"Born to Die" is a song by American singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey, taken from her second studio album of the same name. The song was released as the singer's second single on December 30, 2011, through Interscope Records. Musically, "Born to Die" is a ballad that speaks of a doomed relationship. Critics noted that it features apocalyptic lyrics and strings similar to John Barry compositions. It received mixed to positive reception from contemporary critics, who considered it as haunting as, yet similar to, Del Rey's previous single "Video Games". In the United Kingdom, "Born to Die" became Del Rey's second top 10single, when it peaked at No. 9 for the week ending February 4, 2012.
The song was promoted with a music video, directed by Yoann Lemoine (a.k.a. Woodkid), that portrays Del Rey in an unstable relationship with her boyfriend, played by model Bradley Soileau, as they go on a car trip that results in her death. At the 2012 UK Music Video Awards, "Born to Die" won the "Best Pop - International Video" award, outranking her other songs "Blue Jeans" and "National Anthem" which were also nominees. Critical reception for the video was generally positive. The video has received over 220 million views on video-sharing website YouTube.
"Born to Die" was written and composed by Del Rey and Justin Parker, and produced by Emile Haynie. The song features "gently apocalyptic" lyrics, and opens with Del Rey singing "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 at the gates, they'll tell me that you're mine." According to the singer, the song is an "homage to true love and a tribute to living life on the wild side", theme that is perceived in lines such as "Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain, you like your girls insane." The original unreleased version of the song featured Del Rey singing "Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain" instead of "Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain"; this version is sung at most all her live shows. Laura Snapes of NME compared the background to "melted chocolate waterslide, buffeted by impeccable production", with the John Barry-esque "whipping strings" being noted as similar to the music scores of Gone with the Wind (1939) and Western (1997). "Born to Die" was first released in December 30, 2011 as the second single from the album of the same name. It contains a vocal sample of "Long Red" by Mountain.
Following the release of the single, Robert Copsey of Digital Spy commented, "we thought it would be near-impossible for Lana to top the chilling 'Video Games', but her new cut – the title track from her forthcoming album – may just have out-haunted its predecessor." Laura Snapes of NME considered the song not "quite as flooring as 'Video Games', but then that song is fairly extraordinary", while Entertainment Weekly contributor Grady Smith considered it a "beautifully dour tune". Pryia Elan also of NME said the song "is a grower and whilst not as pitch perfect as 'Video Games', it's pretty damn fine". Aaron-Spencer Charles of Metro noted "Lana Del Rey's Born to Die is a slow yet strong song, with Lana singing about her relationship experience over an orchestra. The calm tone of Del Rey's voice sets sad-love mood really well." Tim Lee of musicOMH said the song is "essentially 'Video Games' with percussion", and noted that "her (alleged) agents clearly having stumbled upon a formula with which they can (allegedly) print money and (allegedly) further consign Lana's secretive, (allegedly) real debut LP to the annals of history. You didn't hear it from us, right?"
The music video for "Born to Die" was based on a concept created by Del Rey, and it was directed by Yoann Lemoine, who previously worked with Katy Perry on "Teenage Dream" (2010) and Taylor Swift on "Back to December" (2010). Del Rey wrote the concept in the form of a treatment she titled, "The Lonely Queen" The video was intended to be set in heaven, metaphorically represented by a Romanian castle. While the narrator was flanked by tigers, she would recall memories of being with her beloved. Lemoine took Del Rey's concept and reworked it into something feasible, she said, and she was satisfied with the outcome. Unlike the singer's previous music videos, "Born to Die" had a significantly higher budget and production, with film location taking place at the Palace of Fontainebleau in France. In an interview with British newspaper The Sun, Del Rey revealed they were going to use tigers in a scene of the music video, saying, "tigers don't come cheap. It's a controversial video. You'll have to wait to see it but I got a generous budget." She also stated that she "...wasn't allowed to be alone with the tiger at any time, for obvious reasons. It was a special experience." On December 14, 2011, the music video leaked online before the official release; this was followed by a statement released through the singer's Facebook page, which said, "Generally, I'm a man of few words, but I will say that this video is the most beautiful thing I've ever done. I hope you like it – this isn't the time or way I wanted to show you the video but I'm in Beijing with no access to social media, and the videos been leaked from Russia so someone is posting this for me."
Bradley Soileau plays Del Rey's fictional boyfriend in the video and was interviewed numerous times about the role. Billboard asked if his proximity to Del Rey caused him to become erect, to which he replied: "Embracing her [Del Rey] was easy. Everyone asks the same question, did you have a boner? Ha! No, I didn't. There's a huge crew of people staring at you shouting, moving around, bright lights everywhere. Madness." The model landed the role when Armen Djerrahian photographed him for an interview with The Wild. Djerrahian knew Lemoine and arranged an introduction. He did not meet Del Rey until the day of the video shoot. Recalling the experience, he applauded the production team, saying they were agreeable coworkers, highlighting Del Rey as a soulful and amazing personality. He identified with background dancers and actresses in rap music videos, as they are often sultry and objectified. About his role, he told MTV:
"...the back story. I'm her boyfriend. It's basically like, the boyfriend, you can see the two sides of the relationship where I'm kissing her, then pointing a gun at her head. That's what it is. It’s a relationship that is so terrible but neither of them want to leave. That's why when she is in the car, and she wipes the glass, she's looking mad sad, distant, thoughtful. But I’m still trying to get her attention. That's kinda the story for it.
Del Rey said she agreed to allow Soileau to play her fictional boyfriend because he reminded her of a previous lover, namely the one she had written the original concept about.
The video begins with Del Rey seen standing topless in the arms of a tattooed man, played by model Bradley Soileau, with the American flag as a backdrop. This is actually an animated version of the single cover art. The scene is followed by the singer leaving her home and joining her boyfriend for a long car trip. As they enter the car, they start to smoke marijuana together and make out before leaving. While on the road, the relationship of the couple is revealed to be unstable, as Del Rey is forced to kiss her boyfriend while expressing sadness. The trip intercuts with scenes of the couple staying at a luxurious hotel, where they are seen lying on a bed together with the boyfriend ominously holding Del Rey's throat at one point. As Del Rey makes her way out the hotel, the scene cuts back to an apparent car accident, with the singer's bloodied corpse being carried by her lover as a huge fire burns behind them. Also, the video intercuts scenes shot at the Palace of Fontainebleau, showing Del Rey sitting on a throne with tigers beside her in the Trinity Chapel or walking in the Gallery of Francis I. The video ends with the opening scene.
The music video received generally positive reviews from critics. Jason Lipshutz of Billboard compared the car scenes to the ones of Rihanna's "We Found Love" music video; Ann Lee of Metro considered the music video as "sexy", with Rolling Stone journalist Matthew Perpetura noting that, "just like the song itself, it's bleakly romantic and majestic in its scope." Becky Bain of Idolator commented that "Interscope apparently has much faith in Del Rey, as the video for her second single, 'Born to Die', looks like it has the budget of about 15 of her 'Video Games' clips." Bain also noted that "besides jungle cats, Lana’s vid features a gorgeous church, a tattooed amour, and a fiery crash" and questioned, "did you really think a song called 'Born to Die' would end with Lana and her sweetie walking off into the sunset together?"
"Born to Die" was performed by Del Rey in a number of live appearances, including at the Bowery Ballroom, where, according to Eliot Glazer of New York, "the polarizing indie hipstress brought her 'gangsta Nancy Sinatra' swagu." Matthew Perpetua of Rolling Stone commented that, despite Del Rey being nervous and anxious while performing the song live, the singer "sang with considerable confidence, though her transitions from husky, come-hither sexuality to bratty, girlish petulance could be rather jarring." Del Rey also performed the song on an intimate show at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.