Since her controversial rise to stardom, Lana Del Rey has become one of the most divisive people in music.
From chart-topping hits like 'Video Games' and 'Summertime Sadness' to mixed-results performances on Saturday Night Live and interviews where she claimed she'd rather be dead, you can hardly call Lana Del Rey boring.
At the heart of the headlines and contention, however, is the music. In the space of 4 years, Lana has released three albums, one of which has sold over a million copies in the UK. And there are rumours that a fourth might be on the way soon, too.
With Lana dropping two gorgeous new tunes this past week ahead of her new album, we've delved into her back catalogue to unearth the surprising stories behind some of her most loved songs.
1. 'Video Games' was born out of Lana's partner playing World of Warcraft
Seeming to come out of nowhere, 'Video Games' immediately caused contention. While sites like Pitchfork initially praised Del Rey's throwback and subdued sound, when it emerged that "Lana Del Rey" was the construct of wannabe singer Elizabeth Grant and that major labels and managers were possibly involved in creating her perceived image (they weren't), they were quick to lambast the singer.
Co-written with songwriter Justin Parker, 'Video Games' tapped into a pop-music scene overcome with EDM bangers and dance music. "I know that it's a beautiful song and I sing it really low, which might set it apart," Del Rey told Q. "I played it for a lot of people (in the industry) when I first wrote it and no one responded. It's like a lot of things that have happened in my life during the last seven years, another personal milestone. It's myself in song form."
Before finding success as Lana Del Rey, the singer tried her hand under the moniker Lizzy Grant. Indeed, she got stuck in a bad recording contract, and had all but given up on a career in music. "It's a song about letting go of my musical ambitions and settling down into a simple life with a person I loved," she told The Sun.
Expanding on the song's meaning to NME, she said: "I was writing about this guy I'd been seeing and the way our relationship was at the time. It was a time in my life when I had let go of my own personal career ambitions and just enjoyed being with him at home."
Explaining how her partner at the time would come home from work and play video games (more specifically the popular massively multi-player online role-playing game World of Warcraft), Del Rey said that she was "reflecting on the sweetness of it but also something else I was longing for at the same time".
Referencing the song's lyrics, 'Swinging in the backyard, pull up in your fast car, whistling my name', Lana said that it was actually based on a real experience. "He'd come home and I'd see him. But then the chorus, 'Heaven is a place on earth with you, tell me all the things you wanna do' wasn't like that. That was the way that I wished it was – the melody sounds so compelling and heavenly because I wanted it to be that way."
Despite the cool press, Lana captured the public's imagination anyway, and in the UK 'Video Games' landed at number nine and has since sold over 600,000 copies.
"Lana Del Rey just sounded good coming out of my mouth – it was exotic sounding, and I like exotic places and I like really gorgeous things," she said to Dazed. "It sounded like a gorgeous woman. And once you have a name, you expect certain things from it, so it was like something to aim towards. I could build a sonic world towards the way the name fell off my lips.
"It's helped me a lot."
2. 'Summertime Sadness' got given a second lease of life
Co-written with Rick Nowels and co-produced by Emile Haynie, 'Summertime Sadness' was a surprise hit.
"I met Lana in summer 2011," Nowels told Billboard. "I had heard some of her songs on YouTube and I loved what she was doing. When we wrote it, I realized that she was a brilliant songwriter and a magical artist. She writes the kind of music I want to listen to."
Lana told SuperSuper that she loved the track because she didn't compromise on it. "I wrote exactly what I felt, and put a melody to it that was perfect for the words," she revealed. "I was staying in Santa Monica, California with my composer and best friend, Daniel Heath. I would sit under the telephone wires and listen to them sizzle in the warm air while he went to work.
"I wanted to take the electricity and absorb it so it would make me feel alive and electric again. I felt happy in the warm weather and started writing about how sad and gorgeous the summertime felt to me."
While initially the track wasn't a roaring radio hit, in the summer of 2013 'Summertime Sadness' had been given another lease of life. A remix commissioned by Universal Germany by house music DJ Cedric Gervais had begun to pick up traction.
The remix was originally turned down by both Lana's US and UK label, Interscope and Polydor, but after being uploaded to dance music hub Beatport the track began to pick up traction. Radio 1 then added the track to their playlist and these radio spins soon hopped over the pond to America.
"After the success of my track 'Molly', a lot of people asked me to remix big artists," Gervais told Billboard. "To me it's not about the money, so I turned down a lot of people. But Lana Del Rey came in. I didn't even ask how much money, I just said please send me the vocals right away and I did the track in one day.
"I wasn't thinking if it was going to be a hit or not," he continued, "I just love and respect the artist that she is." The track became a sleeper hit, climbing the Billboard chart and peaking at number six.
3. The video for 'Ride' really was based on Lana's life (apparently)
Leading the repack of Lana's debut album, Born to Die: Paradise Edition and the Paradise EP, was 'Ride', a cinematic expansion on Lana Del Rey's growing signature sound.
Teaming up with legendary record producer Rick Rubin (Frank Ocean, Adele, Aerosmith, Damien Rice, Shakira), Lana approached him after wanting to work on a demo she'd had left over with collaborator Justin Parker.
"I loved this demo I did with Justin Parker, who I wrote a lot of things with like 'Video Games' and 'Born to Die', 'National Anthem', and Ferdy Unger-Hamilton at EMI hated the song," Del Rey told Complex. "So I think him and Rick had been talking and Rick was like, 'What's going on with Lana? Can she come over, I hear she's in LA'. I think I had been over to say 'Hi' to him first. Just to say 'Hi'. We took a walk in Santa Monica - he takes the same walking route every morning. Then a few weeks later I brought him 'Ride', and he really liked it."
Continuing, she said: "Working with him was good, I was still in my old car, my old Mercedes that was barely making it down that hour-and-a-half drive down to Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, and it was really good. He has this sprawling lawn with all these bunnies and palm trees. He was very relaxed. It was good."
What made 'Ride' standout, however, was the track's 10-minute mini-movie music video. Directed by Anthony Mandler, Lana said that she'd met her "directorial soulmate".
"He never says no and he asks me why do I want it to be about the kindness of strangers, like in the case of 'Ride' [the video/short film] - why am I with different men and things like that?" she told Radio.com. "I tell him it's not about being submissive to men or anything like that. It's about not really knowing anyone close to you who can help you, and being really lucky enough to finding people who you just meet randomly, who can take care of you until you can take care of yourself."
At the time, the clip was met with criticism, with some questioning whether Del Rey was glamorising prostitution. "I can see how that video would raise a feminist eyebrow. But that was more personal to me," Lana told The Guardian. "It was about my feelings on free love and what the effect of meeting strangers can bring into your life: how it can make you unhinged in the right way and free you from the social obligations I hope we're growing out of in 2014."
When quizzed whether the clip was an actual representation of her life, Lana said: "Oh, 100%."
4. 'Young and Beautiful' was subjected to an awards-show smear campaign.
Released between Lana's first and second album, 'Young and Beautiful' appeared in Baz Luhrmann's 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. However, in an interview with Catalunya Radio, Del Rey said that the track had originated in the writing sessions for the Paradise EP.
Co-writing the song with Rick Nowels, the original version of the song, however, was different from the one that ended up being used in the film. "I wrote a different song, but when Baz Luhrmann heard it, he asked me if I could I write a memory cue for Daisy," Lana told Radio.com. "So I sang him a chorus of 'Young and Beautiful' that I had already - just a chorus - and he thought that'd be good for her. I wrote the whole thing after I watched her garden scenes."
Speaking to MTV News, Baz Luhrmann said that idea to create a unique soundtrack for The Great Gatsby was inspired by the book's author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
"When he wrote that book, he was a modernist, he was in the moment, and the music of the moment was African-American street music called Jazz, and when he put Jazz music in Gatsby, everyone was like 'What are you crazy? It's a fad'. And then he put Hit Parade songs, pop songs, the equivalent of Lana Del Rey singing a beautiful ballad," Luhrmann said. "And [we tried to solve] the problem of, 'How do you reveal the book, but how do you make it feel the way it felt to read it in 1925?' If Fitzgerald coined the phrase 'The Jazz Age', then I think we're living in 'The Hip Hop Age'."
In a behind-the-scenes video, Luhrmann detailed how he and Lana had worked on the song together via Skype. "I was blessed with this beautiful, if you like, kind of innocent but slightly dark song that Rick Nowels and Lana Del Rey had come up with," he said. Noting that the tune is the major love theme for the movie, Baz explained how they needed different vocal takes for different moments in the film.
However, the pair were on different sides of the world at the time. "Really, we were very effectively able to have a Skype session where Lana was in Rick's studio in L.A., I was in my little garret in Sydney and I sat there looking at Lana," Luhrmann said. "It was as intimate, really, as being in a studio with her. And she was tremendously responsive to direction and very good finessing things."
Expanding on what it was like to work with Del Rey, Luhrmann said: "She was a bit nervous at first, [but] she just sat down and she sang, I directed her, Rick was there; I wanted her to improvise. We used those and these were textures, vocal textures… There's something wonderful about the level of collaboration that can happen in music."
Initially, there were rumours that 'Young and Beautiful' could be up for consideration at the Academy Awards. However, it was reported by Billboard that voters had been receiving letters containing a story stating that the track wasn't eligible. The reason? Well, the person behind the letters claimed that the track had been disqualified from the running due to a release date technicality. Despite the record company and movie studio denying these claims, 'Young and Beautiful' was, unfortunately, not nominated for an Oscar.
5. The opening lyrics to 'West Coast' were almost a direct quote from a random guy at a party
The first single lifted from Lana Del Rey's second album, Ultraviolence, 'West Coast' was a divisive lead cut. From the two tempos used in the verses and chorus, to the dirge-like production, it was a departure from the luscious and cinematic music of Paradise and 'Young and Beautiful'.
Co-written again with long-time collaborator Rick Nowels, Lana worked almost exclusively on production with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. Heading to Nashville, Del Rey worked swiftly on the project.
"She impressed me every day. There were moments when she was fighting me. I could sense that maybe she didn't want to have anybody think she wasn't in control because I'm sure it's really hard to be a woman in the music business," Auerbach said about the sessions. "So we bumped heads a little bit, but at the end of the day we were dancing to the songs"
In an interview with The Sun, Lana explained how the song was inspired by being in Los Angeles. "Being in Los Angeles calmed me down when I was making the record," she revealed. "I felt really good about bringing this East Coast flavour into this West Coast sound, having this little amalgamation."
In fact, the singer said told Triple J that the song's lyrics were based on a real experience at a party. "That's what someone just said to me when I was on the beach, I was at a beach party, he said, 'They've got a sayin' if you're not drinkin' then you're not playin'," she said. "I thought it was a cute opening line. For me it's like thinking about the way things were for me, and how my motivations were for so long, they still seem a part of my life even though I'm not drinking now. For some reason, I really like soaking up the mood of like a really dynamic party whether it's on the West Coast or whatever.
"I like that other people can have fun and let loose. I feel like I'm a part of it when I'm there - so yeah, I felt comfortable with it."
The original version of the track, she admitted, was also very different to the finished product. "I never felt like it got where it was supposed to be until I met Dan Auerbach." Lana told Radio.com. "I was telling him that I was really interested in… that my heart was in jazz, and my mind and my roots were in jazz and that I wanted to make a record that was sort of this mix of beautiful jazz undertones and a West Coast fusion, kind of inspired by the Eagles and the Beach Boys and this sort of Laurel Canyon revival thing that was happening in the '70s.
"So I went to Nashville and he reproduced 'West Coast' and yeah, I don't know… I loved it," she continued.
Explaining why the track dropped tempo in the chorus, Lana explained: "Dan said that everything on the record, all the songs have this kind of narco-swing. So whereas the beat and the verses on 'West Coast' were really direct, the chorus naturally slipped into this half-time beat. I just remember everyone at the label being like, 'God, it's getting slower at the chorus?' And we were like, yeah!"
6. Could 'Ultraviolence' *really* be about a cult?
The title track from Lana's second album, 'Ultraviolence' was, again, considered a controversial move for the singer, with some criticising the song's lyrics for romanticising domestic violence.
This fed into what Lana had previously said about feminism. Speaking to The Fader in 2014, she said: "For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I'm more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what's going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism, I'm like, God. I'm just not really that interested."
Whether these comments are just an extension of the creation and character of "Lana Del Rey" is uncertain. However, it's definitely something that feeds into 'Ultraviolence'.
In typical Lana Del Rey fashion, the singer told Grazia that the song had its foundations in truth. "I used to be a member of an underground sect which was reigned by a guru," she said. "He surrounded himself with young girls and he had this insane charisma I couldn't resist as well. So I was in this, I'll call it sect, because I was longing for love and security."
Continuing, she added: "But then I found out that this guru wasn't a good but a bad person. He thought that he had to break people first before he could build them up again. At the end I left the sect."
Co-writing the song with Daniel Heath, a friend of her then-boyfriend Barrie-James O'Neill, Lana told how Heath had originally worked in reality television before she asked him to work with her. "The shows were terrible, but his work was beautiful," she said. "'You've got to work with me on real records. The songwriting is simple: intro, verse one, a chorus, which repeats three times. The bridge is separate from everything else. That was all he needed to hear to start sending me amazing compositions," she continued. "He did the title track for Ultraviolence for me. He adds a lot of cinema to my sound."
The song's loose structure and lo-fi production were helped by producer Dan Auerbach, who told BBC News how quickly Ultraviolence came together.
"We planned to record for three days and after the second day we extended it, and it became two weeks," he revealed. "I filled the studio with musicians I knew and we finished an album."
"She sings live on 99% of the album, which was really cool," he added. "There was a seven-piece band playing in the live room and she's in the next room with a handheld microphone singing live. It was very different from her first record."
The title Ultraviolence is taken from the Anthony Burges novel A Clockwork Orange, and the word was something that Del Rey had in her head before she'd even figured out her second album. "I like that luxe sound of the word 'ultra' and the mean sound of the word 'violence' together. I like that two worlds can live in one," she told Complex. "I like a physical love. I like a hands-on love. How can I say this without getting into too much trouble? I like a tangible, passionate love.
"For me, if it isn't physical, I'm not interested."
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