“Lolita gets lost in the ‘hood.” For anyone understandably baffled by all the equally extreme love (Saturday Night Live gig! Major-label album! Year-end list placements!) and hate (Mean comments about looks! Speculation of music-industry chicanery! “Meh” reviews!) heaped on a suddenly famous singer-songwriter named Lizzy Grant, this self-description she gave to a Guardian reporter remains a pretty good way of approaching her music as Lana Del Rey. Especially if you keep in mind that, as critic Nitsuh Abebe pointed out in a Pitchfork column, Del Rey appears to be talking about the actual literary Lolita, from Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, rather than the term’s much broader common usage.
“Off to the Races,” the latest track to emerge from Del Rey’s upcoming full-length debut, interprets the ‘hood-Lolita angle fairly literally, with results that are intriguing if unlikely to end many arguments. Surfacing yesterday as iTunes U.K.’s single of the week, the studio version of a song Del Rey has been performing live cleverly combines tropes straight out of Nabokov with those straight outta gangsta rap, though its reach may outstretch its grasp. “Light of your life, fire of your loins,” Del Rey purrs, just like Lolita‘s Humbert Humbert, mixing the old-school Hollywood glamor of her vocal with mixtape-ready nods to cocaine and Riker’s Island; a similar contrast is at play in her instrumental backing, which mixes grandiose strings with trunk-rattling beats. It’s just that, as with so many eye-grabbing internet headlines, the song starts to feel like a one-trick pony: Once we “get” it, how many times will we want to listen to the actual song?
Next year should provide plenty of chances to find out, starting with that January 14 SNL gig and Interscope’s January 30 release of Born to Die. Whether Del Rey’s execution lives up to that undeniably ambitious concept will, no doubt, continue to be divisive. But that discussion will be infinitely more to have than the anonymous blog comments’ focus on appearances, or even our tendency as critics to focus on behind-the-scenes machinations. Who the hell cares whether the source of something we enjoy listening to is “authentic” or not? The original Lolita, you may recall, fell in love with a playwright.