Lana Del Rey: Beyond The Image

Lizzy Grant or May Jailer? Elizabeth Woolridge or Sparkle Jump Rope Queen? Whatever name or style you know her as Lana Del Rey is an impactful singer who continues to influence fans and femmes with her music. Lana had her first breakthrough with her EP ‘Born to Die’, which quickly rose to the world’s 5th best-selling album list back in 2012. From the beginning, Lana Del Rey held a glamour reminiscent of ‘Old Hollywood’ that enchanted producers and audiences immediately. Her lyrics romanticized pop culture of the golden age 1950s-1970s and contained a cinematic quality when she sang about tragic love or heartbreak. Some of my favorite songs are ‘Caught You Boy’ and ‘West Coast’, which lure you with dark lyrics and ‘alt-pop’ chords. I think most Lana Del Rey fans hold the same mentality as the artist, this romanticization of life and aesthetics through music, and those feelings and ideas make her such an icon.

I first heard about Lana Del Rey around 2014. Imagine a pre-teen nerdy girl wearing high-top Converse boots and a flower crown. Being on Tumblr and discovering Lana’s music was the first time I explored an online space and got to speak to other girls with the same interests I had. It was the beginning of technology taking off and changing how we communicated with each other, and in a way it strengthened a lot of fanbases of the time. I remember being inspired by the ‘Video Games’ music video, where Lana compiled clips of herself singing in her bedroom edited and mixed with aesthetic clips of vintage cartoons and movie stars. It inspired me because Lana was trying to create a DIY homemade project with this vintage ‘Americana’ aesthetic that I loved, and I began recreating myself. For me, Lana Del Rey pioneered an aesthetic of creativity, she ended up influencing many young fans like myself, and it fueled so much of my interest in feminist poetry and vintage art today. 

Lana grew up as Elizabeth Woolridge Grant and went by Lizzy Grant as a common nickname and stage name. Around 2006 is when ‘Lizzy Grant’ began performing frequently at bars, often playing the persona of ‘May Jailer’ and ‘Sparkle Jump Rope Queen’ for jokes. I say “playing a persona” because you can find clips of her on YouTube performing in these early days, singing taboo song lyrics with bright blonde hair and being authentically chaotic. Her music at this time can only be described as a story that tells about love, heartbreak, and the cruelty of girlhood. There’s something beautiful and raw about the lyrics and overall simple/low-budget production.

It wasn’t until 2008 though when Lizzy got signed for a record deal, moved to New Jersey, and began experimenting with her early sound. She describes her music at this time as heavily inspired by her environment and, “black and white, famous like Coney Island and like a sad party” as Lana poetically put it in a ‘Repeat Fanzine’ article from 2010. I feel like that quote right there just says everything about her music, because it does sound famous or glamorous in a way- while also sounding like a sad pity party. Her early music has to be praised for how easily she can shift genres and make us feel. One of her older sounds is called ‘She’s Not Me’ a ‘gothic-pop’ club tune released in 2012, versus ‘Cola’ which is an instrumentally insane operatic ballad from the same year.MOMOM. ‘Lizzy Grant’ was very much inspired by Elvis and The Beach Boys, flamingos, and Marilyn Monroe, and this era in her discography cultivated the ‘Americana/trailer park’ aesthetic. It wasn’t officially until 2010 though that her first album was released as Lana Del Ray AKA Lizzy Grant, the name inspired by legendary 1940s sex symbol Lana Turner and the Ford Del Ray automobile, which from this point on became her stage name.

Lana Del Rey is known for her haunting lyricism and ‘coquette’ aesthetic, but an interesting thing about Lana is how much of her music is unreleased and unfinished. A lot of the music we hear of Lana now is from TikTok sounds and trends, a lot of those sounds though are unreleased/scrapped works or leaked projects. The biggest that comes to mind for me is ‘Ridin’, a collaboration with A$AP Rocky and Lana which had recorded clips and previews, yet was never released since it was leaked by fans. ‘For K Part II’ is another interesting unreleased song, which yes, all of these unreleased songs have several different versions lost somewhere on the internet. One of her most controversial tunes, ‘Lolita’ has over 5 demo tracks that were released by fans. In a way, this leak of demos and alternate tracks can give fans a look into the process of a popular musician’s creation. But if you continue, the Lana Del Rey unreleased catalog rabbit hole eventually just gets deeper you begin to wonder, how did this happen? Back in 2012 at the beginning of her career, an external hard drive of material was accessed by a group of hackers, leading to the release of over 200 songs. Lana overall doesn’t seem to mind the leak for most songs, even continuing to go back into production with her old songs and release the finished version. Take her recent song A&W, the tune heard at the end being created from a demo track from over a decade ago. Lana’s creativity continues to impress fans, and the album’s messages continue to show that.

Taking a look back now that I’ve grown out of my angsty Tumblr phase, I realize that I still hold a genuine appreciation and love for Lana’s music. Her album releases introduce a rush of creativity of ‘aesthetic’ for fans to continue to contribute to on Pinterest or their Fan pages. Each of her albums through her discography seems to always have a very unique theme and vibe but follows a similar overall message of ‘vintage’ and ‘romanticization’. For example, her album ‘Lust for Life’ is adored for its 1970s hippie aesthetic, and her album ‘Born to Die’ is described as a more ‘Americana-red lipstick-Hollywood’ aesthetic. It is interesting to hear how these new albums continue to inspire her still active and large fanbase. Behind all the glamour though, Lana Del Rey has definitely inspired a lot of fans and shaped femininity in the community. I remember discovering her at a time when I was not comfortable with my sexuality, my feminity, or myself at all. But in some weird way, her music made these new emotions feel important, and life feel as glamorous and dramatic as it was at the time. Her lyrics express womanhood and vulnerability so easily, and she brings the perspective of a very profound self-awareness which she communicates artistically. I can’t relate to 99% of the experiences or scandals she sometimes writes about, but the cinematic nature of the music lets you escape reality for a bit.

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