Reflecting On: Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

lana-del-rey-2012

Ah yes, the year is 2012. I am 14, a few months away from 15, and simply desperate to prove I am “not like other girls.” I am at a friend’s birthday sleepover, and one of the girls asks if we should turn on some music. I volunteer immediately, pulling my orange 5th gen iPod Nano, camera and all, out of my pocket. I say, “Listen to this,” and proceed to play Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” that I ripped off YouTube, complete with the vocal interpolations from the music video’s found footage clips. I am on top of the world. Then one of my friends says it sucks and is not God-honoring and I lose aux privileges for the rest of the night.

BornToDieAlbumCover

You can buy or stream Born to Die on Apple Music

It took me a few more years to get into the rest of Born to Die, an album I still consider to be Lana Del Rey’s magnum opus, the album that will be remembered long after she retires from making new music. The album outlines a lifestyle I have never and don’t ever want to experience, so why do I continue to get lost in this materialistic, drug-addled work?

I once jokingly texted a friend that listening to Lana made me feel “slutty” in the best way. There’s something about the image she portrayed in this first album that made me feel powerful and excited to be a woman. Feeling like I could take hold of this weird twisted destiny she was singing about. When really, in looking at the lyrics, the album is a story of abuse: emotional, and in some versions (I’m looking at you, “Diet Mountain Dew” demo) physical. There is a sick obsession with youth and what it can buy you. It’s an ode to the sugar daddy. It was a portrait of the American Dream, but it’s definitely not idealistic.

Born to Die was like nothing I’d ever heard at that point in time. Even when I didn’t get the literary allusions and references to pop culture from yesteryear, I could still sense something special in what Lana was trying to do. She has changed her style in every way possible since this album, and yet I will always see her with her 40s Rita Hayworth curls sitting between those tigers. I will always see her as a stand in for Jackie Kennedy, lamenting over the lost love in her marriage. I will always see her as the perfect pin-up girl, plucked from the 60s and dropped into a music scene that still doesn’t quite appreciate what she has to offer. With Born to Die, she ushered in an entire generation of girls who went on to make music for themselves, and outside of and despite the male gaze.

Of course, I couldn’t see any of that when I was 14. I only saw a way to appear edgy and cool and on top of the newest and best of pop culture. In a way, Born to Die has brought me here to this 10-year anniversary. I don’t doubt if I hadn’t started branching out back then I wouldn’t be writing this now. Songs like “This Is What Makes Us Girls” were so refreshing to me back then. She can try to hide it behind dramatic metaphors about the Kentucky Derby and by singing about drugs and alcohol, but there’s a truth and a timelessness to Born to Die that is impossible to separate. It’s at once a picture of the best and worst of luxury, two sides of a dangerous coin, and it never grows old for me.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

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