Born to Die is a bona fide guilty pleasure: fascinating but espousing something ugly.
Lana Del Rey wants to tell you what she's wearing. Sometimes, as on her break-out, heartsick single "Video Games," it's her man's "favorite sundress." Often—twice on her album Born to Die, out today—it's a "red dress." Elsewhere: leather tight around her waist, a white bikini, a red bikini, a "party dress," ribbons for her hair, "glass room perfume / cognac lilac fumes," nail polish, mascara. Elaborate descriptions? No. But what Del Rey puts on and takes off form a big part of what we know of her through her lyrics.
We learn a few other things about Del Rey by listening to Born to Die. She's infatuated by a guy who may or may not be dead, and who certainly isn't a good boyfriend either way. She sought stardom and somehow—it's never made clear on the album exactly how—achieved it. She was sent away from her friends when she was 16. And she likes money.
How much of this stuff, imparted in a voice that ranges from gloomy sigh to Betty Boop-ish squeal, is autobiographical for Lizzy Grant, the woman who became Lana Del Rey? We don't know. A comments-section debate has sprung up over the last few months about whether Del Rey is "authentic"; it's a perennial and useless debate in pop music, where the person behind the voice coming out of your speakers will always be unknowable. What we do know: Grant has fashioned a character and written a record called Born to Die, which leans heavily on trip-hop beats and movie-score strings. And given the how much attention that she has gotten—and how genuinely fascinating, even begrudgingly enjoyable, Born to Die is to listen to—it's worth asking, to what end?