Enigmatic songstress is still navigating her way through the Twitter pile-ons and press intrusion as she releases new album
For a singer of such note, Lana Del Rey often seems tone deaf. She once said, in reference to Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain: “I wish I was dead already.”
The cover of her new album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, features a monochrome image of her and a group of women around a table. All of them are white. “It looks like a Women for Trump gathering,” someone tweeted.
The star responded: “In 11 years working, I have always been extremely inclusive without even trying to. My best friends are rappers, my boyfriends have been rappers.”
Her response only made the Twitter pile-on worse. Someone posted a picture from the 2017 political horror movie Get Out — it features a liberal white woman who lures her African American boyfriend to her parent’s house in an affluent suburb of upstate New York so she can steal his black body — with the caption: “Lana Del Rey and her rapper boyfriends.”
Nonetheless, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, a follow-up to 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! — the singer’s “obituary for America” — is still a brilliant collection from the Los Angeles-based songstress.
‘Dark But Just a Game’, ‘Dance Till We Die’, ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’, ‘White Dress’ and ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ bring you to a place of noir introspection and confessional vulnerability: Lanaland. On ‘Breaking Up Slowly’, she sings: “I don’t wanna live with a life of regret/I don’t wanna end up like Tammy Wynette.”
From the beginning of her career, the singer’s life has been a topic of debate. She has had to put up with accusations that she is, at worst, a phoney pretending to be something she is not: the slightly oddball queen of sadcore, the heroine of LA melancholia.
“As soon as the first person wrote about me, the articles became just blatant, all-out lies,” she once said.
In her 2012 song ‘Gods & Monsters’, she references this in the line “a groupie incognito posing as a real singer” and in the video for ‘High by the Beach’ in 2015, she takes down a paparazzi helicopter with a rocket launcher.
Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant in 1986 to an entrepreneur father and a schoolteacher mother, she grew up in Lake Placid, a mountain town in Essex County, upstate New York. She was sent to a private boarding school in Connecticut when she was 14 because she had a drink problem. The plan was to get sober.
“My parents were worried, I was worried. I knew it was a problem when I liked it more than I liked doing anything else. I was like, ‘I am totally f***ed’.”
At 18 she was asked to leave the school and ended up in rehab in New York.
“I worked at an outreach programme for drug and alcohol addicts in Brooklyn,” she said.
While in recovery, Elizabeth — who had now enrolled in Fordham University, where she studied metaphysics — had her horizons opened up to being a singer. She played gigs in various New York underground clubs and in 2006 got herself a deal with 5 Points Records at age 20.
She used the money from the advance to buy a home in a trailer park in New Jersey. She liked the white trash element to her new accommodation, saying she didn’t want to be a part of mainstream society. She claimed that her life was one of displacement.
In 2008, she released her debut EP, Kill Kill, followed two years later by the album Lana Del Ray AKA Lizzy Grant. It vanished without trace, and is only available on iTunes. Lizzy Grant was never heard of again and Lana Del Rey appeared in her place.
She had tinkered with the idea of calling herself Sparkle Jump Rope Queen or May Jailer. She took her first name from the 1950s movie star Lana Turner and her surname from a neighbourhood in Los Angeles’ west-side. In the late summer of 2011 she released her debut single, the out-of-kilter torch-song Video Games.
When she performed it on the American primetime TV show Saturday Night Live (SNL), Entertainment Weekly magazine wrote: “It was the worst performance in SNL history.”
Lana appeared naked on the cover of GQ magazine. Feminist critics called it internalised sexism. The narrative that Lana was some kind of manufactured fraud lying about her poor background wasn’t helped by the reviews of her debut LP Born to Die in January, 2012, either.
“For all its coos about love and devotion, it’s the album equivalent of a faked orgasm,” wrote Pitchfork magazine.
Luckily for the ingenue, who seemed as if she had stepped fully formed on to the set of a David Lynch movie, the rest of the world disagreed with the reviews and her album sold in the millions. Her 2014 album Ultraviolence went to Number 1 in the American charts.
Still the rumours persisted: about plastic surgery, about her rich father bankrolling her.
“It was the exact opposite of that,” she said in 2014. “We never had more money than anyone we ever knew in town.”
Around that time she said that negative press could test her resolve with regard to sobriety: “When I feel like people don’t like this music and that the 10 years I spent making what I made was not for a good reason, that makes me want to drink again.”
In 2018 Courtney Love interviewed her for L’Official magazine. Her opening question was: “Why have you stolen my unconscious and made me your musical slave?”
We get a touch of that listening to Chemtrails Over the Country Club, her seventh studio album (she has another, Rock Candy Sweet coming out on June 1). It is a record that has Lana longing for a simpler time: pre-fame, before the misogynistic claims that dogged her life as a creative artist.
“We should go back to Arkansas,” she sings on Tulsa Jesus Freak. “Trade this body for that can of gin.”