A lot of things feel fake about Lana del Rey. Her collagen upper lip, to begin with. Her plastic nails. Her hairspray-Barbie style haircut, her perpetually blasé look. Her childish high-pitched voice when she talks in interviews. The lassitude in her attitude.
But, hey, why fuss about it if the voice and music are great enough to make up for that ?
Lana del Rey, 25, is a phoenix reborn from the ashes of her past life as Lizzy Grant, her real name. During her early twenties, blond-haired, quite grungy-dressed, she goes from bars to discos in New-York, trying to break through. But competition is fierce, and in the City That Never Sleeps, the nights seemed never long enough to make it aware of her talent.
Talented she is, indeed. August of 2011 : she launches her home-made video clip of Video Games. Here is the breakthrough she had been waiting for so long. In weeks, the videos reaches millions of views, shared on social networks, praised on indie blogs references like Pitchfork.
This time, what magic formula the witch Lana maintained to formulate ? First, the video in itself is not far from perfection, in its fragility and the sense of evanescence it conveys. It consists in a montage of different extracts from old 1960is movies, but also from what seems to be family movies (people jumping in a pool, riding on a motorcycle,…), famous L.A. buildings such as Château Marmont, and shots of Lana singing in her room, apparently sitting on her bed, or lying against a white wall.
This craft mixing old and modern pictures, then distilled with a vintage filter, make the song feel out of time. Del Rey’s voice is grave, poised, shaken with emotion during the now-famous chorus : “It’s you/It’s you/It’s all for you/Everything I do/I tell you all the time/Heaven is a place on Earth with you/Tell me all the things you wanna do/I heard that you like the bad girls honey/Is that true ?”
With Video Games, Lana Del Rey revives the tricky art of writing a love song : meaningful lyrics (“Heaven is a place on Earth with you”), delicate melodies (crying violins melting with a waterfall of electronic harp and a sad piano) sung by a grave, dreamy voice. For those already tired with Adele’s thunder, Lana seemed a fair substitute.
And the dream went on. Each new song she launched on the Web, feeding the insatiable indie-hunters , grew a myth around her. Blue Jeans, a hand-made vintage video as well, with her delicious line “You fit me better than my favourite sweater” nourished the ears with some sunshine. Her stunning, darker single Born To Die in which she pledges : “Don’t make me sad/Don’t make me cry/Sometimes love is not enough/And the road gets tough/I don’t know why”, with a subtle oriental electronic bass made her mysterious and us, craving for the rest.
So many expectations were fixed on her first album as Lana del Rey (she launched one as Lizzy Grant but it stayed only a week in iTunes charts), Born To Die. Least I can say is that we’ve unfortunately been dreaming too high about Lana and her velours voice.
I thought she was like a time-traveller from the Hollywood’s Golden Age, where bad boys like crooner Frank Sinatra still looked respectable, and dreams reachable. That’s how she sings “He loves me with all his cocaine heart” in Off to the Races.
Some good surprises remain like Radio, where Lana manages to be hypnotic and kinky as well. Her voice is soft as sugar while she celebrates a lover that makes her life “sweet like cinnamon” (for such a maniac of it as I am, I can only appreciate the metaphor). She also evokes her obsession of fame : “American dreams came true somehow/I swear I’ll chase them until I will be dead/ I heard the streets were paved with gold/That’s what my father said”.
Yet, the dark side of this obsession too often leads Lana to play the Hollywood starlet. And badly.
Incomprehension happens with some useless songs such as Diet Mountain Dew and never-ending Dark Paradise whose “o-ho-ho-ho-ah-ha-ha-ha” sound more like a warming vocal exercise than an energetic flow.
Then, horror hits us like the freezing wind with horrifying National Anthem, its boring electro-pop melody and poor lyrics : “I’m your National Anthem/God, you’re so handsome/Take me to the Hamptons/Bugatti Veyron”. She sounds like a pale imitation of -increasingly disabusing- Rihanna. The horror goes on with This Is What Makes Us Girls, a combination of annoying, utterly repetitive sample with cliché lyrics that made my eyes roll : “Know we used to go break in to the hotel pool/Glittering we’d swim/Runnin’ from the cops in our black bikini tops/Screaming, “Get us while we’re hot”/”We don’t give a whaaat!””
As a feminist, I find it quite enraging to reduce girls’ dreams to money, fame and drunk parties at a five-star hotel. There is more to life, right ?
Lana also appears to be quite incapable of properly performing on stage. Looking at her feet, moving embarrassingly from left to right, her voice weak and her look absent, she does not embody her songs, which lose their magnetic flavor and sound flat. Her recent catastrophic performance at Saturday Night Live will weaken the magic for a while.
Trapped in her Hollywood dreams, Lana looks finally more like the countryside girl who goes cliché to make sure while thinking to fit what she thinks is the norm in this superficial microcosm. At the cost of her singularity.