Pop has always worshipped at the altar of female masochism, especially among our current crop of sexy "tough girls." Gaga prostrates herself like a cybernetic rag doll in the "Paparazzi" video; Rihanna flirts openly with her own tabloid infamy in "S&M."
So as a document of objectification and the enjoyment of pain, Lana Del Rey's Born to Die is downright fascinating. I wouldn't dare foist the burden of "originality" on Del Rey. And if you do, I'm pretty sure you're missing the point of, like, the entire pop stratosphere. The only fault I can find with Ms. Del Rey is a seeming basic misunderstanding of kitsch, but even that's just a quibble compared to the far greater joy of deciphering Born to Die as a pop artifact.
Born to Die poises her as a disaffected torch singer, singing against spider-webby ambience with counterintuitive pop hooks: The spectral chorus on "National Anthem" is broken for a pause so that Del Rey can deliver one of her signature Betty Boop-isms, an overly wry "kiss kiss" that, despite its self-awareness, is fun and playful.
In fact, this is an album of play in all senses: role-play, tickle attacks, snowball fights and, of course, pillow fights. Del Rey is always describing herself being watched: On "Off to the Races," she describes someone gazing at her "in the bathroom ... slipping on my red dress, putting on my makeup." She's delighted to be observed in the act of self-creation. Isn't that so Gaga?