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Frequently Asked Questions: Lana Del Rey

Who is she? Where did she come from? And why is she so popular?
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Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey (Neil Krug for Interscope Records)

By Courtney E. Smith

In our series Frequently Asked Questions, Radio.com guides you through the unknown about people and topics in music and pop culture. 

From the release in 2011 of the music video for her single “Video Games,” Lana Del Rey has slowly amassed a widespread public profile. That grainy music video (which she edited on her MacBook and now has over 62 million views) earned her a strong internet following, but her notoriety soon exploded after her infamous appearance on SNL, which preceded the release of her much-talked-about 2012 album Born to Die. The following year, she received chart success across formats with her Great Gatsby track “Young and Beautiful” and a remix of her track “Summertime Sadness.”

Del Rey is now set to release her new album, Ultraviolence, on June 17. And while she’s gained much ground since “Video Games,” some music fans are still unsure why the rest of the world is so obsessed. Below we offer answers to a series of frequently asked questions about Lana Del Rey.

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Where did Lana Del Rey come from?

Lana Del Rey is the stage name for Elizabeth Woolridge Grant. She grew up in Lake Placid, N.Y., a small village in the Adirondack Mountains with a population of 2,521. She currently resides in Los Angeles.

The full extent of which Del Rey is a creation and is driven by Grant is a constant point of argument. Publicly revealed sources of inspiration behind the development of her character  include Lolita, Nancy Sinatra, David Lynch, Bob Dylan, beat poetry, Blanche DuBois, Americana and American Psycho.

Is there one word to describe the music of Lana Del Rey?

Sadcore.

Can you be an authentic artist if you make up a name for yourself?

Of course. Need proof? An abbreviated list of musicians who use or have used monikers includes Billie Holiday, Elvis Costello, Sting, Courtney Love, Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Frank Ocean, Sade, Nicki Minaj, Elton John, Katy Perry and Jack White.

Did Lana Del Rey once collaborate with Lady Gaga?

Their social and professional circles reportedly did overlap in mid- to late-2000s New York City, so they knew each other. The duo collaborated on a track called “Princess Die,” which was meant to appear on ARTPOP but didn’t make the cut.

How did Lana Del Rey become popular?

It all started with her low-res video for “Video Games,” which launched a thousand blog posts. The video was met with an almost immediate backlash for being billed as a “self-released” thing when she really had a deal with the major-est of major labels, Interscope. This misstep led critics to cast doubt on her integrity in a myriad of ways, including asking if she really edited that video herself, if those were here real lips and if she was being Svengali’d by some Wizard of Oz behind the curtains. That “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” line didn’t do her any favors, either. Then she went and described herself to a journalist as “Lolita got lost in the hood” and everyone did a synchronized, massive eye roll.

All the hate led to a lot of thinkpieces, which in turn engendered some curiosity amongst less hater-driven listeners. At the same time, Del Rey’s highly stylized look captivated the minds of the fashion and gossip-blog industry. They saw someone who could be one of their own. This led to a new round of blog posts and think-pieces that adopted a more genteel tone.

When Del Rey was booked as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in early 2012, prior to the release of her album Born to Die, her infamy rose to new levels.

Did Lana Del Rey give the worst performance in the history of Saturday Night Live?

Her SNL performance in early 2012 was quickly denounced as one of the worst performances ever on the show. Del Rey brushed off the haters, though, telling Rolling Stone: “There’s backlash about everything I do. It’s nothing new. When I walk outside, people have something to say about it.”

And objectively speaking, Ashlee Simpson’s performance (and the fall out from it) was worse.

Who made her famous?

You did, her adoring public. Seriously, Del Rey has muses, and almost all of them are men, but she made herself popular. By the same coin, she engineered her own backlash by making a few poor decisions and false starts. The point is, it wasn’t some A&R guy. It wasn’t Lady Gaga. It wasn’t a manager, a boyfriend or a producer. Lana Del Rey created herself.

Does Lana Del Rey write her own songs?

For starters, she was a cowriter on every single track on Born to Die. And as Rich Nowels, the cowriter on her upcoming album’s first single “West Coast,” told the New York Times about writing with her: “She’s very clear about what she wants and doesn’t want. She is the captain of her own ship.”

Where did the title of her new album, Ultraviolence, come from?

It came out of her imagination. “I think the album was called Ultraviolence before I even had the songs,” Del Rey told Radio.com. “That’s because I just really love words. I’m kind of inspired by just a one-word title.”

Related: Lana Del Rey exclusive interview

Lana Del Rey is from New York and lived in Brooklyn, so why did she write a song called “West Coast”?

Del Rey has lived a lot of places, but she purchased a home in Los Angeles that the New York Times describes as “an elegant English-style residence in need of repair…[t]he walls are newly painted in the blues and greens that were also the palette of ‘Video Games.'”

Del Rey has also admitted that she’d been influenced by L.A., although her references were of a different time. “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,” she told Radio.com.

 

Who is the skinny blonde guy with the tattoos who turns up in a lot of Lana Del Rey’s videos?

His name is Bradley Soileau. He’s a male model who was discovered on the streets of New York City but has recently decamped for L.A. “Working with Lana is awesome,” he told L.A. Confidential. “She’s extremely talented and her vision is so dark and f—ed. And I love it because she’s selling such a f—ed idea/vision to the youth in masses.”

What is her best song?

“Young & Beautiful.”

What is her worst lyric?

“Could be kissin’ my fruit punch lips in the bright sunshine/ ‘Cause I like you quite a lot, everything you’ve got,” from “Lolita.”

Is Lana Del Rey a feminist?

She hasn’t said yes or no, but she did tell Fader that “for me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept.” She continued, saying, “My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.” She followed that up by telling German magazine Neon that “men are my passion. I love the masculine energy, their stability and predictability in relationships.” Prior to that statement, some of the argument about Del Rey’s feminism sprung from her penchant for portraying and exploring violent sex as well as a passive female voice in her songs and videos.

She followed up her Fader interview with this statement to the New York Times: “If my choice is to, I don’t know, be with a lot of men, or if I enjoy a really physical relationship, I don’t think that’s necessarily being anti-feminist. For me the argument of feminism never really should have come into the picture. Because I don’t know too much about the history of feminism, and so I’m not really a relevant person to bring into the conversation. Everything I was writing was so autobiographical, it could really only be a personal analysis.”

It all reads like a ‘no.’

Does it matter if she’s a feminist or not?

Do you think it matters? There’s your answer.

Why is Lana Del Rey so popular?

For dudes, she represents a feminine archetype: the helpless waif, the Ophelia in need. She broadcasts in several of her songs an interest in being dominated physically or led around emotionally. It’s a type of woman who doesn’t appeal to all men, but the ones she does appeal to are a cross-section: hipsters, bros, suburban couch-surfers, outsiders and Oxford-wearers. She is not confined to any particular subculture.

For ladies, she’s just. So. Sad. There’s an empathy factor when you listen to her sad, sad, sad songs. Love her or hate her, you can certainly be on the same wavelength. Had a bad day and need a cry, but feel Adele is too ham-fisted? Feeling wistful? Feeling self-destructive? Pop on some Lana Del Rey and wallow.

If Lana Del Rey was an animal, which would she be?

Lolita’s an animal, metaphorically speaking, right?

Who has Lana Del Rey covered?

Lots of people. She closes Ultraviolence with a cover of Nina Simone’s”The Other Woman.” She’s also covered Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box,” Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet,” Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s “Summer Wine,” Kasabian’s “Goodbye Kiss” and Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.”

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