The Evolution of Lana Del Rey

Photo courtesy of Allan Wan via Wikimedia Commons

By Isabel Hicks

One year after the release of her latest album “Blue Banisters,” here’s a look back on Lana Del Rey’s career and the evolution of her music.

Despite her image being a huge influence on social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram, Del Rey’s career seems to live on the outskirts of mainstream media. In 2019, the New York Times described her as “one of the most consistent album artists and world builders of this decade,” but it took over seven years for her to build a career that would give her that title.

Del Rey began her career with humble origins, singing in bars and clubs in Brooklyn under the name Lizzy Grant, a nickname of her birth name, Elizabeth Woolridge Grant. Under Lizzy Grant, she released two EPs, but later changed her name officially to Lana Dey Rey, which she says was inspired by the actress Lana Turner and the Ford Del Rey sedan.  

Her breakthrough came when she uploaded her classical ballad “Video Games” in 2011 on YouTube. The song led to her being discovered by Stranger Records, where she released the song as a debut single. 

“Born to Die” and “Paradise” – 2012

In 2012, Del Rey released her first full length album, titled “Born to Die,”  which kickstarted her path to stardom. It sold over 3.4 million copies and was the fifth best selling album of 2012. Despite its popularity, many critics refused to take her seriously, with Pitchfork magazine calling her a “highly-medicated Fiona Apple” but saying that she “doesn’t have the personality to pull it off.” 

Del Rey refused to pay critics any mind, however, touring worldwide and releasing her new EP “Paradise” and later “Born to Die- Paradise Edition,”a compilation of both albums. “Paradise” went on to be nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards. 

“Ultraviolence” – 2014

One of her most cinematic albums yet, Ultraviolence took the world by storm. The album features songs primarily about drugs, money, heartbreak, and the toxic men Del Rey seems to keep falling for.  Songs like “Brooklyn Baby” and “Sad Girl” became the anthems for the hopeless romantics Del Rey had made of her fans. “Ultraviolence” became the epitome of her sound, featuring low bass guitar strums and rock inspired melodies. The album debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200, and amassed over 900 million streams on Spotify. 

Critic opinions diverged from public opinions on the album, calling the album antifeminist for songs like “F*cked My Way to the Top” and “Ultraviolence” (which included lyrics like “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”), accusing her of glamourizing abuse. 

“Honeymoon” – 2015

“Honeymoon” was an uplifting turn from the melancholic ballads of “Ultraviolence,” painting the perfect imagery of beach-side glamor and sunny days. Released in September 2015, the album debuted at number two on Billboard 200. 

“Honeymoon is arguably the most Lana Del Rey album Del Rey has yet produced,” according to British Magazine The Observer. The album reverberated romantic and nostalgic energy with songs like “God Knows I Tried” and “Salvatore,” intoxicating listeners with imagery of the careless California lifestyle. 

“Lust for Life” – 2017

Jumping off the cover of the album with flowers in her hair, Del Rey introduced us to an entirely new world with “Lust for Life.” The sound of this album differed greatly from the sound of “Ultraviolence” and her earlier music on “Born to Die,” highlighting her evolution as an artist. The album featured songs with The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, and even Sean Ono Lenon, the first time she had actually featured other artists on her songs.  In 2017 she announced her “LA To the Moon Tour” with Jhene Aiko and Kali Uchis. Del Rey received her second grammy nomination for “Lust for Life” in 2017. 

“Norman F**king Rockwell” – 2019

“Norman F**king Rockwell” is one of the most poetic albums of all time. The album truly showed the extent of Del Rey’s songwriting abilities, as it is laced with poetic metaphors including the title of the track “Happiness is a Butterfly.” Songs like “Mariners Apartment Complex” and “The Greatest” took listeners back to the California coast, where she reminisces on her nights dancing at bars in Long Beach. The lines “You’re just a man / it’s just what you do” from the first track struck deeply in the hearts of her fans, who used the song to express their heartbreak over the disappointing nature of men. 

In 2020, Del Rey was nominated for Best Album of the Year, and although she didn’t win, “NFR” is her best rated album to date. Rolling Stone called the album her finest work, writing that the “NFR” was “even more massive and majestic than everyone hoped it would be”.

“Chemtrails over the Country Club” and “Blue Banisters” – 2021

Her seventh studio album “Chemtrails over the Country Club” was released in March 2021, serving as a follow up to “NFR.” The album cover featured a picture of her smiling at a table, surrounded by friends. The scenery of the album took place at, you guessed it, a country club.

A huge upturn from her previous albums, “Chemtrails over the Country Club” shifted from her typically pop and rock infused instrumentals, to a more folk and country sound. Introspective and sentimental, the album showed the extent to which Del Rey had matured since her early heady days as Lizzy Grant. 

“Blue Banisters” was released on October 15, 2021, one year ago today. The evolution of Del Rey as an artist is displayed in this album, as it features her screaming painfully raw lyrics like “I don’t wanna live / I don’t wanna give you nothing / ‘cause you never give me nothing back” on the song “Dealer.” She also revealed that the segment on the song “Living Legend” that sounds like a saxophone was actually her voice, something she was proud of being able to do. 

Other and Upcoming Projects 

Some of her side projects include the publication of her poetry book, titled “Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass” in the summer of 2020. The collection consists of 14 personal poems painted a more vulnerable and honest image of the artist herself. The poems do not follow any particular structure or rhythm, and Del Rey seems to lean into the imperfections of her art, giving a refreshing new take on the world around her.

She also produced feature songs for various films, including the song “Young and Beautiful” for the 2013 “The Great Gatsby” movie and a cover of “Season of the Witch” for the movie “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” She also collaborated with The Weeknd in 2016 to make “Stargirl Interlude,” one of her most popular songs across all streaming platforms. 

In January of this year, she released a single “Watercolor Eyes” for the HBO show “Euphoria.” 

Her upcoming project is her much anticipated ninth studio album. Her manager Ben Mawson teased the release of it on Instagram, stating that it is currently in the works. 

“It’s a very wordy album. So there’s no room for color. It’s almost like I’m typing in my mind.” Del Rey said during her W magazine interview. 

Although it appears that her career has been successful, the world seems to have misunderstood her intentions and condemned her as an untalented two-dimensional rich girl from Manhattan. However, Del Rey is one the greatest artists of our generations, and she continues to awe us with her work and supply us with increasingly sophisticated and tactful music.