Lana Del Rey- “Born to Die”
-Born To Die, 2012
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another artist that has polarised critics everywhere in recent years as much as Del Rey has. The acclaim she garnered after her release of Video Games seemed to vanish in a matter of weeks, and now it seems everyone is pretty much confused as to who the hell she actually is and whether she’s good or not.
Born To Die is the second single off the album of the same name, released in late 2011. If Video Games wasn’t beguiling enough, the song has her mystique stamped all over it.
The opening is melodramatic, orchestral strings soaring high and then sinking into electronic beats and stabs of her breathy voice. When she starts singing, her deep, rich vocals drag us out of the waify intro. The tempo is painfully slow, her voice drawling out each note like treacle. Undercut by drawn out strings echoing her vocals, the melody glides along without change. The vocal quality is…fascinating. In a good way. Del Rey sounds as if she’s just woken up and is still slightly drunk from the night before: sleepy-eyed, slurring her words a little and moving a little slow.
The electronic beats are low, deep and slightly muted, and coupled with the background drone of the strings, her own vocals and the tempo, the atmosphere created is a liquid sedative, dragging you down into the quicksand with her. It is all consuming.
The chorus lifts you out of this quagmire somewhat, the beat strengthens and offers Del Rey’s vocals something to hang off, instead of just dragging along like in the verse. The hook is catchy, repetitive, but it only really picks up when Del Rey snaps out of the lower octaves and ventures up to the higher notes. Up here the breathy sound of the intro returns, and when she sings “Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain”- there is a sexiness to her voice that is…ahem…alluring. It just makes her return to the low so much more dramatic for the last lines of the chorus, notably- “You remind me/ We were born to die…”. The dynamics make the lyrics more pronounced, you see.
The song doesn’t vary much, the verses are much the same, the bridge is just a variation of the chorus (an ‘acoustic’ variation, if that can really apply here…). But this sameness doesn’t detract from the song, it’s meant to be repetitive and honeyed and deep. The fact that the atmosphere doesn’t change is of benefit to the song, if it did change, it wouldn’t work. Get it??
It’s the vocals here that are on display, for there isn’t much going on in the background. Some electronic beats, an occasional guitar note, and the swirling strings are only there to serve one purpose, to support Del Rey’s compelling vocals. Because whether you like it or not, they are actually pretty good.