Becoming Lana Del Rey

Becoming Lana Del Rey

Elizabeth Woolridge Grant released her fifth studio album earlier this year. Who is Elizabeth Grant? I would ask that same question if I was reading this post a few months ago. Now I understand who Elizabeth Grant is, and her importance in the music industry today. Yes, Elizabeth Woolridge Grant is known professionally as Lana Del Rey, and is an American singer, songwriter, and model.

Lana Del Rey is a well-known artist within today’s crowded music industry. I say that because her rise in fame came about similarly to many others today; by way of social media. One article by Paul Harris published by The Guardian just a week before Del Rey’s Born To Die album’s release noted the differences between Del Rey’s perceived persona in 2008, when she performed under the stage name Lizzy Grant, and in 2012, as Lana Del Rey. Harris wrote: “The internet has allowed figures like [Del Rey] to come rapidly to the fore of the cultural landscape, whether or not their emergence is planned by a record executive or happens spontaneously from someone’s bedroom. It has speeded up the fame cycle. It is worth noting that the huge backlash to Del Rey is happening before her first album has even been released. This reveals a cultural obsession with the “authenticity” that fans, artists and corporations all prize above all else.”

In order to better understand Harris’ quote, it would be good to take a look back at how Del Rey got started. Then it will be apparent how Elizabeth Grant became Lana Del Rey, and why.

Elizabeth Woolridge Grant was born in New York City on June 21, 1985 and grew up in Lake Placid, New York. She was raised a Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic elementary school. She began singing in her church choir when she was a child, where she was the cantor. At fifteen years old Lana Del Rey faced her first major obstacle when she was sent to Kent School by her parents to resolve a budding drinking problem.

Del Rey decided not to attend college at this time, and instead spent a year living on Long Island with her aunt and uncle while working as a waitress. During this time, Del Rey’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”, Del Rey 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.”

The following year, she enrolled at Fordham University where she majored in philosophy, with an emphasis on metaphysics. Del Rey 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 college, Del Rey did volunteer work at homeless youth and drug and alcohol outreach programs, as well as helping paint and rebuild houses on an Indian reservation in Utah. She would cite this trip as integral in her decision to become a songwriter: “I remember exactly when I decided that I wanted to be a singer. I was in college, [and] we went to the Indian reservation. That day I realized that I had only two options: either making music or volunteering for a good cause. I chose the first option.”

In 2007, while a senior in college, Del Rey submitted a demo tape of acoustic tracks titled No Kung Fu to 5 Points Records who subsequently offered her a recording contract for $10,000. Del Rey used the money to move to Manhattan Mobile Home Park, a trailer park in North Bergen, New Jersey, and subsequently began working with producer David Kahne, with whom she released a three-track EP titled Kill Kill in October 2008 as Lizzy Grant.

Del Rey’s début full-length album, interestingly titled Lana Del Ray, was released in January 2010. The album was available for purchase on iTunes for a brief period before being withdrawn. Del Rey bought the rights back from her label, 5 Points, as she wanted it out of circulation to “stifle future opportunities to distribute it.” Her current managers, Ben Mawson and Ed Millett helped her to get out of her contract with 5 Points Records.

When choosing her stage name, 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.” She has said her lawyers and managers made up the name Lana Del Rey and persuaded her to adopt the stage name.

After uploading them to her YouTube channel in 2011, Del Rey’s videos for the songs “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” became viral internet sensations, and she was signed by Stranger Records to release “Video Games” as her début 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.” In October 2011, she signed a joint deal with Interscope Records and Polydor to work on her second studio album Born to Die.

Del Rey built anticipation to the album by doing a number of live appearances, such as promotional concerts at the Bowery Ballroom and at the Chateau Marmont, and with performances at television shows such as De Wereld Draait Door, and Later… with Jools Holland. However, it was that memorable performance on Saturday Night Live that shaped some negative opinions of Lana Del Rey. Her performance on Saturday Night Live promoting Born to Die was particularly noted by critics, who deemed her “nervous” and “vocally shaky” onstage. I have watched SNL with others who had no clue about the musical guest. They quickly formed negative opinions and dismissed the artist, no matter if the act had millions of fans. Many utilized social media and questioned the decision to book Lana Del Rey on SNL. Del Rey 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.”

Well, that Saturday Night Live performance is water under the bridge, as I wrote earlier that Lana Del Rey recently released her fifth studio album Lust For Life. Her new album has garnered very good reviews. In a very positive review from GQ Magazine, Kevin Long wrote that “Like Lorde’s Melodrama, Lust For Life is an accomplished piece of art, an antidote to the banal tunes permeating the charts and one of the best albums released this year so far.” Billboard named Lust for Life their album of the week, writing “In a 2017 pop game riddled with thirst, trend-hops and burn-outs, Lana Del Rey has earned a remarkable, singular consistency.” I listened to the entire album several weeks ago and must agree with the positive reviews. The five stellar albums, coupled with much better live performances are evidence Del Rey has become the artist many were waiting for years ago.

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