The Young, Beautiful, and Sad

Staff Writer: Hannah Johnson

Elizabeth Woolridge Grant born June 21, 1985, known professionally as Lana Del Rey, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, poet and music video director. Her music has been noted by critics for its stylized cinematic quality, its preoccupation with themes of tragic romance, glamour, and melancholia, and its references to pop culture, particularly 1950s and 1960s Americana. 

Raised in Upstate New York, Del Rey moved to New York City in 2005 to embark on her music career. Following numerous projects including her debut studio album and the unreleased Sirens, Del Rey’s breakthrough came after the viral success of her single “Video Games” in 2011. She then signed with Interscope and Polydor later that year. Her major label debuts Born to Die 2012 proved an international success and spawned her first top-ten single on the Billboard Hot 100 with the Cedric Gervais remix of “Summertime Sadness”. Since, Del Rey has released the US Billboard 200 number-one albums Ultraviolence 2014 and Lust for Life 2017, along with top-ten releaseParadise 2012 and Honeymoon 2015. She has received nominations for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album for both Paradise and Lust for Life. “Lana Del Rey is an artist that rose to fame so quickly that it shocked the world. Back then, I don’t think we were quite ready for what she had in store”. – Tammy Barfield, junior at Kennesaw State University.

lana 1 dazed mag

Lana Del Rey posing very glamorously  for Dazed Magazine 

Del Rey has contributed to a variety of film soundtracks, most notably “Young and Beautiful” for The Great Gatsby 2013 and the eponymous theme for Big Eyes 2014, which garnered her a Grammy and Golden Globe nomination, respectively. Del Rey wrote and starred in the musical film Tropico 2013 and in short films to accompany her work including Ride 2012, National Anthem 2012, and Freak 2015. 

Del Rey is dubbed by the media as the “Queen of Indie Pop”. Her official YouTube channel has accumulated over 3.1 billion views as of November 9, 2018, with 11 of her videos surpassing 100 million views on Vevo. 

Elizabeth Woolridge Grant was born in New York City on June 21, 1985, to Robert England Grant, Jr., a Grey Group copywriterturned entrepreneur, and Patricia Ann “Pat”, a former Grey account executive turned high school teacher. She has one younger sister, Caroline Grant, and one brother, Charlie. Her paternal grandfather, Robert England Grant, Sr. was a Kidder, Peabody & Co. investment banker, a vice president for Plough, Inc and Textron, and venture capitalist.  She has Scottish ancestry from both her mother and father. “In the beginning, I had thought Del Rey was a crazy woman. Her lyrics talked about a lot of taboo subjects.” – Adrian Parada, Sophomore at Kennesaw State University. 

Grant grew up in Lake Placid, New York, and was raised Roman Catholic. She attended a Catholic elementary school and for one year, a high school where her mother taught. She began singing in her church choir when she was a child, where she was the cantor. 

At age 15,she was sent to Kent School by her parents to resolve a budding drinking problem. Her uncle, an admissions officer at the boarding school, secured her financial aid to attend.

lana 2 on stage wooing crowd over with angelic voice

Lana singing for the crowd, wooing them over with her angelic style vocals.

After graduating, Del Rey was accepted to the State University of New York at Geneseo, but she decided not to attend and instead spent a year living on Long Island with her aunt and uncle while working as a waitress. During this time, Del Rey’s uncle taught her how to play guitar, and she “realized that she could probably write a million songs with those six chords.” Shortly after, she began writing songs and performing in nightclubs around the city under various names such as “Sparkle Jump Rope Queen” and “Lizzy Grant and the Phenomena.” I was always singing, but didn’t plan on pursuing it seriously”, Del Rey said. “When I got to New York City when I was eighteen, I started playing in clubs in Brooklyn—I have good friends and devoted fans on the underground scene, but we were playing for each other at that point—and that was it.” “Lana Del Rey is honestly my favorite artist now. Her voice is so angelic and soothing to my ears. Her lyrics really hit me close to home”. – Emily Smith, freshman at Kennesaw State University.  

The following fall, at age 19, she enrolled at Fordham University where she majored in philosophy, with an emphasis on metaphysics. She has said she chose to study the subject because it “bridged the gap between God and science… I was interested in God and how technology could bring us closer to finding out where we came from and why.” According to Del Rey, she had trouble making friends in both boarding school and college. She lived in The Bronx while attending Fordham. Before graduating in 2008, she moved to North Bergen, New Jersey. She was also a Brooklyn resident for four years. 

In college, Del Rey volunteered work at homeless youth and drug and alcohol outreach programs, as well as helping paint and rebuild houses on an Indian reservation in Utah.She would cite this trip as integral in her decision to become a songwriter: “I remember exactly when I decided that I wanted to be a singer. I was in college, and we went to the Indian reservation. That day I realized that I had only two options: either making music or volunteering for a good cause. I chose the first option. If it had not worked, I would have probably done social work in any small town.” 

“I wanted to be part of a high-class scene of musicians. It was half-inspired because I didn’t have many friends, and I was hoping that I would meet people and fall in love and start a community around me, the way they used to do in the ’60s”. -Lana Del Rey explaining why she went into the music industry.

lana 3 showing her love for america, the country she holds so dear

Del Rey showing off her patriotism for the country she holds so dear to her heart.

On April 25, 2005, a seven-track extended play was registered under Elizabeth Woolridge Grant with the United States Copyright Office. The application title was Rock Me Stable with another title Young Like Me also listed. A second extended play, titled From the End, was also recorded under Del Rey’s stage name at the time, May Jailer. Between 2005 and 2006, she recorded an acoustic album titled Sirens under the May Jailer project, which later leaked on the internet in mid-2012. 

At her first performance in 2006 for the Williamsburg Live Songwriting Competition, Del Rey met Van Wilson, an A&R representative for 5 Points Records, an independent label owned by David Nichtern. In 2007, while a senior at Fordham, Del Rey submitted a demo tape of acoustic tracks titled No Kung Fu to 5 Points Records, who subsequently offered her a recording contract for $10,000. Del Rey used the money to relocate to Manhattan Mobile Home Park, a trailer park in North Bergen, New Jersey, and subsequently began working with producer David Kahne, with whom she released a three-track EP titled Kill Killin October 2008 as Lizzy Grant. She explained that “David asked to work with me only a day after he got my demo. He is known as a producer with a lot of integrity and who had an interest in making music that wasn’t just pop.” The album, however, was shelved, causing her to shift her focus: She began to work in community service. “Homeless outreach, drug, and alcohol rehabilitation—that’s been my life for the past five years”, she told Vogue UK in 2012. Her debut full-length album, titled Lana Del Ray, was released in January 2010. Her father, Robert Grant, helped with the marketing of the album, which was available for purchase on iTunes for a brief period before being withdrawn. 

David Kahne, who produced Grant and previous label owner David Nichtern have both stated that Grant bought the rights back from her label, 5 Points, as she wanted it out of circulation to “stifle future opportunities to distribute it—an echo of rumors that the action was part of a calculated strategy. 

Del Rey met her current managers, Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, three months after Lana Del Ray and they helped her to get out of her contract with 5 Points Records, where, in her opinion, “nothing was happening.” Shortly after, she moved to London, and moved in with Mawson “for a few years.” When choosing her stage name, she said: “I wanted a name I could shape the music towards. I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba – Lana Del Rey reminded us of the glamour of the seaside. It sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue.” The name was based on a compound of actress Lana Turner and the Ford Del Reysedan. On September 1, 2010, Del Rey was featured by Mando Diao in their MTV Unplugged concert at Union Film-Studios in Berlin. 

Del Rey’s musical sound has been dubbed “Hollywood sadcore” by music critics. Her music has been repeatedly noted for its cinematic sound and its references to various aspects of pop culture, particularly that of 1950s and 1960s Americana. Del Rey elaborated on this in an interview with Artistdirect, saying “I wasn’t even born in the ’50s but I feel like I was there.” 

Associated with several styles, Del Rey’s music has been tagged broadly as dream pop or baroque pop linked to various forms of rock, indie music, and trip hop and often touching on styles such as hip hop, trap music, and psychedelic rock on particular releases. Of Born to Die, indie music journal Drowned in Sound wrote, “She likes that whole hip hop thing though, has this whole swagger thing going that not many girls like her got”, adding that it sounded like a poppier Bond soundtrack. 

Del Rey’s subsequent releases would introduce variant styles, particularly Ultraviolence, which employed a guitar-based sound akin to psychedelic and desert rock. Kenneth Partridge of Billboard noted this shift in style, writing: “She sings about drugs, cars, money, and the bad boys she’s always falling for, and while there remains a sepia-toned mid-century flavor to many of these songs, Del Rey is no longer fronting like a thugged-out Bette Davis.”Upon the release of Honeymoon, one reviewer characterized Del Rey’s body of work as being “about music as a time warp, with her languorous croons over molasses-like arrangements meant to make clock hands seem to move so slowly that it feels possible, at times, they might go backwards.” 

Del Rey has been described as a “self-styled gangsta Nancy Sinatra” and “Lolita lost in the hood.” 

Prior to coming to prominence under the stage name Lana Del Rey, she performed under the names Lizzy Grant, Lana Rey Del Mar, Sparkle Jump Rope Queen, and May Jailer. Under the stage name Lizzy Grant, she referred to her music as “Hawaiian glam metal”, while the work of her May Jailer project was acoustic 

All photos were compiled from Creative Commons

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