A genre in herself, Lana’s sleepy Hollywood aesthetic and tragic love songs have earned her success in the indie pop scene. Under her real name, Lizzy Grant, the singer attempted a career in 2009, performing in clubs and bars, without luck. Adopting the stage name of Lana Del Rey and growing into the all-American woman she was when her first album was released, the world lapped her up, and is now one of the most successful artists of this time.
The single ‘Video Games’ was released before Del Rey’s first album. If you haven’t cried at one point in your life listening to this song, something is wrong with you. Born to Die (2012) set the scene for what fans can appreciate as a beautifully haunting, emotional journey through Lana’s tragic romances. Her fans may have similar aesthetic, daddy issues and pouts, but it is undeniable that her song writing on her first album was, and still is, reflective, wily and brooding. Born to Die draws on all aspects of a young woman’s idyll of the American Dream, from rags to diamonds, James Dean, and her songs ‘playing on the radio’. Classical instruments alongside her versatile, wispy vocals creates a magical genre: a confused mixture of indie rock, trip-hop and sadcore.
However, whilst Born to Die received a predominantly positive response, many lyrics were interpreted as ‘anti-feminist’, such as ‘This is what makes us girls/ We don’t stick together ‘cause we put our love first,’. This sweeping statement about women was unpopular with some, as well as the song titled ‘F***ed my way up to the top’ on Ultraviolence, thought to be a diss-track written about other female artists, reportedly Lorde or Lady Gaga.
2014 saw Lana’s release of Ultraviolence, a continuation of the feeling-sorry-for-herself mood. As a woman of her own genre, belonging to no crowd, she is, in some ways, alone. Ultraviolence is simply a lonely album. It would be easy to imagine her stage performances with a single spotlight, ribbon microphone, and placid arm movements, eyes closed. The pleasure-in-pain theme runs through the enchantingly gloomy album through phrases such as ‘he hit me, and it felt like a kiss’ (Ultraviolence), and somehow irresistible drug addicts: ‘I don’t mean nothing compared to your drugs … I’ll wait for you’ (Pretty When You Cry). It would appear that Lana needs to keep a wide berth from LA bad-boys to have any hope of her tears drying.
It soon became clear that Lana couldn’t find any decent men after Ultraviolence. Honeymoon (2015)was her next album, showing an obsession with the idea of love rather than the reality of it. On this album, Lana’s Hollywood aesthetic played out by layering cinematic music below her breathy, depressed voice, almost imitating movie background music. The tracks on the album are often longer than five minutes, usually lacking percussion. Lana seems to know we are ready to listen to whatever she has to say, not needing drama in the form of exciting instruments or rushed choruses to hold our attention. This style reflects an idleness; Lana hasn’t felt much happiness in a while, and no visions of change are on the horizon.
The title of the emotional ‘Swan Song’, suggested that this could have been Lana’s last album, given the rumours that her talent was not genuine, and that she achieved success due to her millionaire father’s helping hand. She even sang the words ‘I will never sing again’.
In 2016, The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) released Starboy, on which Lana features in one of the most poignant songs Stargirl Interlude. The Stargirl/Starboy relationship links Del Rey’s seductive vocals with The Weeknd’s sexual lyrics which have evolved throughout their careers.
Del Rey collaborated with Tesfaye again, a year later with Lust for Life on the eponymous album, along with A$AP Rocky and Stevie Nicks. In the album, Lana treats us with a smile on the cover. The frowny-pout brand she has painted over three albums is suddenly U-turned. The brighter tones on the album could offer escapism, rather than a reality, for listeners as well as Lana herself, even admitting that she is ‘caught up in my [her] dreams’ (White Mustang). This is implied when Lana and Abel sing about climbing up the Hollywood sign’s ‘H’. Jumping from the ‘H’ was famously the chosen method of suicide of the 1930s failed actress Peg Entwistle, cursing the sign. So, despite the brighter sounds of the melodies and fantasies in many of the songs, is there a darker meaning behind them, and behind Lana’s smile on the album cover?
Whether her smile is sincere or not, she offers a more feminist approach than before, in the song ‘God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women in It’. Contradicting many of her previous lyrics referencing competition between women, this song was a response to the American Women’s marches protesting Republicans’ views on women’s rights. Suddenly, Lana’s idealised version of America described in her previous albums has come crumbling down.
Lana has announced the name of her next album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’, reportedly being released in March. Norman Rockwell was an artist and author, celebrated for his portrayal of America and its culture; perhaps Lana’s romanticised patriotism will make a homecoming in her new work. Over the past couple of months, three lengthy singles ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’, ‘Venice Bitch’ and ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ have been released, alongside a since deleted clip of Machine Gun Kelly on her Instagram. From these sneak peaks, after the short respite of Lust for Life, we can only predict that her acoustic, yet orchestral troubled-youth sound and visuals will make a return in March.