If there’s one person that can be called the breakthrough indie act of 2011, then it’s New York based singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey (neé Elizabeth Grant). With only an EP under her belt (2010’s Kill Kill released as Lizzy Grant), Del Rey has still managed to pick up Best New Music honors for her single “Video Games” from Pitchfork as well as spots in CW programs such as Ringer and Gossip Girl. With her debut album set for release in late January of 2012, Lana Del Rey has even managed to get the prime gig of musical guest for the January 14th episode of Saturday Night Live alongside none other than Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. With her Angelina Jolie lips and ravishing looks that seem a cross between Billie Piper and a young Brigitte Bardot, Del Rey’s penchant for a retro aesthetic and soulful vocals have caused many in the blogosphere to claim foul, and while there is perhaps no denying a certain lounge singer charm, one gets the feeling of a very artificially and pain-stakingly crafted image from her videos and live performances.

Lana Del Rey has released three singles for her upcoming album, Born to Die, and it is ironically the B-Side of the “Video Games” single that left me most intrigued with this rising starlet. While the music video for “Video Games” is well done, and it’s incorporation of grainy home video and hints of a teeming darkness all tickled my art house sensibilities, the song itself didn’t have much going for it other than Rey’s sultry voice which can turn from a deep Fiona Apple-esque croon to a hauntingly tremulous alto as well as the soaring string section. Similarly, the album’s title track has a music video that looks like a Christian Dior ad with as much smoldering sexuality as the “Criminal” video, but it doesn’t seem to represent some new or revolutionary step in female indie pop.

What gives me hope that she is more than an admittedly beautiful face is “Blue Jeans.” Rather than relying solely on her Regina Spektor-lite schtick, she incorporates some playfulness and irony into her music (at least one can only hope that the inclusion of Tupac Shakur in the video for a lounge act piece was intentional irony) that is lacking when she plays her image so painfully straight. I also heard a live version of “Off to the Races” which sounded delightfully theatrical with its swooping string interludes, but it was too difficult to hear Rey’s vocals to make any judgment’s there. At the end of the day, Lana Del Rey has a sweltering sexual voice and delivery, but her seemingly forced image may rub you the wrong way. Does she deserve all of the hype she’s received over the last several months? Probably not, but with her instantly accessible sound and easily marketable persona, one can all but guarantee that Del Rey is going to be a big name in the music world, and I will be watching Born to Kill as closely as everyone else.

 

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