The Story of Lana Del Rey
One of America’s Best Living Songwriters
March 29, 2023
When Elizabeth Grant, otherwise known as Lana Del Rey, released her debut album “Born to Die” to store shelves in 2012, critics were polarized. Unlike the anthemic tunes of the era that promoted female empowerment and self discovery, Grant’s approach to songwriting was a complete departure from this established norm, as many of her songs followed the viewpoint of a battered and lonely woman yearning for male validation and to be completed by another person. The Observer called it a feminist nightmare, and YouTube’s arguably most popular critic, Anthony Fantano, rated the album a staggering three out of ten. It was called bland, whiny, and an offensive portrayal of femininity and womanhood as a whole.
Fast forward years later, and Grant is seen prancing the Grammys’ red carpet in heavy anticipation of the prestigious award show. Her then recent album, “Norman F***ing Rockwell,” was nominated for a Grammy. After years of backlash, shifts in sound, and personal growth, Grant had finally released her magnum opus to overwhelming acclaim; Anthony Fantano had given it an eight this time, and it populated dozens of “Best-Of” lists following the end of the year.
Even when Grant was most vulnerable to the fervor of angry critics, “Born to Die” had sold millions of copies all over the world. The album itself took heavy inspiration from Old Hollywood, appropriating popular female archetypes such as the Femme Fatale and the Damsel in Distress to weave haunting ballads about the melancholies of womanhood. Under the soulful timbre of her mournful vocals was a sudden intensity that gave each word she sang a pulsating billow of electricity unprecedented by other mainstream artists at the time. There was a richness in the depths her voice could go to; sometimes it was soft spoken and yearning, other times playful.
Topping this off was the visual lexicon that would accompany her music videos and promotional material; the album cover was a clear reference to the fashion of women from the 50’s and 60’s, complete with a stunning red lipstick and curled hair. In a time where artists were constantly looking to the future, Grant had introduced that era of mainstream media to feelings of ennui, contemplation, nostalgia, and self hatred which would continue to spread with artists such as Lorde, Melanie Martinez, or Billie Eilish in their respective debuts.
After years of controversy and continued critical scrutiny, she’d win the heart of both listeners and critics with “Norman F***ing Rockwell”, the perfect synthesis of Grant’s previous thematic and sonic trademarks. It was for this reason, alongside Grant’s matured songwriting and vocal prowess, that it was considered one of the best albums of 2019. Even with all of the harassment and anger she aroused with her controversial music, Grant has pushed boundaries and taught female artists that it’s not only important to discuss an emotion, but to feel it with all of their hearts in the music they write.
Shearer, John. Lana Del Rey. Getty Images, https://t3.gstatic.com/licensed-image?q=tbn:ANd9GcT_oArDb7oBeUFbZCJY0ehs7O2fPBcN5mk-lyZ0iDQh8OakYmdsYq76AyQEzrQlcxpwf96o4WY_VlUhTfk.
2019 Music Year End List Aggregate. https://www.albumoftheyear.org/list/summary/2019.
“BORN TO DIE by LANA DEL REY Sales and Awards – BestSellingAlbums.org.” BestSellingAlbums.org, 16 Oct. 2021, https://bestsellingalbums.org/album/25846.
catiewahwah. “Born to Die – Lana Del Rey (the Record Review).” YouTube, 14 Mar. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVMgTa6yUZo.
theneedledrop. “Lana Del Rey – Norman [Fricking] Rockwell! ALBUM REVIEW.” YouTube, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fewwAkSrCw.
—. “Lana Del Rey- Born to Die ALBUM REVIEW.” YouTube, 30 Jan. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzyin0buNks.