Her music is cinematic, glamorous, melancholy, old-timey, intellectual, slow, lengthy, and even occasionally controversial. Yes: for this week’s Top 10 list, we’re talking about the one and only Lana Del Rey, who recently dropped her latest album, Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard.
Lana has been described as the “gangster Nancy Sinatra” of our times. The moody musician was born with the name Elizabeth Woolridge Grant in Manhattan, New York City. She was raised Roman Catholic and moved to Lake Placid with her family when she was only a year old. Her childhood was rough, as she had an alcohol problem as a teen, struggled to make friends, got sent to boarding school, and was very preoccupied with the thought of death. Eventually, she found herself living with her aunt and uncle in Long Island and working as a waitress. Her 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.” When she got to New York City at age eighteen, Elizabeth started playing in clubs in Brooklyn. Inspired by the film actress Lana Turner, she eventually took the stage name Lana Del Rey…and the rest is history.
For this Top 10 list, we’re taking a look at various old and new songs in Lana’s catalogue we feel define her sound best. We hope you’re in a melancholy mood, because all of these tracks are deep, poetic, and oh-so sultry. Without further ado, here are our picks.
10. “Venice B—h”
You know you’ve made a good song when Paris Hilton comments she “Loves it” on your music video. “Venice B—h” comes from Lana’s critically acclaimed record Norman F—–g Rockwell! and brings all the happy nostalgic vibes. It’s about a relationship that works despite the pair being apart often. It was written with and produced by Jack Antonoff, and contains a plot that is an expansion of the album’s title track.
Within the romantic lyrics, Lana makes references to the psychedelic rock classic “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells, a poem by Robert Frost, an album by Father John Misty, and of course, the painter Norman Rockwell. The song runs for 9 minutes 36 seconds, making it Del Rey’s longest so far.
9. “Blue Jeans”
Polished and dramatic, “Blue Jeans” feels like a modern pop opera. Unlike the fling in “Venice B—h,” the moody romance described in this passionate track does not last for too long. Lana describes an ex-boyfriend whom she compares to James Dean. The relationship starts off well, until “the bad boy” abruptly leaves. He gets caught up in chasing money and selling drugs, leaving her in the dust. All in all, she refuses to let him forget she will always love him, crooning, “I will love you ’till the end of time” in the emotional chorus.
We particularly love “Blue Jeans” for it’s strong melody and intricate orchestral production. It’s a single from Lana Del Rey’s second studio album, Born to Die. The music video came out in 2012, and is a gorgeously shot black-and-white visual that shows Lana swimming in a pool with her lover. According to Songfacts, Lana revealed the inspiration for the song in an interview for The Daily Telegraph. “It’s not my fault that love went bad,” she said. “I met this person I was going to spend the rest of my life with. We were both clean and sober. We lived together and then he started getting into trouble, and he had to leave. There’s a lot of facets to my life, they don’t all seem like they would come together. It’s been a strange ride.”
8. “Brooklyn Baby”
A dreamier song of Lana’s, “Brooklyn Baby” shows off the singer’s soprano range while also containing peaceful, soothing music production and pride for the New York borough where Del Rey lived for four years. It’s the fourth single released from her third studio album, Ultraviolence. Like much of her music, it is steeped in nostalgia for an earlier period in American history. It also describes a relationship between her and an older man.
Like her popular song “National Anthem,” “Brooklyn Baby” appears to be partially satirical or entirely satirical. In other words, it’s very “in your face” about typical artsy Brooklyn stereotypes. It describes a cool, young girl who brags about her musician boyfriend, rare jazz collection, and hydroponic weed.
The track was written by Lana Del Rey and her ex-boyfriend, Barrie-James O’Neill. In a Guardian interview, Del Rey said she was originally meant to record the song with Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground. Unfortunately, Reed died the day of the planned recording. But in the end, Lana managed to make a stellar project, as “Brooklyn Baby” was certified Gold by the RIAA in 2021.
7. “West Coast”
As the title would suggest, “West Coast” has all the 70s California beach vibes you could ask for. This track is a surf-rock throwback produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Like “Brooklyn Baby,” it’s another standout from Ultraviolence that utilizes subtle electric guitar bits and artfully describes the culture of a place. In this romance, Lana tells listeners that despite wanting to travel, she always comes back to her lover in the West Coast.
“West Coast” was directly inspired by Lana’s experiences in the region, and she reportedly told The Sun being in California actually helped her fall back in love with New York City. We adore how the tempo in this track isn’t afraid to slow down and pick back up again – just like ocean tides. This song marked Lana’s highest debut at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as her second-highest charting single after a remix of the #1 song on our list. On April 11th, 2014, Lana sang an a cappella excerpt of “West Coast” at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. It was released three days later as the lead single for Ultraviolence. The song finally made its full-length live performance debut at Coachella on April 20th.
6. “Young and Beautiful”
In our humble opinion, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was one of the biggest highlights of 2013. Besides giving us that iconic gif of Leonardo DiCaprio holding up a wine glass with fireworks behind him, the film also gifted us with this incredible single from Lana Del Rey. Not only does “Young and Beautiful” compliment the themes of The Great Gatsby: it also beautifully romanticizes the act of falling in love with someone and staying with them for the rest of your life – even when you’re no longer young and beautiful.
“Young and Beautiful” was penned by both Lana and Baz Luhrmann for the movie’s soundtrack. Del Rey wrote an earlier version of the orchestral song for her Paradise EP, but re-worked it with Luhrmann after he heard it and decided it’d work great with the movie. She said in an interview, “It was an honor to work with Baz Lurhmann on his amazing adaptation of one of the most extraordinary books ever written. The movie is highly glamorous and exciting; Rick Nowels and I were thrilled to write the song for the film.”
We believe this song from Del Rey’s latest album Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd has been set up to become a classic. This is another more recent track that was produced with the help of Jack Antonoff. It’s essentially two songs in one: the first half is a brooding piano ballad that anecdotes her innocent childhood and climbs through her adulthood. She becomes a sex addict, and we learn the track’s title is an abbreviation for “American Whore.”
The second half of the rant is a more pop-heavy anthem that has Lana declaring her involvement with a man named Jimmy. (Who also appeared in her June 2014 track “Ultraviolence,” where he’s seen as abusive.) The repetitiveness and allusions to drugs put the listener in a manic state, and give the song a somewhat tragic ending despite the sugary, upbeat nature of the music production. Putting its popularity on TikTok aside, we have a feeling people will be talking about “A&W” for years to come. It may just be a song that influences pop further as we continue into the 2020s.
4. “Video Games”
The song that started it all. “Video Games” was Lana Del Rey’s breakthrough hit and served as the first single off her wildly successful sophomore studio album and major label debut, Born to Die. The song was notably certified 2x multi-platinum by the RIAA in 2021 – ten years after its release. It tells the story of Del Rey being ignored by her lover (partly because of his obsession with video games) and combines two broken relationships Del Rey actually experienced into one song. Overall, it feels like Lana Del Rey’s thesis statement as an artist.
For a baroque, downtempo pop ballad, it’s refreshing to hear Del Rey sing lyrics that feel so modern. According to Genius, Lana talked about the song’s meaning in a statement: “The verse was about the way things were with one person, and the chorus was the way I wished things had really been with another person, who I thought about for a long time. It’s a song about letting go of my musical ambitions and settling down into a simple life with a person I loved. We had a mutual love for the community of New York, art and hard work.” The accompanying music video was directed and edited by Del Rey herself, combining webcam clips of her performing the song with archival footage.
3. “Born to Die”
The title track of her popular sophomore album, “Born to Die” is regal, real, and even romantic in a slightly dark, unconventional way. The song is described by Del Rey as an “homage to true love and a tribute to living life on the wild side.” According to Songfacts, Lana confirmed the song was about her boyfriend in an interview for Q Magazine. “When I found someone that made me feel really happy, that was so different to the way I’d felt before in my life,” she said.
Perhaps even more popular than the track itself is its accompanying music video. In it, we see Del Rey pose nude with a man in front of a flowing American flag, sit on a throne wearing a flower crown next to two resting tigers, and possibly die in a car crash? (The fiery ending is very ambiguous!)
Lana spoke with MTV about the video’s background: “For ‘Born To Die,’ I wrote a treatment for it called “The Lonely Queen,” so that I would be in a setting that represented Heaven, sort of in like a remote castle in Romania. Walking through the halls flanked by tigers. And then she’d be flashing back to happier times in the arms of her love. And then Yoann Lemoine adapted that treatment and made it more doable. But I love that video. I really do. I can’t believe it turned out so beautifully. I spent a lot of time thinking about where I wanted it to go.”
“Ride” is not Lana Del Rey’s most widely-known or popular songs, but it is hailed as an underrated fan favorite. Starting with a melancholy poem and shifting into a rushing chorus that makes you want to LIVE, this track is designed for you to thaw out of the winter of your life.
This song is off Lana’s Paradise EP, eventually integrated into the re-release of her first major studio album, relabeled as Born to Die – The Paradise Edition. “Ride” received critical claim upon its release, and has been compared to the soulful energy of Adele in reviews. The 60s style pop, haunting lyrics, and stirring orchestral instrumentals mix together to create a timeless-sounding piece. Perhaps the only thing about “Ride” that didn’t age so well is Lana’s cultural appropriation in the music video. But as a musical experience, this profound track is sure to take you for an emotional ride.
1. “Summertime Sadness”
Okay, maybe it’s taboo to put Lana’s most mainstream song as #1, especially when she has so many stellar hits. But we can’t help it: this is the sleeper hit most easily associated with her, and a song we feel helped define the early 2010s pop movement.
“Summertime Sadness” started off as an underrated track on Born to Die. It explores the bittersweet and mysterious atmosphere of a summer where Lana danced, cruised, and felt electrified with a loved one. However, the loved one left her too soon – either because of a breakup or, as some suspect from the music video, due to suicide. Either way, Lana now feels melancholy whenever summer rolls around.
After its initial release, the song became an even greater success once a dance remix was created by Cedric Gervais. The remix entered the Top 50 in the UK, the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it topped the US Dance/Electronic songs chart. On the song, Lana told SuperSuper, “I wrote exactly what I felt, and put a melody to it that was perfect for the words. I was staying in Santa Monica, California with my composer and best friend, Daniel Heath. I would sit under the telephone wires and listen to them sizzle in the warm air while he went to work. I wanted to take the electricity and absorb it so it would make me feel alive and electric again. I felt happy in the warm weather and started writing about how sad and gorgeous the summertime felt to me.”
Like that chicken in the iconic Vine, “Summertime Sadness” makes us want to put our red dresses on and dance in the dark (in the pale moonlight) whenever summer comes around.
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Article Image: Black and white close-up of Lana Del Rey singing at the Grammy Museum in 2019. (Justin Higuchi [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.)