Who Is Lana Del Rey?
Lana Del Rey makes vulnerable, emotional pop music that often incorporates nostalgia for America's past. Del Rey first performed under her real name of Lizzy Grant but found fame as Lana Del Rey in 2011 with a homemade music video for the song "Video Games." After "Video Games" became a viral hit, Del Rey was criticized for a lack of authenticity; she's also been called out for songs that sometimes feature female submissiveness and self-destruction. She has an extensive fanbase and has sold millions of albums, with 2014's Ultraviolence and 2017's Lust for Life both landing at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Del Rey was born as Elizabeth Woolridge Grant on June 21, 1985, in New York City. Del Rey's parents were working in advertising in New York City when she was born, but left that life behind to move to Lake Placid, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains when Del Rey was a baby. She grew up with a younger brother and sister. Her sister, photographer Caroline "Chuck" Grant, shot the Lust for Life album cover and has taken promotional photos of Del Rey.
As a teenager in the small community of Lake Placid, Del Rey started drinking heavily. She'd attended Catholic school, but her parents sent her to Kent School, a boarding school in Connecticut, because of her drinking.
Boarding school wasn't a complete cure, but by the age of 18, Del Rey was sober. Instead of attending college right away, she went to live with her aunt and uncle on Long Island; her uncle taught her to play guitar. Though Del Rey soon enrolled at Fordham University in the Bronx, where she studied philosophy, music became her true focus.
Del Rey, then still known as Lizzy Grant, started her career with open mic nights and club gigs. In 2006, she entered a songwriting competition; she didn't win, but a judge on the panel helped her create a demo, which led to her signing with the indie label 5 Points. With the $10,000 she earned for this deal, Del Rey moved into a New Jersey trailer park.
Becoming Lana Del Rey
By the time her first album came out, Del Rey had decided she wanted to work under a new name. She flirted with names like Sparkle Rope Jump Queen and May Jailer before settling on Lana Del Rey, which was selected on a trip to Miami in part for its evocation of coastal glamour.
Del Rey got back the rights to her first album so as to avoid confusion with her new name. She also dyed her blonde hair and adopted a more retro, glamorized image — at one point describing herself as "gangster Nancy Sinatra." Living in London and focused on songwriting, she produced what became the viral hit "Video Games."
The news that Del Rey had signed with the label Interscope made some wonder if "Video Games" was a marketing ploy and not a video she'd created herself. There was also speculation that her father was a millionaire who'd bankrolled her (Del Rey has said her family was never wealthy). In 2012, Del Rey appeared on Saturday Night Live and was criticized for looking nervous and singing hesitantly. However, her first studio album was still a success, as were subsequent releases.
'AKA Lizzy Grant'
Before Del Rey adopted the professional moniker of Lana Del Rey, she made an album titled Lana Del Ray AKA Lizzy Grant (spelling Ray with an "a," not an "e"). It came out in 2010, but the digital release was only available for a couple of months.
'Born to Die'
Del Rey's first major-label album was Born to Die, which came out in 2012. Though critics didn't embrace the album, it reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, sold more than 7 million copies worldwide and has been certified platinum by the RIAA. 2012 also saw the release of the Grammy-nominated EP Paradise, which contained the songs "Ride" and "Cola."
Del Rey's Ultraviolence (2014), featured atmospheric ballads like "Pretty When You Cry," "Sad Girl" and "West Coast," and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It's also been certified platinum. Before its release, Del Rey redid the completed album with producer Dan Auerbach, using single takes and cheap microphones instead of professional equipment.
2015 saw the arrival of the dark, critically praised Honeymoon. Del Rey has described the album as "a tribute to Los Angeles." She moved to California in 2012 and says it's a place where she's found more musical collaborators than in New York. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and landed at No. 1 in countries like Australia and Ireland.
'Lust for Life'
In 2017, Del Rey released Lust for Life. Though there are still dark tunes on the album, songs like "Love" gave it a more upbeat tone than earlier Del Rey projects, while tracks like "Coachella - Woodstock in My Mind" take the day's politics into account. It's also the first Del Rey album with guest artists, including The Weeknd on "Lust for Life," Stevie Nicks on "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems" and Sean Ono Lennon on "Tomorrow Never Came." The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
'Norman F*****g Rockwell'
In September 2018, Del Rey released two singles from her upcoming sixth studio album, the pensive "Mariners Apartment Complex" and more expansive "Venice Bitch." She followed in January 2019 with "Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It," originally named after troubled American poet Sylvia Plath, before dropping a dreamy cover of Sublime's "Doing Time" in May. The album, Norman F*****g Rockwell arrived at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 following its August 2019 debut, with "The Greatest" and the title track also earning releases as singles before the end of the year.
Notable Songs and Videos
Del Rey's work isn't made up of numerous radio hits, but she's created songs and videos that have received more than a billion views on YouTube. Her aesthetic often pairs American iconography with darker perspectives.
The viral hit "Video Games" mixed vintage footage, old cartoons, Hollywood imagery, an unsteady Paz de la Huerta outside the Chateau Marmont and shots of Del Rey herself. "Blue Jeans," which came out after "Video Games," was another popular DIY video.
The video for "Born to Die" was a much more elaborate affair. It included two tigers and evoked Rebel Without a Cause with its car wreck ending. For the "National Anthem" video, Del Rey portrayed both Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Marilyn Monroe, alongside rapper A$AP Rocky's John F. Kennedy.
Del Rey also earned attention for the August 2019 release of "Looking for America," with lyrics like "I'm still looking for my own version of America/One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly" inspired by the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Success and Other Projects
Success brought Del Rey new opportunities. She modeled for H&M and a Mulberry signature handbag — "The Del Rey" — was created for her. In 2013, she made a short film called Tropico, as well as a Tropico EP. That year, Cedric Gervais made an EDM remix of her "Summertime Sadness" that went platinum.
In 2014, Del Rey went to the Palace of Versailles to sing at the pre-wedding dinner for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Her setlist included "Young and Beautiful," "Summertime Sadness" and "Blue Jeans." Her song "Big Eyes" for the 2014 Tim Burton film of the same name was nominated for a Golden Globe, and Del Rey sang an updated "Once Upon a Dream" for the movie Maleficent (2014).
Del Rey toured with Courtney Love in 2015 and inspired James Franco and a co-author to write Flip-Side: Real and Imaginary Conversations With Lana Del Rey (2016). In 2018, Del Rey participated in a big U.S. tour. She attended the 2018 Met Gala alongside Jared Leto while sporting a halo with wings and a dress with knives sticking out of a gold heart.
Yet success also has its pitfalls: Del Rey's house was broken into, and in February 2018, a man was arrested at a concert in Orlando, Florida, for plotting to kidnap the singer. And Del Rey's computer was hacked in 2012, exposing personal information and unreleased songs, many of which have spread online.
Del Rey has received six Grammy Award nominations. Lust for Life was nominated as Best Pop Vocal Album. Del Rey collaborated on a song for The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness, which was given a Grammy nod for Album of the Year. Del Rey's Paradise EP was nominated as Best Pop Vocal Album, while her song "Young And Beautiful," for the 2013 movie The Great Gatsby, was nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media. The artist picked up two more nominations in late 2019, with Norman F*****g Rockwell earning a nod for Album of the Year and the title track landing in the Song of the Year category.
The song "Ultraviolence" featured the controversial line "He hit me and it felt like a kiss"; in 2017, Del Rey said she's no longer comfortable with the lyric.
Early the following year, it was revealed that Radiohead asked for some of the publishing rights to Del Rey's "Get Free" due to similarities to their hit song "Creep."
Del Rey came under fire for a May 2020 Instagram post in which she cited Ariana Grande, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé as singers who "have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f------, cheating, etc" and asked why she was being condemned for "glamorizing abuse." Critics wondered why she was singling out women of color, and pointed out that the other artists named in her post had also endured plenty of negative comments.
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