Internet punching bag Lana del Rey has made her official debut in the ring Tuesday, with the release of her first album, “Born to Die.” But even though many of the reviews have been as dismal as they were for her infamously botched Saturday Night Live performance, the “Gangster Nancy Sinatra,” as she calls herself, isn’t down for the count yet.
Lana, for the uninitiated, is a husky-voiced, pouty-lipped siren who quickly found fame online for her singles “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games,” which won fans among a certain demographic of Williamsburg-dwelling fixie-riding boys. That was the same demographic that instantly turned on her when it was discovered that Lana Del Rey was the product of marketers and consultants who were hired by the parents of a wannabe pop singer named Lizzy Grant.
Though she swears the lips are real, the rest of Lizzy-turned-Lana was a marketing strategy aimed at indie music listeners, who may have been okay with ironically liking pre-packaged music in other genres, but valued theirs for its “authenticity.” Music blogs called her a fraud. News anchor arbiter of cool Brian Williams called her debut one of the worst in SNL’s history. And to all of this, Lana acted her typically self-effacingly jaded self, saying that her fans know that she’s “not a showstopper.” Those remarks and her performance also prompted cries that the singer was unpolished and needed a better publicity team from some of the same blogs that were upset about publicity compromising her authenticity.
Now that the idea of authenticity has colored the entire Lana Del Rey listening experience, how does the music hold up? Critics have given her a lukewarm reception. The Washington Post’s Chris Richards called it “an album of irritatingly comatose love songs,” saying, “These increasingly violent micro-cycles of hype and backlash are bad for young artists and exhausting for the rest of us.”
• “[Born to Die] goes for folky trip-hop ballads with a tragic vibe, kinda like Beth Orton used to do. Except she could sing.” — Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone.
• “The overreaching born-to-Dietrich vibe aims for Blue Velvet, but it's a transparent fleece. What should have been a seductive subterfuge instead grows tedious, erratic and annoyingly faux minx. It's a put-on she can't pull off.” — Edna Gundersen, USA Today
• “Elizabeth Grant is essentially an actress, and Del Rey is a character she's created. Which is exactly where complaints about her inauthenticity founder: inauthenticity is the point.” — Simon Price, The Independent
• “In isolated doses, ‘Born to Die’ can seem half-brilliant — especially if that dose is ‘Video Games,’ which still holds up. The novelty of pairing such an improbable title with such a beautifully melancholy melody hasn’t worn off, as incongruous harps and bells manage to make life with a Nintendo-loving boyfriend sound almost ethereal.” — Chris Willman, The Wrap
• “Anyone committed to taking Del Rey down now would have to be deaf to the gorgeously odd confections that pop affords. There is little wisdom in ‘Born to Die,’ but more than enough pleasure.” — Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker
• “For all of its coos about love and devotion, it's the album equivalent of a faked orgasm — a collection of torch songs with no fire.” — Lindsay Zoladz, Pitchfork
• “Del Rey’s true crime isn’t against laws of authenticity (whatever those are) but, to the contrary, against laws of show business: She has yet to master the theatrical-alchemical transformation that we expect from successful pop stars.” — Jonah Weiner, Slate
Lana Del Rey might have another chance to get some better reviews: She plans to re-release the album she recorded in 2008 under the name Lizzy Grant. And for those who were quick to disparage her after SNL, check out this poolside performance at LA’s Chaueau Marmont, which suggests that nerves and poor song arrangement were what got the best of Del Rey that night, not lack of talent.