I'm with you. I was surprised by how much I loved it. I don't really care about Drive, its okay! I did not really like Only God Forgives but thought it made for a nice trailer. OGF does seem a logical stepping stone to a film like this...
I didn't mind the thin characterizations or dialogue in TND. I don't take it all very seriously. To me its a fun romp that's more about sound and color. The other night I watched Suspiria and I think if a movie like that came out today it would meet a similar response. The characters and story are definitely goofy, but the set design, color, and music etc. reach for something outside of what we ask from a traditional narrative. Its chasing a vibe.
The Neon Demon retells a familiar story about a young girl traveling to the big city to chase her dreams but dresses it up in modern skin. Its style feels more developed than Only God Forgives, which also threw out story in favor of vibe. Here the style is more organically interwoven with its subject matter - Refn makes the film feel like the commercials and photoshoots the film's main characters might appear in. Its very slick, I don't think many filmmakers could do it like this.
Also, I talked trash on the the characterizations, but I really like the performances here, especially by Karl Glusman. He plays a very soft young man.
I think it would make a good double-feature with Under the Skin.