When I first encountered Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans” on YouTube I couldn’t stand her. I didn’t know what to make of her theatrically sultry voice, lyrical content, or campy image. She paired lines like “you fit me better than my favorite sweater” with nostalgic footage of neon signs and a distorted recitation of the Lord’s prayer. It was such a jumbled compilation of styles that I couldn’t make sense of it. I was ready to give up and turn back to the comforting arms of Rihanna until I realized something we all had in common: Lana del Rey would make a totally insane ex-girlfriend.
I like my girls how I like my coffee: teetering on the brink of psychosis. Her recklessness, her crown of flowers, the velvet turban, the albino tigers circling her while she sat serenely atop a throne–what seemed nonsensical before now seems deliberate and compelling. There’s a manic edge to her that I find myself really relating to while I freestyle rap into a mirror wearing my ex’s sweatpants.
Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan mingle with Britney Spears and Eminem in her list of musical influences. Lana del Rey describes herself as a “self-styled gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Her latest album, Born to Die, lives up to that weird hybrid.
One of the most haunting elements of the album is how self-aware she is: parodying the lifestyle that she subscribes to. In her songs, she’s all red lipstick, leather skirts, and lilac fumes and she knows it. It’s how precisely she’s able to describe living on the “dark side of the American dream”–and how deftly she hides her keen observations between lines like “Boy, you’re so dope/ Your love is deadly”–that she betrays how perceptive she really is.
In a single song, she wavers between inane and profound. The title song, Born to Die, opens with the swell of music that sounds like the beginning of a colorized romance from the 1965 until a steady beat drops and someone in the background starts to shout. In Diet Mountain Dew, she offers up the trite mantras of pop music (“You’re no good for me, but baby I want you, I want you”) with declarations of startling insight (“Let’s take Jesus off the dashboard, got too much on his mind/ we both know just what we’re here for, saved too many times”). At the very end of the album, Lana’s “Lucky Ones” leaves us at her most vulnerable. Which is to say, still wearing nothing but a halter top made out of polyester rosebuds.
Sounds like: SPF 4 tanning oil, a haze of hairspray, driving in cars with boys, heart-shaped sunglasses, wearing your skirt a size too small, diaries with locks on them, sneaking into hotel pools, knuckle tattoos.