Elizabeth Woolridge Grant (born June 21, 1985), known by her stage name Lana Del Rey, is an American singer-songwriter. Her music is noted for its stylized, cinematic quality; themes of sadness, tragic romance, glamor, and melancholia; and references to pop culture, particularly 1950s and 1960sAmericana.
She attended the high school where her mother taught for one year, but when she was 15 her parents sent her to Kent School to resolve a budding drinking problem. Her uncle, an admissions officer at the boarding school, secured her financial aid to attend. According to Grant, she had trouble making friends throughout much of her teenage and early adult years. She elaborated on being preoccupied with death from a young age, and its role in her feelings of anxiety and alienation:
When I was very young I was sort of floored by the fact that my mother and my father and everyone I knew was going to die one day, and myself too. I had a sort of a philosophical crisis. I couldn't believe that we were mortal. For some reason that knowledge sort of overshadowed my experience. I was unhappy for some time. I got into a lot of trouble. I used to drink a lot. That was a hard time in my life.
After graduating from the Kent School, she spent a year living on Long Island with her aunt and uncle and working as a waitress. During this time, Grant's uncle taught her how to play guitar, and she "realized [that she] could probably write a million songs with those six chords." Shortly after, she began writing songs and performing in nightclubs around the city under various names such as "Sparkle Jump Rope Queen" and "Lizzy Grant and the Phenomena". "I was always singing, but didn't plan on pursuing it seriously", she said. "When I got to New York City when I was eighteen, I started playing in clubs in Brooklyn--I have good friends and devoted fans on the underground scene, but we were playing for each other at that point--and that was it."
2005-2010: Career beginnings and early recordings
In fall of 2004, at age 19, Grant enrolled at Fordham University in The Bronx where she majored in philosophy, with an emphasis on metaphysics. She has said she chose to study the subject because it "bridged the gap between God and science... I was interested in God and how technology could bring us closer to finding out where we came from and why." In the spring of 2005, while still in college, Del Rey registered a seven-track extended play with the United States Copyright Office; the application title was Rock Me Stable with another title Young Like Me also listed. A second extended play, titled From the End, was also recorded under Del Rey's stage name at the time, May Jailer. Between 2005 and 2006, she recorded an acoustic album titled Sirens under the May Jailer project, which later leaked on the internet in mid-2012.
I wanted to be part of a high-class scene of musicians. It was half-inspired because I didn't have many friends, and I was hoping that I would meet people and fall in love and start a community around me, the way they used to do in the '60s.
--Del Rey explaining why she went into the music industry.
At her first public performance in 2006, for the Williamsburg Live Songwriting Competition, Del Rey met Van Wilson, an A&R representative for 5 Points Records, an independent label owned by David Nichtern. In 2007, while a senior at Fordham, she submitted a demo tape of acoustic tracks titled No Kung Fu to 5 Points, who offered her a recording contract for $10,000. She used the money to relocate to Manhattan Mobile Home Park, a trailer park in North Bergen, New Jersey, and subsequently began working with producer David Kahne. Executive Nichtern recalled: "Our plan was to get it all organized and have a record to go and she'd be touring right after she graduated from college. Like a lot of artists, she morphed. When she first came to us, she was playing plunky little acoustic guitar, [had] sort of straight blonde hair, very cute young woman. A little bit dark, but very intelligent. We heard that. But she very quickly kept evolving."
Film actress Lana Turner(pictured) inspired Del Rey's stage name.
Del Rey graduated from Fordham with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 2008, after which she released a three-track EP titled Kill Kill in October as Lizzy Grant, featuring production from Kahne. She explained that "David asked to work with me only a day after he got my demo. He is known as a producer with a lot of integrity and who had an interest in making music that wasn't just pop." Meanwhile, Del Rey was working doing community outreach work for the homeless and drug addicts; she had become interested in community service work in college, when she had helped paint homes on an Indian reservation in Utah.
On choosing a stage name for her feature debut album, she said: "I wanted a name I could shape the music towards. I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba - Lana Del Rey reminded us of the glamour of the seaside. It sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue." The name was also inspired by actress Lana Turner and the Ford Del Rey sedan, produced and sold in Brazil in the 1980s. Initially she had chosen the alternate spelling of Lana Del Ray, the name under which her self-titled debut album was released in January 2010. Her father helped with the marketing of the album, which was available for purchase on iTunes for a brief period before being withdrawn in April 2010. Kahne, as well as previous label owner Nichtern both stated that Del Rey bought the rights back from the label, 5 Points, as she wanted it out of circulation to "stifle future opportunities to distribute it--an echo of rumors the action was part of a calculated strategy."
Del Rey met her managers, Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, three months after Lana Del Ray was released, and they helped her get out of her contract with 5 Points Records, where, in her opinion, "nothing was happening." Shortly after, she moved to London, and moved in with Mawson "for a few years." On September 1, 2010, Del Rey was featured by Mando Diao in their MTV Unplugged concert at Union Film-Studios in Berlin. The same year, she acted in a short film titled Poolside, which she made with several friends.
2011-2013: Breakthrough with Born to Die and Paradise
In 2011, Del Rey uploaded self-made music videos for her songs "Video Games" and "Blue Jeans" to YouTube, featuring vintage footage interspersed with shots of her singing on her webcam. The "Video Games" music video became a viral internet sensation, which led to Del Rey being signed by Stranger Records to release the song as her debut single. She told The Observer: "I just put that song online a few months ago because it was my favorite. To be honest, it wasn't going to be the single but people have really responded to it." The song earned her a Q award for "Next Big Thing" in October 2011 and an Ivor Novello for "Best Contemporary Song" in 2012. In the same month, she signed a joint deal with Interscope Records and Polydor to release her second studio album Born to Die. She started dating Scottish singer Barrie-James O'Neill in the same year. The couple split in 2014 after three years together. Del Rey performed two songs from the album on Saturday Night Live on January 14, 2012, and received a negative response from various critics and the general public, who deemed the performance uneven and vocally shaky. She had earlier defended her spot on the program, saying: "I'm a good musician ... I have been singing for a long time, and I think that [SNL creator] Lorne Michaels knows that ... it's not a fluke decision."
Born to Die was released on January 31, 2012, worldwide, and reached number one in 11 countries, although critics were divided. The same week, she announced she had bought back the rights to her 2010 debut album and had plans to re-release it in the summer of 2012 under Interscope Records and Polydor. Contrary to Del Rey's press statement, her previous record label and producer David Kahne have both stated that she bought the rights to the album when she and the label parted company, due to the offer of a new deal, in April 2010.Born to Die sold 3.4 million copies in 2012, making it the fifth-best-selling album of 2012. In the United States, Born to Die charted on the Billboard 200 well into 2012, lingering at number 76, after 36 weeks on the chart.
In September 2012, Del Rey unveiled the JaguarF-Type at the Paris Motor Show. Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar's global brand director, explained their choice, saying Del Rey had "a unique blend of authenticity and modernity." She also recorded the song "Burning Desire", which appeared in a promotional short film for the vehicle. In late September 2012, a music video for Del Rey's cover version of "Blue Velvet" was released as a promotional single for the H&M 2012 autumn campaign, which Del Rey also modeled for in print advertising. On September 25, Del Rey released the single "Ride" in promotion of her upcoming EP, Paradise. She subsequently premiered the music video for "Ride" at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California on October 10, 2012. Some critics panned the video for being allegedly pro-prostitution and antifeminist, due to Del Rey's portrayal of a prostitute in a biker gang.
Paradise was released on November 12, 2012 as a standalone release, as well as Born to Die: The Paradise Edition, which combined Del Rey's previous album with the additional eight tracks on Paradise.Paradise marked Del Rey's second top 10 album in the United States, debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200 with 67,000 copies sold in its first week. It was also later nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. Del Rey received several nominations at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards in November and won the award for Best Alternative performer. At the Brit Awards in February 2013, she won the award for International Female Solo Artist, followed by two Echo Award wins, in the categories of Best International Newcomer and Best International Pop/Rock Artist.
In June 2013, Del Rey filmed Tropico, a musical short film paired to tracks from Paradise, directed by Anthony Mandler. Del Rey screened the film on December 4, 2013 at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. On December 6, the soundtrack was released on digital outlets.
2014-2016: Ultraviolence, Honeymoon, and film work
On January 26, 2014, Del Rey released a cover of "Once Upon a Dream" for the 2014 dark fantasy film Maleficent. Following the completion of Paradise, Del Rey began writing and recording her follow-up album, Ultraviolence, featuring production by Dan Auerbach.Ultraviolence was released on June 13, 2014, and debuted at number one in 12 countries, including the United States and United Kingdom. The album, which sold 880,000 copies worldwide in its first week, was preceded by the singles "West Coast", "Shades of Cool", "Ultraviolence", and "Brooklyn Baby". She began dating photographer Francesco Carrozzini after he directed Del Rey's music video for "Ultraviolence";the two broke up in November 2015 after more than a year. Del Rey described the album as being "more stripped down but still cinematic and dark," while some critics characterized the record as psychedelic and desert rock-influenced, more prominently featuring guitar instrumentation than her previous releases. Later that year, Del Rey contributed the songs "Big Eyes" and "I Can Fly" to Tim Burton's 2014 biographical film Big Eyes.
On February 9, 2016, Del Rey premiered a music video for the song "Freak" from Honeymoon at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Later that year, Del Rey collaborated with The Weeknd for his album Starboy (2016), providing backing vocals on "Party Monster" and lead vocals on "Stargirl Interlude". "Party Monster", which Del Rey also co-wrote, was released as a single and subsequently reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified double-platinum in the US.
2017-2019: Lust for Life and Norman Fucking Rockwell!
In January 2018, Del Rey announced that she was in a lawsuit with British rock band Radiohead over alleged similarities between their song "Creep" and her song "Get Free". Following her announcement, legal representatives from their label Warner/Chappell denied the lawsuit, as well as Del Rey's claims of the band asking for "100% of the song's royalties". Del Rey announced that summer while performing at Lollapalooza in Brazil the lawsuit was "over."
2020-present: Chemtrails over the Country Club, covers album, and poetry collections
In an interview for L'Officiels first American edition in early 2018, when asked about her interest in making a film, Del Rey responded that she had been approached to write a Broadway musical and had recently begun work on it. When asked how long it would be until completion of the work, she replied, "I may finish in two or three years."
In an interview with The Independent in 2019, Del Rey stated that she did not want to take a break between albums and confirmed that a new record titled White Hot Forever was slated for a 2020 release. She also announced that she would be contributing to the soundtrack of a new adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In September 2019, she began dating reality star Sean Larkin. The two broke up in March the next year.
After announcing a spoken word album in 2019, Del Rey released Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass and a corresponding spoken word album in 2020. The physical book was released on September 29 while the Jack Antonoff-produced audiobook was released on July 28. The spoken word poem "LA Who Am I to Love You" was released the day prior to the audiobook's release. On May 22, 2020, Del Rey announced a second book titled Behind the Iron Gates - Insights from the Institution would be released in March 2021.
In September 2020, Del Rey was featured on a remix of Matt Maeson's 2019 song "Hallucinogenics". The duo had previously performed the song together live in 2019.
During the summer, Del Rey announced her next studio album Chemtrails over the Country Club. The lead single, "Let Me Love You Like a Woman", was released on October 16. In November, Del Rey announced that Chemtrails over the Country Club would be delayed until March 2021 due to delay in vinyl manufacturing. She also announced that she'd release a digital record composed of "American standards and classics" on Christmas Day. The record will feature several songs recorded with Nikki Lane.
Upon her debut release, Del Rey's music was described as "Hollywood sadcore" by some music critics. It has been repeatedly noted for its cinematic sound and its references to various aspects of pop culture; both critics and Del Rey herself have noted a persistent theme of 1950s and 1960s Americana. The strong elements of American nostalgia brought Idolator to classify her firmly as alternative pop. Del Rey elaborated on her connection to the past in an interview with Artistdirect, saying "I wasn't even born in the '50s but I feel like I was there."
Del Rey's subsequent releases would introduce variant styles, particularly Ultraviolence, which employed a guitar-based sound akin to psychedelic and desert rock. Kenneth Partridge of Billboard noted this shift in style, writing: "She sings about drugs, cars, money, and the bad boys she's always falling for, and while there remains a sepia-toned mid-century flavor to many of these songs, [Del Rey] is no longer fronting like a thugged-out Bette Davis." Upon the release of Honeymoon, one reviewer characterized Del Rey's body of work as being "about music as a time warp, with her languorous croons over molasses-like arrangements meant to make clock hands seem to move so slowly that it feels possible, at times, they might go backwards."
Prior to coming to prominence under the stage name Lana Del Rey, she performed under the names Lizzy Grant, Lana Rey Del Mar, Sparkle Jump Rope Queen, and May Jailer. Under the stage name Lizzy Grant, she referred to her music as "Hawaiian glam metal", while the work of her May Jailer project was acoustic.
Del Rey possesses an expansive contraltovocal range, which spans three-plus octaves and has been described as captivating and highly emotive, ranging from high notes in a girlish timbre to jazzy ornaments in her lower gesture with great ease. Following the release of Ultraviolence, which was recorded live in single takes and lacking Pro Tools vocal editing, critics fell into favor with Del Rey's vocal ability, praising her large range, increased vocal confidence, and uniquely emotive delivery. When recording in the studio Del Rey is known for vocal multi-layering, which, as it has been noted, is difficult for her to replicate within a live setting, especially with the lack of backing singers to fill out the original vocal style. Stage fright has also been noted as a major contribution to Del Rey's struggles with live performances. However, journalists noted in 2014 that her live performances had increased in confidence. Billboard deemed the Coachella debut of "West Coast" to be a "star-making performance" and lauded the singer's vocal abilities. Contemporary music critics have called her voice "smoky", "gravelly", and reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. Upon the 2015 release of Honeymoon, her voice was compared by Los Angeles Times critic Mikael Wood to those of Julee Cruise and Eartha Kitt.
Del Rey started the use of her lower vocals on the tracks from Born to Die, claiming that "people weren't taking me very seriously, so I lowered my voice, believing that it would help me stand out. Now I sing quite low... well, for a female anyway". "I sing low now, but my voice used to be a lot higher. Because of the way I look, I needed something to ground the entire project. Otherwise I think people would assume I was some airhead singer. Well, I don't think... I know. I've sung one way, and sung another, and I've seen what people are drawn to", she said on the topic.
Videos and stage
Del Rey performing at Paradiso in Amsterdam in 2011
Del Rey's videos are also often characterized for their cinematic quality with a retro flair. In her early career, Del Rey recorded clips of herself singing along to her songs on a webcam and juxtaposed them alongside vintage home videos and films to serve as "homemade music videos", a style which helped gain her early recognition. After the success of these homemade videos, Del Rey had a series of high-budget music videos, including "Born To Die" and "National Anthem" (both 2012) and "Young and Beautiful" (2013). Her early videos featured her "bad girl", "gangster Nancy Sinatra" persona.
Her following videos for tracks such as "Summer Wine", "Carmen", and "Summertime Sadness" were all produced off of significantly lower budgets and retained more elements of Del Rey's earlier style. The Ultraviolence era incorporated an admixture of high budget videos and self-made ones, while the Honeymoon era was almost strictly film noir-influenced professionally-shot visuals. Both eras saw some of Del Rey's homemade videos for tracks such as "Pretty When You Cry" and "Honeymoon" go unreleased due to Del Rey's opinions they were "too boring". The Lust For Life era was widely characterized for its futuristic flare in its mildly filtered vintage-inspired look. For Norman Fucking Rockwell, Del Rey's sister, Chuck Grant, directed three of the videos in Del Rey's "homemade video" format, while Rich Lee directed the two follow-ups in a similar vintage but futuristic style, as he had the videos on Lust for Life.
Critics have noted Del Rey for her typically simple but authentic live performances. A September 2017 concert review published in The New York Times noted: "For more than an hour, Ms. Del Rey was eerily casual, singing and smiling with the ease of someone performing at singer-songwriter night at the local coffee shop." Another review by Roy Train published in The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 noted "a distance in her bonhomie, obvious even from my perch at the opposite end of the stage high above the fray, the chill still palpable."
Prior to the release of her debut major label album Born to Die in 2012, Del Rey was the subject of several articles discussing her image and career trajectory. One article by Paul Harris published by The Guardian a week before the album's release noted the differences between Del Rey's perceived persona in 2008, when she performed as Lizzy Grant, and in the present, as Lana Del Rey. Harris wrote:
The internet has allowed figures like [Del Rey] to come rapidly to the fore of the cultural landscape, whether or not their emergence is planned by a record executive or happens spontaneously from someone's bedroom. It has speeded up the fame cycle. It is worth noting that the huge backlash to Del Rey is happening before her first album has even been released. This reveals a cultural obsession with the "authenticity" that fans, artists and corporations all prize above all else.
Tony Simon, a producer who had worked with Del Rey in 2009, defended her against the public claims of inauthenticity and allegations that she was a product of her record label: "To be clear, all the detractors saying she's some made-up-by-the-machine pop star are full of shit. While it's impossible to keep the businesses' hands out the pop when creating a pop star, the roots of where this all comes from are firmly inside of Lizzy Grant." In Del Rey's own words, she "[n]ever had a persona. Never needed one. Never will."
In a 2017 interview, Del Rey stated, "I didn't edit myself [on Born to Die] when I could have, because a lot of it's just the way it was. I mean, because I've changed a lot and a lot of those songs, it's not that I don't relate but... A lot of it too is I was just kinda nervous. I came off sort of nervously, and there was just a lot of dualities, a lot of juxtapositions going on that maybe just felt like something was a little off. Maybe the thing that was off was that I needed a little more time or something, and also my path was just so windy just to get to having a first record. I feel like I had to figure it out all by myself. Every move was just guesswork."
Social views and controversies
Del Rey has stated that she is a practicing Roman Catholic and attends church. Having been labeled as antifeminist by multiple sources, Del Rey stated: "For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I'm more interested in ... SpaceX and Tesla, what's going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism ... I'm just not really that interested." She also said:
For me, a true feminist is someone who is a woman who does exactly what she wants. If my choice is to, I don't know, be with a lot of men, or if I enjoy a really physical relationship, I don't think that's necessarily being anti-feminist. For me the argument of feminism never really should have come into the picture. Because I don't know too much about the history of feminism, and so I'm not really a relevant person to bring into the conversation. Everything I was writing was so autobiographical, it could really only be a personal analysis.
In 2017, Del Rey further clarified her updated view on feminism in an interview with Pitchfork:
Because things have shifted culturally. It's more appropriate now than under the Obama administration, where at least everyone I knew felt safe. It was a good time. We were on the up-and-up... Women started to feel less safe under this administration instantly. What if they take away Planned Parenthood? What if we can't get birth control? Now, when people ask me those questions, I feel a little differently...
Del Rey has been critical of US President Donald Trump, voiced her support for the Me Too movement, and identified herself as a feminist; in 2020, she voiced her support for a third wave of feminism. However, in May of that year, she attracted criticism for an Instagram post defending herself against accusations of glamorizing abuse in part by pointing out an array of other female artists, mostly black, and their successes with works about "imperfect sexual relationships". Del Rey responded to the criticism about race being the theme of her post by saying that she mentioned the singers she did because she "[loves] these singers and [knows] them." She also clarified that she was referencing those "who don't look strong or necessarily smart, or like they're in control etc.," when she mentioned people "who look like [her]."
Del Rey attracted further criticism for posting a video of looters during the George Floyd protests in May 2020. In September, she was criticized by fans for wearing "a mask that seemingly offered little protection" during a poetry reading event amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Billboard credits Born to Diefor being one of the main catalysts for pop's mid-2010s shift from brash EDM to a moodier, hip-hop-inflected palette; they also argue that popular music in the 2010s wouldn't be the same without Del Rey.Billboard also stated that Del Rey has influenced both her peers and the next generation of alternative-leaning pop stars, such as Halsey, Banks, Sky Ferreira, Father John Misty, Sia, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. Swift has called Del Rey her favorite lyricist. Similarly, Vice suggests that "it's hard to imagine an Eilish, a Lorde, or a Halsey" without Del Rey. In 2019, Billboard included Del Rey's song "Born to Die" as one of the 100 songs that defined the 2010s, adding that it influenced "a sonic shift that completely changed the pop landscape".
The Washington Post listed Del Rey as the only musician on their "Decade of Influence" list.Pitchfork named her the next best American songwriter.The Guardian declared Del Rey's own "pure female haze" a "hallmark of the defiant female pop stars to come". She has also been praised as one of the best songwriters in the United States by Bruce Springsteen.
^Hiatt, Brian (July 18, 2014). "Lana Del Rey - The Saddest, Baddest Diva in Rock". Rolling Stone (1212): 44. Del Rey is four days away from her 29th birthday (for reasons she can't explain, she's usually reported to be a year younger), but looks, at the moment, like a college junior home for the summer.; Jackson, Ron (July 4, 2008). "July 4, 2008 Post". Domain Name Journal. Archived from the original on July 25, 2014. Retrieved 2014.; "Girl, Interrupted: Lizzy Grant Becomes Lana Del Rey". Blurt. 2009. Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. Retrieved 2014.
^ ab"Sex, Lies, and Lana Del Rey". Maxim. Archived from the original on November 28, 2014. Retrieved 2014. Lana Del Rey is America's sultriest and edgiest pop-music sensation ... [and] America's most enigmatic, controversial, and seductive rock star.