The Curious Case of Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey swept me off my feet. I still remember watching the “Born To Die” video for the first time and being absolutely blown away by the impeccable cinematography, the baroque production, and the way Lana’s voice seemed to fill in all the gaps. I was in love. I had a frame from the video as my desktop background for a while. Just a few days later, Kanye was tweeting his own favorite shots, and I knew this new girl was on to something.

She had the aesthetic, she had the lyrics, she had the production, and she had the best videos. She played Marilyn Monroe to ASAP Rocky’s JFK. It was random and perfect. She was working this angle between Kennedy-era nostalgia and Internet-era style.

Born to Die came out, and I liked it from front to back. 2012 was a pretty stacked year for music. If you release an album in January and — before the year is up — I have albums from Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Tame Impala, etc. it’s going to be hard to stay at the forefront of the year-end discussion. But she did. Born to Die was one of my favorite albums of 2012.

She followed up with the Paradise Edition of the album, which included a handful of songs I really enjoyed. For a bunch of bonus tracks, they were really impressive. Lana Del Rey had hit machine written all over her. In my eyes, she could do no wrong.

Then something did go wrong.

“West Coast” kicked off publicity for her next album, Ultraviolence. It wasn’t too bad, but it had me really worried. Gone was the baroque pop and soaring vocals, instead replaced by a weak beach vibe that didn’t seem to suit her at all. I wrote about my worry that the new single was a sign of a change in direction and mentality. Unfortunately, I was right. Ultraviolence hit, and it was a bit of a misfire.

Rather than take what worked from the first album, go back to the drawing board, and try some new things, it seemed like Lana and her team spun some kind of wheel and landed on “beach vibez” before heaping extra helpings of the best parts of Born To Die into some precast mold. “Less is more” is an expression. “More is more” is not an expression. Someone should’ve told Lana Del Rey this, because Ultraviolence brimmed with excess and overindulgence.

The project had a few high points, to be sure, but most of my favorites paled in comparison to the successes she had earlier in her career. I was able to sum up my thoughts on the album in fewer than 400 words.

Skip ahead to 2015, and she’s back with Honeymoon. I intentionally avoided singles, aiming to swallow the album whole once it came out. I hoped Ultraviolence was a fluke misstep. I noticed critics seemed to be enjoying the album, almost universally, so I was excited to dive in.

Nope. The magic is gone. I needed just 365 words for Ultraviolence. I could’ve done Honeymoon in 140 characters. Evidently it’s just me, because the project managed to earn itself a 78 on Metacritic. (Not that Metacritic is some kind of end-all-be-all, but clearly most people liked the album.) One review seemed to nail my feelings.

Q Magazine wrote:

“At 65-plus minutes’ duration, Honeymoon’s submarine/somnambulant vibe does rather overstay its welcome.”

That’s exactly what it is. I feel like the album drove me into a coma and I came out the other end 12 days later with the desire to listen to something, anything with some life in it. It was an hour of musical quicksand that swallowed me whole. I don’t know what happened to the Lana Del Rey that made Born to Die, but The Ghost of Lana Del Rey isn’t striking the same chords with me.

I haven’t completely written her off, to be honest. I’ve liked a few songs from each project since Born To Die, so I have hope that she’ll come back around. She has the talent, and this isn’t the worst downward spiraling relationship I’ve had with the music of a favorite artist.

I have faith. Things can change. I just want old Lana back.