Lizzy Grant, Lana Del Ray, and the Venice Bitch

Art by Lillian Cohen.

Art by Lillian Cohen.

She’s the queen of alt-pop, the poster-girl for Americana nostalgia, and a keystone in Tumblr culture. Formerly Lizzy Grant, Lana Del Rey emerged as a dark, glamorous fantasy for listeners to get lost in. After nearly a decade, not only has her sound evolved from highly-produced, orchestral production to a quieter, guitar and piano-based sound, its substance also matured. It seems that every release has led up to “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” Del Rey’s most acclaimed project to date.

After a year of stellar singles and teasers on Del Rey’s Instagram, arguably the best project of her career, “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” finally dropped in August. It features glittering and introspective melodies that contain clearer, more mature perspectives. She’s shed her desire to “bat her cartoon eyes” at neglecting lovers and gained a new sense of awareness. In the title track, Del Rey looks at the man she loves, promises to always care for him, but still cuts him down by calling him “man-child” and points out his bad poetry. In “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” Del Rey asserts she “ain’t no candle in the wind,” clarifying that a moment of sadness doesn’t mean she’s weak. 

Her love is now loyal and nurturing, offering guidance to her partner as she repeats, “I’m your man.” The self-proclaimed “Venice Bitch,” the title of another standout nine-minute song on the album, admits her strained feelings in “Fuck it I Love You,” and exhibits her better judgement in the line: “If I wasn’t so fucked up, I think I’d fuck you all the time, it’s killing me slowly.” Reflecting on the beginnings of her discography and throughout, Del Rey’s character arch is irrefutable. 

After rebranding from Lizzy Grant, Del Rey went viral in 2011 with her homemade video for “Video Games.” Her first album “Born To Die” debuted at number one in 11 countries and sold 3.4 million copies in 2012, making it the fifth best-selling album of the year. It’s spent over 300 weeks on the Billboard 200, making it the second album by a female artist to do so, and it’s certified platinum. Not bad. 

Tumblr fangirls fell in love with her cinematic visuals and were soon wearing flower crowns and winging their eyeliner—  embracing their inner femme fatale. One could argue that without Del Rey, the likes of Lorde or Billie Eilish wouldn’t have a place in the mainstream today. But not everyone bought into the daydream.

Critics frowned upon Del Rey’s glorification of materialism. In “National Anthem” she whispers “Money is the anthem, of success, so before we go out, what's your address?”, after all. Her “sugar baby” persona left people upset, calling her music anti-feminist. 

Songs like “Money Power Glory” and “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” on “Ultraviolence” poignantly forward previous themes. But perhaps she’s merely leaning into her persona and exaggerating it. This second album takes influence from psychedelic and blues rock.  Honeymoon, her third, returned to orchestral production from “Born to Die” and it’s updated edition “Paradise,” and held to sentiments of dreamy, tortured romance. 

“Lust for Life”, however, is a turning point. This record was newly personal, held political undertones, and was her most stripped sound yet. Billboard called it “new-age folk” with pop influences and hip hop beats. An eclectic list of features were included, namely The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Sean Lennon, and Playboi Carti, proving her respected standing in the industry. The album later received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album.

“NFR!” serves as the perfect amalgamation of all of Del Rey’s albums, where she finds a pleasant balance with staple themes of darkness, lightness, romance, introspection, and hope. Lyrically, she’s more precise than ever before, and with production by Jack Antanoff, “NFR” is easy listening, but still dissectible. Even Pitchfork, who compared her first album to a “fake orgasm” and a “torch with no flame,” rated the album a 9.4, the highest rated album in the last decade before Kanye West’s “Yeezus.” Reaching a new peak, Del Rey is now a woman navigating her late 20s, empowering herself in her relationships and her work, and growing in parallel with her “hopelessly devoted” audience.