by Francesca Peak
I first came across Lana in October 2011 with the release of Video Games which I liked, a bit. I didn’t want to listen to it more than a couple of times, but it was okay. There was no doubt her vocals were captivating, unique and unlike anything else that had come along in a long time, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with adoration. Very soon after this, the internet exploded with Lana-related goodies – discussions on her apparent lip surgery (denied), alcoholism at age 14 (confirmed) and apparent flings with rockstars such as Marilyn Manson and Axl Rose (denied, as she’s been with Barrie-James O’Neill for about a year.) With every hair colour change and nip-slip, Lana has dominated any discussion on popular culture in the past year.
Perhaps in quiet rebellion, I just never got into Lana. Sure I listened to her songs, I watched the videos, albeit if they were forced in my face by two Americas who will here remain nameless, but I just never ‘clicked’ with Lana. Was it her voice, which gets whiny and annoying after a while? Was it her embodiment and exploitation of American fame and the American dream that was permeating the minds of every teenager out there? Was it her irresistible fashion that I have since tried to emulate and pathetically failed, like a chick trying to fly before her wings are ready? Who knows.
What I do know is that it wasn’t until the release of Born to Die: The Paradise Edition that I really got into Lana, and by ‘really’ I mean ‘I’m listening to her every evening as I have my final round-up of the internet and my pot of herbal tea.’ The release of Ride and its video played a huge role in this switching of allegiances. The three-and-a-half-minute portion of spoken word that precedes the song is accompanied by images of Lana cavorting with older, dirtier men, in the arcade, on their motorbikes, and generally having a ballin’ time in the good old USA. The spoken piece is hugely poetic and you don’t really realise when the song begins, the words just go on but the strings come in the background. Lana is fundamentally alone in the big wide world – this is fundamental to all her music – and the way that she deals with this is by frolicking and searching for fulfillment in what is otherwise a pretty empty life. It’s nothing short of beautiful.
Poked and prodded by this and her soulful cover of The Clovers’ Blue Velvet, I relented and listened to Born to Die: The Paradise Edition in its entirety. A few days later and I’m in love. The true sign of an album, to me, is whether you can listen to it over several days and not want to throw it out of the window. What is great about the album is that every time you listen to it, you find out something new, some great line, some moving sound, some ghostly echo that really resonates. It’s layered and far from insubstantial – Lana’s definitely thought about this album and you can tell the lyrics really come from the heart and are part of her personal experience, especially her childhood drowned in alcohol and adulthood spent in a trailer park.
Themes of dependence, looking for a hero and yearning for strength and belonging run riot in this album, as she proclaims several times ‘I will love you til the day I die/probably a million years’ (Blue Jeans) and ‘it’s you it’s you it’s all for you/everything I do/I tell you all the time’ (Video Games). Lana is the embodiment, in many ways of the 21st Century American Dream; she drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice, she’s smoking in an arcade whilst a hairy old man wraps his arms around her, she’s Jackie Kennedy married to a black President (see video for National Album featuring A$AP Rocky – this blew my mind.) If Marilyn Monroe was the 1950s, Lana’s the 2010’s – and Lana’s making the most of it.
Lana makes herself available, she bares herself to the world – emotionally and physically – and, in a more emotional and deeper sense than Rihanna, doesn’t give a damn what you think. Her lyrics are captivating, poetic and powerful, creating an atmosphere and an image that is lasting and continuous throughout the album. Critics who claim that the fifteen tracks (twenty-three on the Paradise Edition) are too samey, but I would argue that they aren’t, but merely create an overwhelming mood that is powerful and dramatic. The train wreck that was Lana’s appearance on Saturday Night Live just goes to show how difficult these songs are to sing (with the help of some autotune, no doubt) and Liz didn’t have her best day. Talented songwriter yes, amazing live performer not so much. Having said that if we were to judge singers by their live appearances, our ipods would be much emptier.
Of course, Lizzy Grant is adopting a character. She may live her days as Lana, but it’s an outlet for her frustration, her emotions and her music. Having performed under other names before she adopted Lana for her own, it could be that one day Lizzy becomes ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Lana’ and changes direction completely. That’s the malleability of Lana, she can be anything you want her to be – slutty American tramp or beautiful and damaged childhood sweetheart. Born to Die may not be the best debut album out there, but it’s full of impact and mood, sincerity and playfulness and it’s hugely enjoyable. So, as much as it pains me to say it, Neal and Kevin, you were right all along. I owe you both a drink.