Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey

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10 mins read

Elizabeth Woolridge Grant was born June 21, 1985 and is known professionally as Lana Del Rey.

She was born in Manhattan, New York City, to Robert England Grant Jr., a Grey Group copywriter, and Patricia Ann “Pat” (née Hill), an account executive at Grey Group. She has a younger sister, Caroline, and a younger brother, Charlie. 

She was raised Roman Catholic and is of Scottish descent. Her ancestors were from Lanarkshire. When she was one year old, the family moved to Lake Placid, New York. In Lake Placid, her father worked for a furniture company before becoming an entrepreneurial domain investor; her mother worked as a schoolteacher. There, she attended St. Agnes School in her elementary years and began singing in her church choir, where she was the cantor.

She attended the high school where her mother taught for one year, but when she was 15 her parents sent her to Kent School to resolve a budding drinking problem. Her uncle, an admissions officer at the school, secured her financial aid to attend. According to Grant, she had trouble making friends during much of her teenage and early adult years. She has said she was preoccupied with death from a young age, and its role in her feelings of anxiety and alienation.

After graduating from the Kent School, she spent a year living on Long Island with her aunt and uncle and working as a waitress. During this time, Grant’s uncle taught her 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”. She was always singing, but didn’t plan on pursuing it seriously.

In 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”. In the spring of 2005, while still in college, Del Rey registered a seven-track extended play 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, 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, Sirens, under the May Jailer project, which leaked on the internet in mid-2012.

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, No Kung Fu, to 5 Points, which offered her a recording contract. She used the money to relocate to Manhattan Mobile Home Park, a trailer park in North Bergen, New Jersey, and began working with producer David Kahne.

Del Rey graduated from Fordham with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 2008, after which she released a three-track EP, Kill Kill, as Lizzy Grant, featuring production by Kahne. 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.

Of choosing a stage name for her feature debut album, she said she wanted a name she could shape the music towards. She was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with her friends from Cuba—Lana Del Rey reminded them 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, produced and sold in Brazil in the 1980s. Initially she used the alternate spelling 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 and Nichtern both said that Del Rey bought the rights back from 5 Points, as she wanted it out of circulation to “stifle future opportunities to distribute it—an echo of rumors 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.”

Del Rey’s breakthrough came in 2011 with the viral success of her single “Video Games”; she subsequently signed a recording contract with Polydor and Interscope. She achieved critical and commercial success with her second album, Born to Die (2012), which contained the hit “Summertime Sadness”. Del Rey’s third album was Ultraviolence (2014).

Her fourth and fifth albums, Honeymoon (2015) and Lust for Life (2017), saw a return to the stylistic traditions of her earlier releases, while her critically acclaimed sixth album, Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019), explored soft rock. Del Rey followed this with the albums Chemtrails over the Country Club and Blue Banisters, both in 2021.

Del Rey has collaborated on soundtracks for visual media; in 2013, she wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed musical short Tropico, and performed “Young and Beautiful” for the romantic drama The Great Gatsby. In 2014, she recorded “Once Upon a Dream” for the dark fantasy adventure film Maleficent and the self-titled theme song for the biopic Big Eyes. Del Rey collaborated with Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus on “Don’t Call Me Angel” for the action comedy Charlie’s Angels (2019). Outside of music, Del Rey published the poetry and photography collection Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass (2020).

Upon her debut release, Del Rey’s music was described as “Hollywood sadcore” by some music critics. It has been repeatedly noted for its cinematic sound and its references to various aspects of pop culture; both critics and Del Rey herself have noted a persistent theme of 1950s and 1960s Americana.

Del Rey cites a wide array of musical artists as influences, including numerous pop, jazz, and blues performers from the mid-twentieth century, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Bobby Vinton, The Crystals, and Miles Davis. Torch singers Julie London and Julee Cruise have also served as influences.

In the early 2000s, Del Rey worked at a homeless shelter and participated in humanitarian work, including building houses at Navajo Nation.

Over the years, Del Rey has supported multiple causes and made several recordings available as offerings to help support causes she believes in. Her 2019 charity single “Looking for America” was released amidst the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. In October 2020, she donated $350,000 from her book Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass to the Dig Deep Water project to provide clean water for some of the most vulnerable communities of Navajo Nation. Later in December, Del Rey released a cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to benefit charities supported by the Liverpool F.C. Foundation.