“Born to Die” is the opening track for Lana Del Rey’s debut album, “Born to Die” from January 2012. The song was recorded and released as a single in late 2011.
I see this song as having dual meanings, and that is what gives it so much depth. There are two ways to look at it. The first, is from the perspective of a romantic relationship. And the second, is more of an existential perception.
The first interpretation of the song seems obvious: a relationship that is destined to fail. This can be easily found in the chorus.
Don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry.
Sometimes love is not enough and the road gets tough, I don’t know why.
Keep making me laugh, let’s go get high.
The road is long, we carry on, try to have fun in the meantime.
There is a sense of gloom in knowing that the fantasy of romance also comes with a harsh reality check. “Sometimes love is not enough” is the phrase that really hits home. We like to believe that love conquers all; but the unfortunate truth is that it doesn’t. There are real challenges that get in the way: like money, different belief systems and backgrounds, material factors. You can be madly in love with one another, but are still split apart those things.
But the song is not one-hundred percent gloom: “try to have fun in the meantime.” In other words, enjoy yourself while you still can. Just because it won’t last forever, does not mean that you cannot appreciate the present moment in which love actually is enough.
And so, the song is about being in a relationship that you know will not last, but still enjoying it by living in the moment while you can.
The second interpretation of this song is far more big-picture and existential. When you go beyond the chorus and pay closer attention to the first and second verses, you can see that there is deep contemplation of the meaning of life.
Feet don’t fail me now
Take me to the finish line
Oh, my heart it breaks, every step that I take
But I’m hoping that the gates, they’ll tell me that you’re mine.
This is a metaphor for growing older and moving forward in life — choosing to stay alive, to keep on living, rather than give up and die. Your heart is breaking with every step — as you age, you suffer from more loss and heartache, you face more challenges and hurdles, and everything only gets tougher.
“The gates” refer to Heaven. You are hoping for sweet relief after the heartache of living. The gates of Heaven are being compared to romantic attachment — “the gates, they’ll tell me that you’re mine.” So, there is hope that a relationship that cannot survive the material world can flourish in Heaven, which is devoid of all material challenges.
Walking through the city streets
Is it by mistake or design?
I feel so alone on a Friday night
Can you make it feel like home, if I tell you you’re mine?
It’s like I told you, honey.
This next part represents the contemplation of a divine Creator and “God’s plan” verses randomness and meaningless. The question is asked if everything happens for a reason and there is a higher purpose for all.
The feeling of being alone is revealed, and it represents the fact that we are all alone. Relationships can create an illusion that you’re not alone, but that is only an illusion. You came into this world by yourself and you will leave the world by yourself.
Lost but now I am found
I can see but once I was blind
I was so confused as a little child
Tried to take what I could get
Scared that I couldn’t find
All the answers, honey
Here, the second verse is less gloomy. There is a feeling of being found, looking back on one’s childhood in which there was so much confusion and fear.
I see this part as finding acceptance: that we will all die someday, and there is peace in that, because there will no longer be suffering. In the second verse as opposed to the first, there are no questions or pondering. There is just acceptance.
And this brings us back once again to the chorus.
Come and take a walk on the wild side
Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain
You like your girls insane.
So, choose your last words, this is the last time
Cause you and I, we were born to die.
This second part of the chorus is about wanting to take a risk in life, because life is so short and precious that it shouldn’t be wasted. You should be young and crazy while you still can.
Basically, the message of this song is that life is full of pain and heartbreak, so we try our best to focus on the positivity and pleasure as much as possible. In the end, all of us are going to die, so we should focus on the good as well as take risks and be a little crazy before our time is up. Instead of overthinking the meaning of life, we can accept our fate. Try your best to live a fun and exciting life, but remember that pain and grief is inevitable, yet someday your suffering will be relieved.
The song begins with questioning the meaning of life, and the song ends with understanding the meaning of life: to die. This is a truth that the ancient Egyptians knew — this is why they lived their lives revolved around the concept of death. In modern times, we spend our entire lives running away from this concept and pretending it doesn’t exist, which only prolongs our suffering.
Sure, it’s a very dark and gloomy song. Absolutely. But there’s also a great sense of peace and hope — in an extremely dark and gloomy way, of course.