LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rarely has a pop star just starting out been so loved and loathed as Lana Del Rey, the 25-year-old who has filled acres of newspaper column inches even before her debut album "Born to Die" hits shelves next week.
First came the "breakthrough" when her video for the song "Video Games" was viewed millions of times on YouTube leading to the sultry chanteuse becoming the talk of the music business.
That success prompted the question 'just who is Del Rey?' and inquisitive fans quickly uncovered that the New York native, whose real name is Elizabeth Grant, was the daughter of Internet domain investor Rob Grant and came from a wealthy background.
Then, it was learned singer had previously been signed to a label, which fueled debate about her authenticity as an indie music artist garnering success through a viral video. The backlash picked up steam after Del Rey's recent, shaky singing as the musical guest on U.S. sketch comedy show "Saturday Night Live." It was attacked with vitriol by fans and critics alike.
"She's hit a nerve in some way, which is both a good thing and a bad thing as people are talking about her," said Lyndsey Parker, managing editor at Yahoo! Music.
"There's a huge curiosity about her and if that was what the label wanted, they've done a great job."
But rather than addressing the criticism directly, Del Rey's response has been to retreat from the public eye and shun live performances ahead of the album's release -- a rarity these days when promotion is the name of the game in show business if stars want to sell records, books, movies or TV shows.
She appears to have given only one interview following the "Saturday Night Live" performance, published last week in British newspaper The Telegraph.
"I don't want to talk about how it (the criticism) made me feel because I think it's disrespectful to God to go to a dark place with this kind of thing. People just want to see me go off the rails. That's the only reason they're watching," Del Rey told the Telegraph.
That interview has seemed only to add to the intrigue surrounding the singer who many have tipped as the next big thing among female solo acts. Del Rey, through her representatives, declined an interview with Reuters.
"It's really hard to get people to stop and pay attention to you, and Lana Del Rey has done that. So, she's cleared a hurdle that ninety-nine percent of millions of artists never clear," said Bill Werde, editorial director of Billboard. "The next hurdle is, can she deliver a hit song or hit album?"
Part of Del Rey's appeal has been her manicured, vintage-inspired appearance, with waves of tumbling auburn hair framing an often expressionless demeanor in a look that Yahoo's Parker likened to an "icy, Hitchcock heroine."
Del Rey has denied that her look, which has earned her a modeling contract, and on-stage persona is a gimmick. But whether pre-meditated image-making or just personal taste, one thing is certain: the singer's retro style and attractive features have won over fans and critics.
"The image matches the music and it does make her stand out in an era where a lot of people dress in hotpants, almost naked, and her throwback image is kind of cool," said Parker.
Del Rey cites a diverse group of musical artists such as Elvis Presley, Britney Spears and Leonard Cohen as influences on her Facebook page.
Her voice ranges from syrupy sweet to huskily haunting on what Freddie Campion at Vogue calls "epic, scene-setting melodies" when she sings lyrics such as "You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop, but you fit me better than my favorite sweater" on her single, "Blue Jeans."
Lyrically, the "Born To Die" album tracklist fluctuates between dark tales of star-crossed lovers in "Lucky Ones" and "Blue Jeans" and gritty stories of broken dreams in songs like "Carmen." She references teen drinking and drug abuse in the ode "National Anthem" and in "This is What Makes Us Girls."
Whether Del Rey earns hit status with her new album remains to be seen. Early reviews have been mixed.
New York Times' Jon Caramanica likened "Born To Die" to "a multiple choice test with every answer scanned 'C'."
Andrew Hampp at Billboard.com called the record "as puffy as the singer's oft-debated lips," adding that some of the songs became stale throughout the album.
But there has been positive, too. James Lachno at The Telegraph gave the record four out of five stars, saying the "misty-eyed retro-pop makes for compelling listening."
For Del Rey, the album marks a personal achievement after her struggle to break in to the industry.
"I think it's beautiful. I think it's gorgeous. This album is myself in song form," she told The Telegraph. "All I wanted to do was make something beautiful, and I think I've done that."
"Born to Die" will be released on Interscope, part of the Universal Music Group, on January 30 in the United Kingdom and January 31 in the United States.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Mike Collett-White)