Lana Del Rey: Being the Author of Her Own Story


Li Na Jiang, Contributor

You’ve probably heard of the song,“Young and Beautiful,” from the soundtrack of the timeless film, The Great Gatsby, produced in 2013. Achingly beautiful, the music video has more than 440 million views on YouTube. The cinematography, the instrumentals, and the vocals leave you lingering for some sort of nostalgia you seem to have, but with no known cause. Years later, Pitchfork claimed the singer as, “one of America’s greatest songwriters.” Her name? Lana Del Rey.  

Elizabeth Grant, or more professionally known as Lana Del Rey, is an American singer-songwriter and poet. Raised in Lake Placid, New York, she moved to New York City to start her music careersinging and performing songs in nightclubs. In 2007, Del Rey signed a ten-thousand-dollar recording contract with 5 Point Records, in which she used the money to relocate herself to a New Jersey trailer, so she could work on her label debut.  In 2011, Del Rey uploaded her music video, “Video Games,” on YouTube, which had featured a compilation of clips of her vintage self-made videos. The song went viral—and now continues to remain one of the most classic songs of the 2010s. Soon afterward, she signed with Interscope Records and released her second album Born To Die (2012).

Del Rey’s third album, Ultraviolence, (2014) was dark but beautiful. Musically composed of drums and heavy guitars in many of the tracks, it became her first number one album on the chart. The second-to-last track, “Old Money,” revisits her time living in her rented trailer in New Jersey. In “Blue hydrangeas/Cold cash divine,” Del Rey sings, “Red racing cars, sunset and vine/The kids were young and pretty,” channels nostalgia to much simpler times. 

Del Rey’s fifth studio album, Norman [Expletive] Rockwell! (2019), won her multiple grammy awards and landed on The Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time. In an interview, Del Rey mentioned that she had chosen NFR! as the title when pondering where she was on the spectrum of the American Dream. The record embodies the American Dream, but merely a dream as the world was crumbling. The album cover illustrates an oiled painted blue sky and California wildfires in the distance. In, “The Greatest,” Del Rey expresses much nostalgia for the past. “Miss doin’ nothin’, the most of all/Hawaii just missed a fireball/L.A. is in flames, it’s gettin’ hot/Kanye West is blond and gone,” Del Rey sings as the song comes to an end. Moreover, Del Rey has been politically vocal and socially conscious through her songwriting. In, “Looking For America,” Del Rey expressed her concern for the state of the country as a result of mass shootings. Similar tracks from her Lust for Life (2017) album, like, “Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind,” and, “Change,” show that Del Rey continues to long for a better version of the world. But, she also has her own aspirations. 

“I once had dreams of becoming a beautiful poet…” Del Rey said in her “Ride” monologue back in 2012. And she did. In the summer of 2020, Del Rey published her first poetry book, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, a collection of poems that she had typed in her vintage typewriter and bound with photographs she had taken. In her poem, “LA Who Am I To Love You?,” Del Rey mentioned how tired she was of the public and people accusing her of coming from money—when she had tried to escape it and had nothing, when she started her music career. She wanted independence, and she was capable of it.

Last May, Del Rey posted, “Question for the culture,” on her Instagram which had sparked much controversy. The mentioning of popular POC artists caused many to attack her for being a racist. Many also said she glamorized abuse in her past song(s). However, her aim with the post was never to slander other female artists in the industry, but to advocate for herself. She mentioned those women she admired, because they alluded to the same lyrics that she professes. The reality is, she was tired of being misunderstood and the post was simply about the unfairness of picking and choosing who to criticize in the music industry for what they do.

The inclusion of many of her POC friends on the cover of her latest album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, (2021) was her revenge towards the public for accusing her of being a racist. However, the album was also a turning point in her career. Del Rey expressed that she wanted to explore more into country and folk music, different from the music that she was producing in the past. In the title track, “White Dress,” Del Rey, now 35, reminisces about her time before fame when she was waitressing at 19. Looking back at how far she has come, she would do it all again if she couldbecause it made her feel like a God.

From the shy blonde known as Lizzy Grant, to the Lana Del Rey, who many of us adore, her musical and personal growth throughout the last decade is undeniable. Despite the criticism she has received, Del Rey continues to challenge those thoughts through her music. Shortly after the newly released album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club in March 2021, Del Rey revealed that her next record, Blue Banisters, is set to release some time in the summer. A snippet of the music video for her title track is posted on Twitter with the caption, “I’m writing my own story. And no one can tell it but me.”