Elizabeth Woolridge Grant (born: June 21, 1985), known professionally as Lana Del Rey, is an American singer, songwriter, poet, model 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.
Born in New York City and raised in Upstate New York, Del Rey returned 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 debut single "Video Games" in 2011. She then signed with Interscope and Polydor later that year. Her major-label debut 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", as well as the internationally successful singles "Blue Jeans", "Born to Die", and "National Anthem". Del Rey released the Grammy-nominated EP, Paradise in 2012. The next year, Del Rey ventured into the film as she wrote, directed and starred in the short music film, Tropico, and released "Young and Beautiful" for the film The Great Gatsby.
Del Rey subsequently issued her sophomore major-label effort, Ultraviolence (2014), to critical success, topping the charts and spawning the hit single, "West Coast". That same year, Del Rey recorded the eponymous theme for Big Eyes, which garnered her both Grammy and Golden Globe nominations. Shortly afterward, Del Rey released the critically acclaimed Honeymoon (2015) and Lust for Life (2017), the latter of which topped the charts in the U.S. and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album. Del Rey's sixth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, was released on August 30, 2019, to widespread acclaim. In 2019, Del Rey also released the commercially successful singles "Doin' Time" and "Don't Call Me Angel", the latter being a duet with Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus.
Life and career
1985–2004: Early life
Del Rey was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant on June 21, 1985, in New York City, to Robert England Grant, Jr., a Grey Group copywriter turned entrepreneur, and Patricia Ann "Pat" (née Hill), a former Grey account executive turned high school teacher. She has one younger sister, Caroline, and one younger brother, Charlie. She is of Scottish descent.
Grant grew up in the upstate New York town of Lake Placid. She was raised Roman Catholic, attending 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. According to Grant, she had trouble making friends throughout much of her teenage and early adult years. She elaborated on being preoccupied with death from a young age, and its role in her feelings of anxiety and alienation:
|“||When I was very young I was sort of floored by the fact that my mother and my father and everyone I knew was going to die one day, and myself too. I had a sort of a philosophical crisis. I couldn’t believe that we were mortal. For some reason that knowledge sort of overshadowed my experience. I was unhappy for some time. I got into a lot of trouble. I used to drink a lot. That was a hard time in my life.||”|
―Lana Del Rey
After graduating, she was accepted to the State University of New York at Geneseo, but she decided not to attend; instead she spent a year living on Long Island with her aunt and uncle while working as a waitress. During this time, Grant'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", she 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."
2005–2010: Career beginnings and shelved projects
In the fall of 2004, at age 19, Grant enrolled at Fordham University in The Bronx 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." In the spring of 2005, while still in college, Del Rey registered a seven-track extended play was under 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.
|“||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.||”|
―Del Rey explaining why she went into the music industry.
At her first public 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, she submitted a demo tape of acoustic tracks titled No Kung Fu to 5 Points, who offered her a recording contract for $10,000. She 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. Executive Nichtern recalled: "Our plan was to get it all organized and have a record to go and she’d be touring right after she graduated from college. Like a lot of artists, she morphed. When she first came to us, she was playing plunky little acoustic guitar, [had] sort of straight blonde hair, very cute young woman. A little bit dark, but very intelligent. We heard that. But she very quickly kept evolving."
Del Rey graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fordham in 2008, after which she released a three-track EP titled Kill Kill in October as Lizzy Grant, featuring production from Kahne. 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." Meanwhile, Del Rey was working doing community outreach work for the homeless and drug addicts; she had become interested in community service work in college, when she had helped paint homes on an Indian reservation in Utah.
On choosing a stage name for her feature debut album, 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 also inspired by actress Lana Turner and the Ford Del Rey sedan. Initially, she had chosen the alternate spelling of Lana Del Ray, the name under which her self-titled debut album was released in January 2010. Her father helped with the marketing of the album, which was available for purchase on iTunes for a brief period before being withdrawn in April 2010. Kahne, as well as previous label owner Nichtern both stated that Del Rey bought the rights back from the 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 managers, Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, three months after Lana Del Ray was released, and they helped her 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." On September 1, 2010, Del Rey was featured by Mando Diao in their MTV Unplugged concert at Union Film-Studios in Berlin. The same year, she acted in a short film titled Poolside, which she made with several friends.
2011–2013: Born to Die and breakthrough
In 2011, Del Rey uploaded self-made music videos for her songs "Video Games" and "Blue Jeans" to YouTube, featuring vintage footage interspersed with shots of her singing on her webcam. The "Video Games" music video became a viral internet sensation, which led to Del Rey being signed by Stranger Records to release the song as her debut single. She told The Observer: "I just put that song online a few months ago because it was my favorite. To be honest, it wasn't going to be the single but people have really responded to it." The song earned her a Q award for "Next Big Thing" in October 2011 and an Ivor Novello for "Best Contemporary Song" in 2012. The same month, she signed a joint deal with Interscope Records and Polydor to release her second studio album Born to Die. Del Rey performed two songs from the album on Saturday Night Live on January 14, 2012, and received a negative response from various critics and the general public, who deemed the performance uneven and vocally shaky. She had earlier defended her spot on the program, saying: "I'm a good musician [...] I have been singing for a long time, and I think that [SNL creator] Lorne Michaels knows that [...] it's not a fluke decision."
Born to Die was released on January 31, 2012, worldwide, and reached number one in 11 countries, though critical reaction was divided. The same week, she announced she had bought back the rights to her 2010 debut album, and had plans to re-release it in the summer of 2012 under Interscope Records and Polydor. Contrary to Del Rey's press statement, her previous record label and producer David Kahne have both stated that she bought the rights to the album when she and the label parted company, due to the offer of a new deal, in April 2010. Born to Die sold 3.4 million copies in 2012, making it the fifth-best-selling album of 2012. In the United States, Born to Die charted on the Billboard 200 album chart well into 2012, lingering at number 76, after 36 weeks on the chart.
In September 2012, Del Rey unveiled the Jaguar F-Type at the Paris Motor Show. Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar's global brand director, explained their choice, saying Del Rey had "a unique blend of authenticity and modernity." She also recorded the song "Burning Desire", which appeared in a promotional short film for the vehicle. In late September 2012, a music video for Del Rey's cover version of "Blue Velvet" was released as a promotional single for the H&M 2012 autumn campaign, which Del Rey also modeled for in print advertising. On September 25, Del Rey released the single "Ride" in promotion of her upcoming EP, Paradise. She subsequently premiered the music video for "Ride" at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California on October 10, 2012. Some critics panned the video for being allegedly pro-prostitution and antifeminist, due to Del Rey's portrayal of a prostitute in a biker gang.
Paradise was released on November 12, 2012 as a standalone release, as well as Born to Die: The Paradise Edition, which combined Del Rey's previous album with the additional eight tracks on Paradise. Paradise marked Del Rey's second top 10 album in the United States, debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200 with 67,000 copies sold in its first week. It was also later nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. Del Rey received several nominations at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards in November, and won the award for Best Alternative performer. At the Brit Awards in February 2013, she won the award for International Female Solo Artist, followed by two Echo Award wins, in the categories of Best International Newcomer and Best International Pop/Rock Artist.
Over the next several months, she released videos of two cover songs: one of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel#2", followed by a duet with her then-boyfriend, Barrie-James O'Neil, of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's "Summer Wine". In May 2013, Del Rey released an original song, "Young and Beautiful" for the soundtrack of the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Following the song's release, it peaked at 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, shortly after its release to contemporary hit radio, the label prematurely pulled it and decided to send a different song to that format; on July 2, 2013, a Cedric Gervais remix of Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" was sent there; a sleeper hit, the song proved to be a success, surpassing "Young and Beautiful", reaching number 6 and becoming her first American top ten hit. The remix won the Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical in 2013, while "Young and Beautiful" was nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
In June 2013, Del Rey began filming Tropico, a musical short film paired to tracks from Paradise, directed by Anthony Mandler. Del Rey screened the film on December 4, 2013 at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, and presented the screening by stating that she wanted to "visually close out" this chapter of her career before releasing her next album. On December 6, an EP, also titled Tropico, was made available for purchase on iTunes, including a digital copy of the short film.
2014–2015: Ultraviolence, Honeymoon, and film projects
On January 26, 2014, Del Rey released a cover of "Once Upon a Dream" for the 2014 dark fantasy film Maleficent. Following the completion of Paradise, Del Rey began writing and recording her follow-up album, Ultraviolence, featuring production by Dan Auerbach. Ultraviolence was released on June 13, 2014, and debuted at number one in 12 countries, including the United States and United Kingdom. The album sold 880,000 copies in its first week, worldwide. The album was preceded by the singles "West Coast", "Shades of Cool", "Ultraviolence", and "Brooklyn Baby". Del Rey described the album as being "more stripped down but still cinematic and dark," while some critics characterized the record as psychedelic and desert rock-influenced, more prominently featuring guitar instrumentation than her previous releases.
Two new songs by Del Rey, "Big Eyes" and "I Can Fly", were featured in Tim Burton's 2014 biographical film Big Eyes, which focused on the American artist Margaret Keane, released in November that year. In January 2015, Del Rey hinted that she had been in the process of writing and recording material for her next album. She subsequently confirmed in an interview that her next record would be titled Honeymoon. On January 15, 2015, Del Rey received a BRIT Award nomination for International Female Solo Artist, her second nomination in the category and third overall.
Del Rey embarked on The Endless Summer Tour in May 2015, which featured Courtney Love and Grimes as opening acts. After the tour's conclusion in June, she shared "Honeymoon", the first and title track from her forthcoming third studio album, on YouTube. In an August 2015 interview, Del Rey revealed that the album would contain fourteen tracks, describing the songs with "a muddy trap energy and some inspired by late-night Miles Davis drives". The first single from the album, "High by the Beach", was released August 10, followed by "Terrence Loves You", released as a promotional single, available instantly with the pre-order of the album. Additionally, Del Rey co-wrote and provided guest vocals on the track "Prisoner" from The Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness, released on August 28, 2015.
Honeymoon was released on September 18, 2015 to general acclaim from music critics. Jessica Hopper of Pitchfork deemed it Del Rey's "most artistic" work yet, adding: "It is a dark work, darker even than Ultraviolence. While she's obviously a pop artist, Honeymoon feels as though it belongs to a larger canon of Southern California Gothic albums, and synthesizes ideas she's been vamping on from the beginning into a unified work." The album was included in several year-end lists, including Newsweek's Top 20 Albums of the Year, and Billboard's 25 Best Albums of 2015; it was also named the second-best pop album of the year by Rolling Stone.
In November 2015, Del Rey executive produced a short film Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston, documenting the life of singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. Upon attending the film's premiere with Johnston and director Gabe Sunday, she said: "The one thing I hoped is that he [Johnston] understood that while he's home alone doing his art still – he says he writes every day – that he knows that he really did make a difference in people's lives. He made a difference in mine." For the film, she also covered one of Johnston's songs, called "Some Things Last a Long Time", from his album 1990. Also in November 2015, Del Rey received the Trailblazer Award at the Billboard Women in Music ceremony and won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Alternative.
2016–2017: Lust for Life and collaborations
In January 2016, Del Rey was nominated with the "Favorite Female Artist" award at the People's Choice Awards, and she also received a Brit Award nomination for International Female Solo Artist, her third nomination in the category and fourth overall. The following month, on February 9, Del Rey premiered a music video for the song "Freak" from Honeymoon at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. In March 2016, Del Rey revealed that she had begun working on her fifth studio album, just months after releasing Honeymoon.
Del Rey again collaborated with The Weeknd for his third studio album Starboy, released in December 2016, providing backing vocals on "Party Monster" and lead vocals on "Stargirl Interlude". "Party Monster", which Del Rey also co-wrote, was released as a single and subsequently reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went certified double-platinum in the US.
On March 29, 2017, Del Rey released a trailer announcing her new record, Lust for Life. About the album, Del Rey stated: "I made my first 4 albums for me, but this one is for my fans and about where I hope we are all headed." "Love", the lead single, preceded the album's announcement when its Rich Lee-directed video was released in February on YouTube. Robert Loss of PopMatters praised the song as "a gift to disappointed youth." "Lust for Life", the eponymous single featuring The Weeknd, was released on April 19, 2017, followed by the release of the digital single "Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind" on May 15. The following week, a music video for "Lust for Life" was released, which features Del Rey and The Weeknd sitting on the edge of the Hollywood Sign, holding hands, and dancing. To further promote the album, in mid-July, BBC Radio 1 aired the track "Summer Bummer", which features ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti, and "Groupie Love", which features Rocky as well.
Lust for Life was released on July 21, 2017. In addition to the collaborations with Playboi Carti, ASAP Rocky, and The Weeknd, the album also featured guest performances from Stevie Nicks and Sean Ono Lennon, marking the first time she has featured other artists on her own release. The album received generally favorable reviews and became Del Rey's third number-one album in the United Kingdom, and second number-one album in the United States. On September 27, 2017, Del Rey announced the LA to the Moon Tour, an official concert tour with Jhené Aiko and Kali Uchis to further promote the album. The tour began in North America during January 2018 and concluded in August. Lust for Life was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album for the 60th Grammy Awards, marking Del Rey's second nomination in the category.
2018–present: Norman Fucking Rockwell! and poetry
In January 2018, Del Rey announced that she was in a lawsuit with British rock band Radiohead over alleged similarities between their song "Creep" and her song "Get Free". Following her announcement, legal representatives from their label Warner/Chappell denied the lawsuit as well as Del Rey's claims of the band asking for "100% of the song's royalties". Del Rey announced that summer while performing at Lollapalooza in Brazil that the lawsuit was "over." In early 2018, Del Rey appeared as a guest vocalist on several tracks by other musicians, including on "Living with Myself" by Jonathan Wilson for Rare Birds (2018), and on the songs "God Save Our Young Blood" and "Blue Madonna" by Børns for Blue Madonna. In August, Del Rey was featured on Cat Power's song "Woman" from her album Wanderer, which was released in October.
On September 12, 2018, Del Rey released a new Jack Antonoff-produced single titled "Mariners Apartment Complex" via streaming and digital download, as well as an accompanying music video shot by her sister. Six days later, she released the track "Venice Bitch", also with an accompanying music video by her sister. Upon the release of "Venice Bitch", Del Rey announced the title of her upcoming fifth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, produced by Antonoff, as well as plans to self-publish a book of poetry, tentatively titled Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. On October 30, 2018, Del Rey performed several tracks from Norman Fucking Rockwell! at an Apple Music promotional event, accompanied by Antonoff on piano. Several days later, Del Rey was announced as face of Gucci's Guilty Fragrances, and subsequently appeared in print and television advertisements with Jared Leto and Courtney Love.
In January 2019, "Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman like Me to Have – but I Have It" was released as the third single from Norman Fucking Rockwell!. Ryan Reed of Rolling Stone described the piano ballad as a meditation on "religion, family, alienation and the myths that surround celebrity." On May 17, Del Rey released a cover of the Sublime song, "Doin' Time", as part of a Sublime documentary. The cover was included on the official track list of Norman Fucking Rockwell!, which Del Rey revealed on July 31, 2019, followed by news of an impending tour beginning September 21 in New York, and including performances in British Columbia, as well as major cities along the U.S. West Coast. On August 6, Del Rey presented filmmaker Guillermo del Toro with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and subsequently released a cover of "Season of the Witch" which was featured in the del Toro-produced film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. On the same day, she released the non-album single "Looking for America" which she spontaneously wrote and recorded earlier that week in response to the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
On August 22, Del Rey released a double music video for the album tracks "Fuck It, I Love You" and "The Greatest", also releasing the songs as a joint-single. The following week, she released a music video for "Doin' Time", which features a larger-than-life Del Rey walking through Los Angeles, in an homage to the film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Following the release of the video, "Doin' Time" debuted at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100, four months after its release. The track later peaked at number one on the Billboard Rock Airplay chart, becoming Del Rey's first number one on any Billboard chart.
Norman Fucking Rockwell! was released on August 30, 2019. To promote the record, Del Rey made a series of appearances on various radio shows, as well as on BBC Radio One's Live Lounge. The album received overwhelming favorable reviews from critics, and, according on internet review aggregator Metacritic, is her most favorably-reviewed album to date. NME awarded the album a full five out of five stars, In his review for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield wrote that "the long-awaited Norman Fucking Rockwell is even more massive and majestic than everyone hoped it would be. Lana turns her fifth and finest album into a tour of sordid American dreams, going deep cover in all our nation's most twisted fantasies of glamour and danger," and ultimately deemed the albuma "pop classic."
Del Rey was also featured on a collaboration with Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus, titled "Don't Call Me Angel", the lead single off the soundtrack for Charlie's Angels (2019), released on September 13, 2019, accompanied by an official video directed by Hannah Lux Davis. In its first week, the song debuted within the top ten in several territories, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
Upcoming projects: White Hot Forever
In an interview with The Independent, Del Rey said she did not want to take a break between albums and confirmed that a new record titled White Hot Forever was slated for a 2020 release. She also announced that she was contributing to the soundtrack of a new adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
In an interview for L'Officiel's first American edition in early 2018, when asked about Del Rey's interest in making a movie she responded that she had been approached to write a Broadway musical and had recently begun work on it. When asked how long it would be until completion of the work, she replied, "I may finish in two or three years."