Ultraviolence nears caricature over swelling melodies.

Lana Del Rey finds feminism far less interesting than intergalactic exploration; she kind of wishes she were dead already; and, according to her latest album, Ultraviolence, she fucked her way up to the top. She’s an artist who is easy to hate, and has gotten perhaps more than her fair share of criticism in the past few years, directed both at her music itself and at the dramatic rebranding that took place at the beginning of her career, transforming her from the upbeat, platinum blonde Lizzy Grant into the sultry, strung-out beauty queen who became famous singing “you and I, we were born to die.”

The character of Lana Del Rey took form in her 2012 album Born to Die, and this persona truly comes into its own in Ultraviolence, becoming all the more steeped in melodrama and heartbreak. This album is less radio-friendly than Born to Die: gone is the soaring, easy-listening experience of “Summertime Sadness,” replaced by long, melancholic ballads that at times seem to poke fun at the media criticism Del Rey has received. She toes the line between self-expression and self-parody; though at times the album veers too far toward the latter, Ultraviolence is a satisfying and intriguing follow-up for fans of the less-overplayed tracks on Born to Die.

The album kicks off astonishingly well. LDR took the risk of putting her lengthiest, most leisurely song first, and the effect is something of a dare: if you don’t like this mellow ballad (in which she croons, “Cause you’re young, you’re wild, you’re free/ You’re dancing circles around me/ You’re fucking crazy”), you might as well stop listening now. The now-cliché that is Del Rey in her “little red party dress” is tempered by hazy, lazy melodies, which serve as a valuable reminder that while some might find her persona and values despicable, her musical talent is undeniable.

Lana continues to push her critics’ buttons in the title track, “Ultraviolence,” quoting The Crystals’ song “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss).” This is not the first time the singer has referenced abuse in her lyrics, yet here the theme is more pronounced than ever. In romantic, almost nostalgic verses, Del Rey reflects on an abusive relationship, in which “He hurt me but it felt like true love/[He] taught me that/Loving him was never enough.” Haunting harmonies aside, the song romanticizes abuse in much of the same, problematic way in which Del Rey, in her June 2014 Guardian interview, romanticized death. It’s provocative, if not insensitive, and bound to turn off more than a few listeners paying attention to the words.

“West Coast,” the fifth track, marks a refreshing shift from the uniformly balladic songs preceding it. Released in April as a single, this song is perhaps most reminiscent of the Lana Del Rey we got to know in Born to Die. It tantalizes with its build, releasing into an up-tempo pre-chorus before slowing way down as Lana sings, “Ooh, baby, ooh, baby, I’m in love.”

Things take a turn for the tiresome in the following track, “Sad Girl,” in which Lana laments, “I’m a sad girl, I’m a sad girl / I’m a bad girl, I’m a bad girl.” Here’s the thing: we already know this. She’s sad. She’s bad. She smokes cigarettes and drinks bourbon while wearing red party dresses and lusting after malicious lovers. There’s really no need to devote a whole song to it. Show, Lana, don’t tell.

This self-parody, intentional or not—and, for the most part, it seems not—continues for the next few songs, which reveal that LDR is pretty when she cries; she wants money, power, and glory; and she fucked her way up to the top (“go, baby, go”).

If Lana veers into spoof halfway through the album, she more than redeems herself in “Old Money,” the second-to-last track on the non-deluxe edition. Her hallmark overuse of adjectives stops after the first verse—“Blue hydrangea, cold cash divine/ Cashmere, cologne, and white sunshine/ Red racing cars, Sunset and Vine”—and from there, the song spirals into a plaintive story of unrequited or forgotten love. And if anyone had doubts about whether LDR was serious when she told The Fader that she finds feminism “just not an interesting concept,” she sets them straight when she vows, “If you send for me you know I’ll come/And if you call for me you know I’ll run.” It is perhaps not the most empowering message to dissipate, but the words, sung softly over minimal instrumentals, are heartbreakingly beautiful.

Those set in their hatred of Lana Del Rey are unlikely to have their opinions changed by Ultraviolence. She turned herself into a near-caricature, but a caricature set over swelling melodies and haunting vocals. At times she goes too far, making the music almost comical in its Lana Del Rey-ness, but she compensates for these moments with the album’s standout tracks, which confirm that, critics be damned, Lana isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  • dav dan

    It’s odd that one of your criticisms (of an album released two and a half months ago) is that it is repetitive in its themes, meanwhile your review could have been a paragraph considering you basically repeat the same sentiments over and over (parodies, caricatures, haunting melodies, vocals, etc.).

    When you criticisized Sad Girl for telling and not showing, it seems like an odd angle to take. That song is a narrative about a woman’s struggle with being complicit as “the other woman”. I don’t think it’s supposed to be a take on her persona as a whole, but rather a critique of a specific situation.

    • Charlie
    • adam

      listen dav, it’s just her opinion, okay?

      • dav dan

        I know that, I wasn’t attacking her. As someone very familiar with the song in question, I thought it was a strange critique. I found it odd that the review was titled from a song that writer seemed to not understand. I get that music is subjective, but when writing a review one should either provide new insight or an understanding of the work being discussed- that was absent. Sure, saying she is a “sad girl/bad girl” could amount to the summation of her image – most reviews and even the RS cover from July already say the exact same thing – however, that self reference is clearly related to the experience of the singer in this particular track.

      • adam

        well maybe she did know what the song was about and didn’t feel like spending a million words explaining it!!! mr. arbiter of music criticism over here, mr. ph.d. in lana del rey studies

      • Jason Turnbull

        You’re attacking this person for criticizing a critic? What’s wrong with people

  • Anonymous

    Your article seems to be a rehash of the mainstream trying to fit Lana into their box. Reminds me of when Dylan went electric. Lana is a poet for the 21st century.

    Putting her incredible talent aside for a moment here are just a few facts about Lana that drive the media crazy.
    -She doesn’t appear naked on stage simulating sex acts
    -She steps on stage and givse a non stop emotional performance. Some better than others but all true to her art.
    -She is an educated woman with a degree in Metaphysics and Theology from Fordham University
    -She got straight when she was a young teen and does not drink.
    -She spent years nurturing her career yet she had time to work hands on with various charities to give back for her recovery
    -She knows the name of some of her fans, kisses her fans and lets them get close. The videos of these interactions show an excited young woman who seems to enjoy these meetings as much as the fans.
    – You never know but Lana seems like a person I would like to talk with.

    • Samantha Carolina

      Damn Straight!!!

    • Vernell

      Oh fuck that shit. Little monsters and the Bey hive read from that same manuscript. This critique is based upon the music and the illusion she personifies if you can’t take it get off the fucking site. As a fan, I am pleased with the follow-up, she took off her fancy rags, but it is overkill. The whinning, long notes, dangerous romanticism. I speak for the public, we get it Lana, you get down in your party dress in the pale moonlight

      • Jessica

        Except how much proof do Little Monsters and the Bey Hive have? Lana had never been rude to a fan or the paparazzi. Ever. And this is evidenced in all the videos the paparazzi take of her. And you said you are a fan? Of who? Because if you were talking about Lana, you wouldn’t need to be told what I stated above. And you would know that she’s singing about her life. The definition of fan is “an enthusiastic devotee”. If you’d rather her sing of getting wild at all the hottest clubs and hitting the town with her besties as opposed to singing about her life… are you truly a fan?

  • Anonymous

    “…transforming her from the upbeat, platinum blonde Lizzy Grant” She was never upbeat; all her music (even under her old monikers) is consistent in its sadness and wistfulness

  • ayngel

    Lana is fucking God! Shut up!

  • icemilitia .

    she screwed to get to the top, and in the end will be scrapped to the bottom, it’s happens all the time

  • DeliverMeToEvil

    She did have some uptempo songs that were never released officially, if you know what I mean, but you can YouTube these: Breaking My Heart, Go Go Dancer, Ghetto Baby, Children Of The Bad Revolution…several more. Although she does cover darker themes in them despite the songs being uptempo.

    Have you seen pictures of her as “Lizzy” she did not look happy at all.

    This article is superficial, at best. HA!

  • Jessica

    “Upbeat”…? Are you assuming she used to be upbeat because she was “platinum blonde”? Yes Lana has a few upbeat songs here and there, but never enough to categorize her that way. And, if you bothered to do any actual research, you’d find Lana’s music hasn’t actually changed. Check out her Lanapedia. I know that doesn’t sound legitimate, but it really is. You can actually see lists of recurring themes in her music over the years and lines from songs on her new album that she also sang in songs leaked from ’09. She isn’t a “persona”. She isn’t “romanticizing” abuse. She’s singing about what she went through. Whatever you say, Lana sings about her life. She sings about her experiences.

  • Kevin Selders

    Dude most of the shit you said in this article is untrue, Lana herself said that she never said she wanted to die that was a lie that some dumb ass reporter like you took out of context and ran with it. You have to understand Lana to really like her n those of us who do fucking Love her. There aren’t many artist these days who write everything they sing or take major part in the over all production of her entire album, Lana is one of those people and as long as she is real and not some manufactured piece of shit artist like most of the music industry then she can have my $ <3 and support any day.

  • T

    Lana Del Rey is not a character that she created for Born To Die. Have you listened to Lizzy Grant? She’s the same person as Lana.

  • ImposingM

    Is she what most people consider a “bad girl”? She’s tame, as Tyler Durden would say in Fight Club: “calm as a hindu cow”. There is not an ounce of rebellion in this girl, she is not provocative. She’s the 1960s version of a “bad girl”: one who smokes, drinks, has sex. None of these things are provocative for women to do nowadays… Besides her singing, her day to day activities seem drab and unoriginal. Lana Del Rey should not be applauded for being a “bad girl”, Lana Del Rey should be applauded for turning boring, unoriginal activities into epic lyrics.

  • Johnny Del Rey

    trash article

  • jess

    Lana Del Rey is not a character
    Lana Del Rey is Lana Del Rey it is as simple as that