Lana Del Rey’s lyrics raise just as many questions as they raise eyebrows. Did she really just sing that? Does she even mean what she sings? To what extent is her rebellious image authentic? People have wondered this over the past 10 years while listening to her melancholic songs and watching her nostalgic videoclips.
Her art and way of being has brought on a lot of criticism, but her most recent album Norman Fucking Rockwell!, has cut her some slack and been much more positive. Why have the diehard critics changed their minds?
This Friday, Lana Del Rey will grace the stage at the Ziggo Dome, which is a good reason to get to the bottom of it.
Lana Del who?
Lana Del Rey was born as Elizabeth Grant in New York City in 1985 and was later raised in Upstate New York. Around the time that she was 18, she was sent to boarding school in Connecticut, which was partially due to her struggle with alcoholism from which she luckily recovered.
She returned to the city in 2006 to launch her music career, where she took a while to find her footing by singing in bars under the names Lizzy Grant and May Jailer. This was around the same time that Lady Gaga was starting out, and funnily enough, they even performed together from time to time.
Viral Video (Games)
Changing her name to the more exotic sounding, Lana Del Rey, which is said to have reminded her of the glamour of the seaside, she scored a record deal and used the money to buy a home in a trailer park. When she broke through with the baroque pop song, Video Games in 2011, her critics were quick to point out that she does in fact come from a wealthy background, which she has since hit back on.
Her first single, Video Games, went viral and became an underground sensation, especially since it had such an authentic vibe to it. Lana Del Rey’s breathy voice, home-made, grainy videoclip with classic, Hollywood snapshots, were refreshing in a time where music and video clips tended to be polished. Her feminine looks, hovering somewhere between the 60s Hollywood glamour and the casual-cool California girl, appealed to a lot of people.
Outsider of rich girl?
Critics soon found out that the social media accounts of the former Lizzy Grant had been removed just before bringing out Video Games. They came to the conclusion that she wasn’t true to her style and that her image was all a concept. As it turned out, she wasn’t the outsider who was looking for recognition, but a rich girl, with a father who was a millionaire and able to fund her career. Even so, her career skyrocketed.
Since 2012, Lana Del Rey has sold a total of 19.1 million albums around the world and has had more than 3.5 million online views. Since then, she has also gained a following of 15.8 people on Instagram, has won 2 Brit Awards, a Golden Globe, 9 GAFFAs and has received 6 Grammy nominations.
Lana Del Rey’s message
Lana Del Rey’s lyrics have been just as talked about as her image, so we filtered the most recognisable ones out.
5.Video Games / Blue Jeans (Born To Die, 2012), Ultraviolence (Ultraviolence, 2014)
While fellow artists such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé have played their part in promoting the equality of women, people of colour, and the LQBTQ-community, Lana De Rey seemed to portray a more watered-down emancipated world view.
This is how Video Games can be interpreted as an ode to unrequited love.
It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you wanna do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true?
It’s better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is loving you
And baby, now you do
Video Games – Lana Del Rey
In an interview with NME, she explains that this song is about her ex-boyfriend:
“It was just a time in my life when I had let go of my own personal career ambitions, just to enjoy being with him (…) when he’d come home from work and play video games.”
In her other songs she also seems to give in to the love of her life, where in Blue Jeans, she sings:
You went out every night, and baby, that’s alright
I told you that no matter what you did, I’d be by your side
Blue Jeans – Lana Del Rey
In Ultraviolence, she even sings about accepting physical violence:
With his ultraviolence
I can hear sirens, sirens
He hit me and it felt like a kiss
I can hear violins, violins
Give me all of that ultraviolence
Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey
Over the years, this stance has brought a lot of criticism around whether it should be considered to be an anti-feministic, but in an article published in 2017, she looks back on these lyrics, saying that she no longer sings them.
“I don’t like it. I don’t. I don’t sing it. I sing ‘Ultraviolence’ but I don’t sing that line anymore. Having someone be aggressive in a relationship was the only relationship I knew. I’m not going to say that that [lyric] was 100 percent true, but I do feel comfortable saying what I was used to was a difficult, tumultuous relationship, and it wasn’t because of me. It didn’t come from my end.”
Her fourth album, Lust For Life, is considered to be more empowering for women, which goes hand in hand with the times where the #MeToo movement has had an influence on public opinion and evidently also her song lyrics.
4. National Anthem (Born To Die, 2012)
From a European perspective, Lana Del Rey can be seen as the embodiment of the all-American girl. At the start of her career, she is extremely proud of her country and that shows in just about all of her songs.
From her own studio in Santa Monica, she takes you on a sunny road trip through the US. In songs like West Coast, Florida Kilos and Brooklyn Baby, she tells us about her country as well as iconic clothes such as blue jeans and movie stars like James Dean.
In National Anthem, she sings about the American norms and values:
Money is the anthem, of success, so before we go out
What’s your address?
LDR owns up to believing that money, shown through where you live, is a symbol of success, and that knowing someone’s postcode can tell you more about someone’s social status.
Tell me I’m your National Anthem (Sugar sugar, how now, take your body downtown)
Red, white, blue’s in the skies, summer’s in the air and baby, heaven’s in your eyes
I’m your National Anthem
Here, she celebrates her national colours, before going back to singing about money:
Money is the reason we exist
Everybody knows it, it’s a fact-kiss, kiss
Money is the anthem of success
So put on mascara, and your party dress
National Anthem – Lana Del Rey
She walked the talk when this song came out in 2012 and was often spotted in the nightlife scene.
Later in 2017, she retraces her ideas about her homeland, which she’s isn’t as quick to idealise considering the changes in the socio-political landscape. In the beforementioned interview with Pitchfork, Lana Del Rey says:
“I definitely changed my visuals on my tour videos. I’m not going to have the American flag waving while I’m singing ‘Born to Die.’ It’s not going to happen. I’d rather have static. It’s a transitional period, and I’m super aware of that. I think it would be inappropriate to be in France with an American flag. It would feel weird to me now—it didn’t feel weird in 2013.”
3. Shades Of Cool (Ultraviolence, 2014)
On top of her music lyrics and her image, Lana Del Rey is also known for carrying a sense of nostalgia. All 6 albums brought out to date have a darker vibe. This isn’t surprising considering that the themes in her lyrics often carry a feeling of hopelessness; touching on unhealthy relationships, violence, drugs and death.
One song where this comes to light is in Shades Of Cool. Here, Lana Del Rey’s baby doesn’t just have a dark edge, he also uses illicits and is seeing multiple women at once.
My baby lives in shades of blue
Blue eyes and jazz and attitude
He lives in California too
He drives a Chevy Malibu
And when he calls, he calls for me and not for you
He lives for love, he loves his drugs, he loves his baby too
LDR’s doesn’t appear to have much sway.
But I can’t fix him, can’t make him better
And I can’t do nothing about his strange weather
Shades Of Cool – Lana Del Rey
These darker themes also go beyond her song lyrics. 2014 saw an incident when The Guardian published an interview writing that Lana Del Rey said that she might have already been dead, like her musical heroes Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, who both passed away when they were 27. Here it was implied that she saw a young death as being glamorous.
Kurt Cobain’s daughter, Frances Bean, called her interview out saying, “The death of young musicians isn’t something to romanticize”. Lana Del Rey responded by saying that the journalist had intentionally been misleading in the article and that she shouldn’t have trusted him.
These days she is known to be more selective with interviews, which is seen as a way for her to put up a defence mechanism, likely because of these past experiences.
2. Ride (Born To Die – The Paradise Edition, 2012)
Lana Del Rey’s lyrics have always shown that she is a bit of an outlaw. Having called herself a ‘gangsta Nancy Sinatra’, she sang about meeting her older gangster boyfriend in Off To The Races, inspired by the Vladimir Nabokov book, Lolita. Speaking of being a rebel, she even has this book title tattooed on her arm.
Another song where she narrates her wild lifestyle is in Ride.
Dying young and playing hard
That’s the way my father made his life an art
Drink all day and we talk ’til dark
That’s the way the road dogs do it
Light ’til dark
Don’t leave me now
Don’t say goodbye
Don’t turn around
Leave me high and dry
I hear the birds on the summer breeze
I drive fast, I am alone at midnight
Been trying hard not to get into trouble
But I, I’ve got a war in my mind
I just ride, just ride
Ride – Lana Del Rey
Adding on to the song’s lyrics is its video clip which says a lot. In the 10-minute-long music video, she lets loose with a gang of older, bigger member of a biking gang, living her motto “I am fucking crazy. But I am free”.
The video was controversial when it first came out. This time, her work was seen as glamourising prostitution, to which she responds in an article with The Guardian,
“I can see how that video would raise a feminist eyebrow. But that was more personal to me – it was about my feelings on free love and what the effect of meeting strangers can bring into your life: how it can make you unhinged in the right way and free you from the social obligations I hope we’re growing out of in 2014.”
Her story is a lot more layered than it first seems, but essentially this song is about freedom.
1. Mariners Apartment Complex (Norman Fucking Rockwell!, 2019)
As we wrote earlier, Lana Del Rey has received as much praise as she has criticism since breaking through. With her big hair, her stage name and her backstory, critics have been keen to question her authenticity.
Some say that she owes her fame to the time she flopped on Saturday Night Live, as well as her wealthy family background, which inadvertently clashes with the self-made image she has created around herself over the past 10 years. To critics, her fast claim to fame comes down to the orchestration of her record label.
But LDR has continuously shaken it all off and has kept going. She stayed true to her sound and to her style, until suddenly the tables turned and she received praise for her most recent album, Normal Fucking Rockwell!.
According to Vox, her ‘weirdness’ is now suddenly understood because the times have changed. Ever since the 70s, ‘authenticity’ was seen as the ultimate goal in the industry. An ‘authentic’ artist wrote their own music, played musical instruments and could really perform live, rather than just lip-sync. In other words: artists let their true self show through their art.
The years 2000 to 2010 saw a shift in public opinion. Where originally the geniuses who could do it all on their own were appreciated, suddenly a commercial collaboration was considered to bring good, memorable music to the table. Star Studies became an academic field which killed the belief that artists always have a single ‘star image’. From then on, it became more widely believed that you will never tap into the artist as a ‘real’ person. This doesn’t make the artist misleading in their authenticity or fake, but a star.
Ever since this interpretation of pop music has been adopted, Lana Del Rey’s place in music history is now being re-written. It could even mean that she has taken away the enormous importance of authenticity, making way for more fiction in music.
This is what brings us to number 1 in this list, Mariner’s Apartment Complex. In this song, LDR seems to have out-grown the criticism of the past. ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ can easily be the place where she had the interview with The Guardian, where she said that she could have easily been dead already. In this song, she says that she didn’t mean what she’d said in the way it was interpreted. She adds on to how she sees herself her role as an artist.
You took my sadness out of context
At the Mariners Apartment Complex
I ain’t no candle in the wind
I’m the board, the lightning, the thunder
Kind of girl who’s gonna make you wonder
Who you are and who you’ve been
In these lyrics she even seems to ask to be accepted for who she is:
And who I’ve been is with you on these beaches
Your Venice bitch, your die-hard, your weakness
Maybe I could save you from your sins
So kiss the sky and whisper to Jesus
My, my, my, you found this, you need this
Take a deep breath, baby, let me in
And in the chorus, she builds on the story of her musical career, setting her story straight:
You lose your way, just take my hand
You’re lost at sea, then I’ll command your boat to me again
Don’t look too far, right where you are, that’s where I am
I’m your man
I’m your man
Mariners Apartment Complex – Lana Del Rey
With this, Lana Del Rey seems to have a stronger core than ever. She’s standing on solid ground, and that is finally being appreciated by her critics.
It seems that this story, with all its disapproval, rebellion, and incredible perseverance, has a happy end after all…
Are you joining us at the Ziggo Dome?
Lucky you! It can’t be anything but an unforgettable night. Enjoy!
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