I hate to wax poetic, but as someone who distinctly remembers having to defend her to my peers in the 8th grade, back in 2012/13, and how she was the punchline of many media-outlets—it makes me uniquely emotional seeing the praise and the deep-rooted respect she is given now in 2023. Seeing headlines like “Lana Del Rey forgives us” and reading articles like this tell me what I always knew about her, and in a way, they validate the little boy who was made fun of for liking her and who felt the need to hide who he really was. Maybe one day I’ll forgive them too
Yesss! I was always confused on the meaning of that particular couple of lines “clutch of the wrist…” and this puts it all into perspective. I know she doesn’t want to talk about the meaning behind her songs or lyrics but I’d die to get all the backstories and little details that inspired her music throughout her career.
sidenote: I love how cheeky she got when she asked the interviewer about asking her messy questions like if she was married, she’s very playful!
agreed, sometimes simpler lyricism and something that’s easier to listen to is nice
also.. when the interviewer mentioned she plans on writing an album of standards… i wonder if he misunderstood her when she was talking about doing an album covering standards orrr? if she genuinely just wants to create an album of like, her own standards…
Pop’s greatest enigma opens up about God, Glastonbury, her private life — and answers her ‘jerk-off’ critics
by Jonathan Dean
Lana Del Rey’s great-uncle Dick was so dazed the night before he died that he accidentally grabbed the singer’s wrist and coughed into her hand. “I just cried,” she recalls in her soft, airy American twang.
She was at his home at a vigil alongside 30 members of her extended family. “I shouldn’t have been the one crying,” she says. “The people around me were his children — I’m just this star who walked in.”
Then suddenly everyone started singing the old folk song Froggy Went a-Courtin’ — once covered by Bob Dylan — in a 13-part harmony. “It was a pivotal moment because I realised that they could sing as well as I do, but I just happen to be the one who made it. That was the missing piece I needed. I felt part of a very wide network, a grain of sand on the beach.”
So did the experience bring this star back to earth? “Yes!” she says. She laughs loudly, before slipping into the third person. “And for Lana Del Rey to be levelled out is a f***ing miracle!”
It is evening when I arrive at a sweet suburban house on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. This is where Del Rey comes to “decompress” after touring, instead of at home in Los Angeles. The singer, whose ninth album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, is our album of the year, welcomes me with an explanation of the overpowering scent inside: “I have burnt a heavy sage!” She really has. This quiet sanctuary, filled with guitars, vintage chess sets and magazines about Jackie Kennedy, smells strongly of the herb that people use for good energy and relaxation. Her sitting room is certainly full of the latter.
Darkness falls beyond the candlelight as Del Rey, 38, settles back on the sofa, wearing a white cardigan, crucifix necklace, tight jeans and cowboy boots, smoking a vape. It all feels very intimate as our conversation meanders. She talks about her ancestors in the American Civil War — “It didn’t go well for them” — and a close relative who died just before Del Rey had to sing privately for the Prince of Monaco. “I invite his spirit every night to come sit next to me,” she says. “I think that’s real …”
I leave more than two hours later, after a revealing, sometimes odd and frequently funny conversation with the 27th most-listened-to pop star on Spotify. Singing aside, what is she best at? Talking — “I’m rambling! — about life, death and fame. What is she scared of? “God, I see a spider!” What is she not great at? Ordering coffees on her app. One order is cancelled; another sits on the porch after she misses the notification. “Am I an idiot?” She opens the door to two cold coffees.
Del Rey is an anomaly. Those Spotify numbers mean she’s now more popular than Harry Styles and Beyoncé. Yet most of her songs are ballads hailing from a different era — Hollywood in the 1950s, say, or Mad Men 1960s. Her music is better suited for a sad journey home than a big night out. Just check out the video Elders Read Lana Del Rey’s Hit Songs on YouTube and watch pensioners enraptured by her songs — one old man says in awe: “Younger people are listening to that?”
What is more baffling is that her songs on Did You Know … are even further removed from the present crop of algorithm-led factory pop. Her latest tracks are complex, personal (Great-Uncle Dick pops up on one) and, frankly, incredibly long, often stretching well over five minutes. “It’s weird,” she admits of her ever-increasing popularity. “It’s not necessarily what I saw coming!”
Last month Did You Know … secured five Grammy nominations, while Del Rey was announced as the headliner for the 2024 Reading Festival, after the success of big gigs in London and Glastonbury over the summer, where the age of her devoted crowd ranged from teenaged up to, yes, a surprising number of seventysomethings.
To find out how Del Rey got here, let us go back to the start. Not to the open-mike nights in her early twenties — “awkward when nobody listens” — but to when Del Rey was 26 and her game-changing single Video Games was released. It was a song that drivers would pull over to listen to — a classic of love and longing.
Other hits followed quickly, but some people had an issue. Del Rey was born Elizabeth Grant and released music as Lizzy Grant before having the gall to change her name and adopt a new, sultry femme fatale persona steeped in the iconography of American pin-ups and the silver screen.
Many pop stars — Bowie! Elton! Eminem! — reinvent themselves, but purists fell over each to denounce the new-look Del Rey as a fraud, an industry construct and fake feminist. This criticism got to her. “I will never sing again,” she laments in Swan Song, released four years after the giddy heights of Video Games.
“When I hear Swan Song now I think, ‘Oh girl, they brought you to that point. That sucks for you,’” Del Rey says with a sigh. “I get dressed up for my shows while some folks don’t. For some reason that was a problem. I had books thrown at me in San Francisco by liberal female groups. I’ve been punched in the face in Brooklyn. Ten years ago, mentally I badly needed some beauty to come out of the chaos. For something to make sense.” She sighs again. “I’ve been on guard for so long.”
On guard from whom? “Jerk-offs!” she yells. “F***ing narcissists! Take that cotton out of your ears and stuff it in your mouth.” Naysayers insisted Del Rey did not mean a word she sang. “Listen,” she says angrily. “You can hear I mean it. You might not know what I am getting at, but wouldn’t you be curious to know? Maybe you could learn something? Or just listen to someone else.”
“I don’t need positive feedback,” she continues. “But you cannot just make things up.” She mentions wealth. An early column in The Guardian called her father a millionaire — something she refutes. “It’s crazy if you say something that’s tabloid-psycho untrue about me but I can’t get a word in? Congratulations! You’re going to ruin how people listen to my music.”
There is a lot of talk today about pop stars and their mental health. How did she cope when it wasn’t much discussed ? “Well, you really have to take care of yourself,” she says, somewhat sadly. “Because putting your faith in the public is like building your house in the sand. They’ll turn and turn. I’ve experienced that in all parts of my life. People reveal sides of themselves years after you meet, so you have to ground yourself all the way down to your knees …
“But, back then, it is no wonder I felt I did not have a voice in a particular movement — they quieted me.”
Does she still think she would not be taken seriously if she wanted to speak out or get political? “That was then,” Del Rey says firmly. “I couldn’t do anything. Singing about a boyfriend, playing a video game and chilling out? That’s a joke, dude. I’d have looked stupid. Now I would feel pretty confident, and I do feel passionately about Black Lives Matter and women’s issues. Now I’m not afraid. But I was. I read what they said about me: ‘Do not step forward. Do not pass Go.’ ”
She shrugs. “But I’ve been trying and trying,” she says about writing more political songs. Four years ago she wrote a one-off single, Looking for America, with her regular producer Jack Antonoff, in response to a spate of mass shootings in the US. The impact of the shootings “just hit us”, she says with a nod. “We all sat at the back of cinemas for a while so we could be by the exit.
“And there were seven political songs on one album and nobody cared,” she adds, referring to 2017’s Lust for Life. “For instance, When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing. I talked about Trump and the worry of him having his finger on the red button. But the problem, right now, is there is just such a lot going on.”
Did You Know … largely skips politics, and writing it made her nervous. The lyrics deal with death, ageing and when she might become a mother. (The singer’s relationship status remains something of a rumour.) Throughout you can hear her early detractors, who wondered how “real” she was, being forced to scoff humble pie. It plays like autobiography. The singer is remembering people, while wondering if she will be remembered.
Del Rey was born in Manhattan and raised in Lake Placid in upstate New York. Her father, Rob, worked in various businesses before finding his success with domain names. Her mother, Patricia, was a teacher. It was a Roman Catholic family and Del Rey, one of three siblings, was a worried child. Indeed she was so concerned about the meaning of life and death that she studied philosophy at university. “I was trying to help myself,” she says of her degree. “I was constantly reading and applying what I learnt to figure out how we got here. That has been in me since I was three!”
“There were things that bothered me at a young age,” she continues. “Like what does it mean if people come into the world as quadriplegics while people say that everything plays out the way it should? Or when you meet people who are severely sociopathic and think, ‘How’s God fitting into all this?’ I’m still trying to figure out the bigger questions.”
It is fast approaching midnight. “I’m not saying I’m going to answer,” she begins, mischievously, as we start wrapping up, “but did you have a horrible question you were going to ask me?” Not really, I say; we’ve covered enough. “You could’ve said, ‘Are you married?’ Why didn’t you?!” Do you want me to ask? “No!” She takes a beat. “But no, I’m not!” She bursts out laughing.
I ask about Glastonbury. Booked to headline the Other Stage this year, Del Rey turned up late and was cut off before she could even play Video Games. On stage the singer said her hair took a while to perfect, while the crowd were left stunned and disappointed.
“I’ve heard of curfews before,” she explains. “But I didn’t know they actually turned the lights off! I didn’t feel great about it, but I was a little confused because I don’t think I was ever in a position where somebody said, ‘If you do not finish by this time, everything will go out.’ I was only 15 minutes late.”
She will simply have to come back another year to headline the Pyramid Stage, because, for someone obsessed with her own legacy, it feels as if she is edging closer to her idols, who now talk of her as a peer. Stevie Nicks adores her. Joan Baez invites her to dance parties on Zoom. “She just creates a world of her own and invites you in,” Bruce Springsteen gushes.
Did You Know … is a beautiful but intense album — like having a therapy session on a Californian beach. But what comes next for her? “I’m tired now,” Del Rey admits. “So keeping it simple is probably the way that it’s going to go. I dug around a lot writing this [album] and don’t think I have to go there again.”
As such, she has plans to write an album of standards — classic, simple songs that could reach even more people than she does now. A bit like the gorgeous, piano-led cover of Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver that she released on Friday, or the Elvis Presley version of Unchained Melody that she recorded at Graceland for a Christmas TV show. She is a star who not only finally feels understood, but also finally understands.
“That’s why God didn’t give me children yet,” she says tenderly about what may or may not come next. “Because there is more to explore. I know people who’ve tested every water. It’s burnt them, like Icarus. But I’m willing to go there. I see it coming for me. We’ll see.” She is speaking quickly now, excitedly. “We’ll see what melts the wings.”