” which sounds an awful lot like, well, the shallow young American dream.
The remainder of her album is mostly devoted to other such superficial concerns, like the Hamptons, a whole lot of undressing, and how her baby is the “bestest.” It also seems that her only metaphor for sex is taking someone “downtown.” This is what made people so angry, that she seemed out of touch and boring, but let’s face it: a depressing majority of our culture loves both Diet Mountain Dew and New York City, not to mention falling in lust, pretty people, and swimming pools.
Whether Lana is a genius or if every clichéd and unintelligent lyric comes from her heart, her album is catchy and just plain fun to listen to, which (I don’t know if you’ve noticed) is sort of a thing in popular music. At its best, her voice is rare, rich and, smooth. She writes melodies that you feel compelled to sing, and will find yourself humming involuntarily while doing laundry or getting ready to go out. For the most part, people who listen to her music aren’t going to care about whether she’s quoting Lolita when she uses the phrase “fire of my loins” to describe her passion for her most recent beau. They will listen to her because she is fun to listen to, like they listen to Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj. But if she has put together her entire persona and album as a parody of the way we live, she may just be the Rebecca Black we were all hoping for, not the one we were given.