Lana Del Rey’s Beautiful Tragedy Is Winning Over Critics
Lana Del Rey’s image is that of a carefully crafted beautiful disaster, and it’s one the critics are liking much better the second time around with the release of her sophomore effort, Ultraviolence.
The album was produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at his hometown studio in Nashville, and critics have cited the alternative frontman’s production and the band he commissioned to back Del Rey up as reasons Ultraviolence is such a vast improvement over its predecessor, Born to Die. She calls the vibe her and Auerbach sought to create “real narco swing,” per The Guardian, and the abandonment of her pop and hip-hop leanings on Born to Die for melodramatic rock ballads have done Del Rey good.
Indie taste maker Pitchfork gave the new record a decent 7.1 rating after famously panning Born to Die by calling it “the equivalent of a faked orgasm.” Pitchfork said that in Auerbach, Del Rey has found her “ideal creative partner, crafting lush walls of sound that evoke her favorite cultural era, a time when the prim and surface-level 1960s were just starting their slide into drug-fueled decadence.” The consensus seems to be that Del Rey is no genius, but she is original, which is certainly better than what the critics had to say about her two years ago.
Del Rey got famous before her debut Born to Die was even released through a botched performance on Saturday Night Live — she’s considered to be one of the worst musical guests ever to appear on the show — and gaining the general vitriol of music bloggers for inauthenticity, since she’d changed her name and look after failing to succeed as songwriter Lizzy Grant, her original and thus “true” self. The single “Video Games,” with its dreamy-weird video, went viral and gained Del Rey some positive notices before the album dropped. Born to Die had its good moments: enough to gain Del Rey a fan base equally as obsessed with her aesthetics as her music, but not enough to convince critics that she’s actually a good musician.
Two years later, Del Rey has built hype for the release of Ultraviolence by putting out a bizarre short film titled Tropico and gained more controversy through things her detractors see as being simply media stunts and which her fans see as Del Rey just being her weird, tragic self. These controversy gainers include the music video for “Ride,” from the Paradise EP, which glamorizes prostitution and features Del Rey threatening to shoot herself while wearing a Native American headdress; and her telling Fader that “the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept,” in addition to saying to The Guardian, “I wish I was dead already.”
Del Rey’s obsession with tragedy and constant melancholy make her nearly impossible to read — could she be screwing with us? The lyrics from the Lou Reed-inspired “Brooklyn Baby” paint a caricature of her hipster-bohemian image to the point that it seems impossible that she’s not making fun of herself, but those lips look best when they’re pouting, and she doesn’t crack even the slightest smile to let us know she’s joking when singing: “I get high on hydroponic weed / And my jazz collection’s rare / I get down to beat poetry / I’m a Brooklyn baby.”
Does she really wish she were dead, like her heroes Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse? Or is it all just romantic fetishization that will go no further than her music videos, which are enough to make anyone feel like depression and self-destruction are just so much prettier than being happy and well adjusted? Her songs are certainly better this time around, but it’s still not the kind of material to elevate her to deserve the “tortured genius” crown of thorns that she seems so desperate to place on that aesthetically pleasing head.
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