By Mia Sarzynska
One of the biggest artists of this generation is a woman named Elizabeth Grant, but most people know her as Lana Del Rey. She has influenced millions of people, especially young women, who relate to Rey’s romantic style and the many different experiences she sings about. Her voice and creativity creates vulnerable and emotional music that is hard to find anywhere else. She also touches on her perception of the “American Dream,” in her music and reveals many essential questions people face about identity, society, and purpose.
Rey grew up in Lake Placid, a small village outside of New York City. Her parents originally lived and worked in the city, but moved upstate shortly after she was born. Speculation on whether or not Rey had a “good” childhood was prevalent in the early years of her career. She claimed that she struggled a lot growing up, but people began to think otherwise when they found out that she was the daughter of a very wealthy man, Rob Grant.
As a young girl, Rey was enrolled in a Catholic school and choir, which struck her passion for music at an early age. However, in her teenage years, she struggled with many pressing questions about the world, and she would often get lost in a spiral of thinking about the future. Alongside this, she developed a large fear of death. Because of this, Rey turned to alcohol, and was eventually sent to a boarding school. This helped her gain sobriety, but would later lead her to experiment with an alternative: music.
In 2010, she released her first album, “Lana Del Rey a.k.a Lizzy Grant,” but it did poorly. Rey was 24 and realized that if she did not do something soon, she would not make it in the music industry. So, she decided to drop the “Grant,” and embrace the stage name of “Lana Del Rey” to match her vintage Hollywood feel. She created a new persona that she hoped the media would fall in love with, and it worked. Her romantic glamour evoked feelings of the 50s and 60s and shaped her artistic image. In 2012, she released her first album, Born to Die, under her new name, and it immediately blew up. This album is still her most popular album to date. The existence of sadder lyrics in the mainstream media was largely unheard of until the mid-2010s, so Rey helped begin a sort of lyrical revolution.
Rey’s albums have been marked with different aesthetics, visually and lyrically. Born to Die is a pop-eccentric album because of Rey’s various productions in her lyrics. Rey may sing each song on the album upbeat, but underneath, her lyrics reveal heavy matters like being attracted to older men and to drugs. It is music that is easy for the media to consume while also having some edge to it, so some see it as “alternative pop.” After the success of Born to Die, she created a reissue called Born to Die: The Paradise Edition. This extension had a bold and freeing feel but stayed true to the original tracks. However, once Rey released Ultraviolence in 2014, her fans began to understand even more of Rey’s life and personality. She went from being a one-hit-wonder to becoming one of the most influential artists of our time. She took her beautiful vocals and used them to transform an album that talks more about the dark and ugly parts of life than she had before. While Honeymoon, released in 2015, did not profit as much success as her first two albums, Rey continued to diversify her singing style. This album is filled with romantic, dramatic, and fiery lyrics while staying true to her poetic tone of voice.
Lust for Life continued this legacy in 2017. It contained several collaborations with major artists like Stevie Nicks, A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and The Weeknd. With a combination of so many incredible artists, Rey constructed a phenomenal album that had so many layers to it, including political references and futuristic components, while still keeping her nostalgic style. After releasing five albums over the past couple of years, Rey released her best production yet, Norman F***ing Rockwell, in 2019. It is embedded with emotion and authenticity and reveals extreme evolution in her career. She goes from glamourizing many cliche things to diving into an emotional rollercoaster of the true meaning behind identity.
It’d be hard to top an album like this, but that was not at all Rey’s intention when releasing Chemtrails over the Country Club in 2021, Rey’s most unique piece of work yet. She speaks a lot about America’s neurosis and how fame has influenced her life with a beautiful blend of country and folk. Many turn a blind eye to this album, but it is truly a beautiful work of serenity and growth. Rey, from the beginning, has not cared much for what society has said about her. So despite negative reviews on her newer music, she still released another album that same year. Her most recent album, also a 2021 release, is Blue Banisters. A mix of alternative, folk, and jazz compositions, this album is entangled with rawness and personal experience, making the listener feel connected to Rey. Her philosophical tone created one of the best but underrated albums of her career. Personally, Rey conjures many strong emotions through her music, and it really captivates the listener. Her music makes you feel less alone in a society that often pushes down women who have stronger opinions about the world. Of course, not every experience she sings about is relatable, but the way she expresses it makes you understand exactly what she is saying.
Rey has been involved with different kinds of social work apart from her music. In 2019, Rey released the song “Looking for America,” which is a raw and reflective piece on America. A few lines that she sings are, “I’m still looking for my own version of America. One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly. No bombs in the sky, only fireworks when you and I collide. It’s just a dream I had in mind.” She fittingly donated all the proceeds to charities supporting victims of recent mass shootings. Then in 2020, Rey donated $350,000 to provide clean water to the Navajo Nation. The money she donated was an advance payment that she gained for her latest poetry book. She stated, “I personally have always believed in personal reparations to give back to the people who have shaped our land.”
However, it is no secret that Rey has been through many controversies throughout the years. The media has bashed her music for romanticizing drugs, abuse, and death. Still, she has spoken out about her music and stated, “I’ve been honest about the challenging relationships I’ve had,” she said. “That’s just how it is for many women.” She continues by saying, “The kind of woman who says no but men hear yes; the kind of women who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate selves; the kind of women who get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women or by men who hate women.” It is clear that Rey stays true to what she sings about, and she is actively aware of what she is saying. Her point is more than valid, especially in a society that shames her for being honest about many abusive relationships she has been in but holds double standards for other women in the industry.
This ties back to a letter she posted on Instagram, about four months after she attended the Grammys. She wrote about the industry and how she is fed up with critics shaming her while preaching to women in pop culture that sing about similar things. She explicitly names Ariana Grande, Cardi B, Camilla Cabello, Nicki Minaj, and Beyonce. She says, “I’m fed up with female writers and alt singers saying that I glamourize abuse,” she continued, “when in reality I’m just a glamorous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world.”
Even after everything that has happened, Lana Del Rey has remained a prominent figure in the music industry. She has proved time after time that she is here to stay. Her collection of phenomenal vocals, beautiful poetry, and classic visuals has shaped her into one of the most influential artists. Rey was never afraid to discuss topics that other mainstream artists would not touch, and in the process, she became a muse for younger generations and overall pop culture. Artists like this are once in a lifetime.