Lana Del Rey’s impressive mark on the music industry and popular culture


Brian van der Brug

Lana Del Rey at Coachella Music Festival in 2014.

Carlos Verduzco, Staff Writer

Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, better known by her stage name, Lana Del Rey, is a singer-songwriter who has nearly a decade-long discography of both critically and commercially successful projects. Since her debut in 2011, she has put out five studio LPs: “Born To Die” (2012), “Ultraviolence” (2014), “Honeymoon” (2015), “Lust For Life” (2017), and “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” (2019). Each record, with its own respective aesthetic and sound, showcases the trajectory of the songstress’ career through her perception of the “American dream” at the time of each release.

Del Rey’s debut record, “Born To Die,” has been on and off the Billboard 200 chart for over 350 weeks. This is an impressive feat that not only shows Del Rey’s longevity but also her talent, timelessness, and impressionistic power in the landscape that is music and popular culture. “Born To Die” is the only debut album by a female artist to reach 350 weeks on the chart and is one of only three albums by a female artist to surpass 300. It falls just ahead of Carole King’s “Tapestry” (318 weeks) and just behind Adele’s “21” (463 weeks). 

Big names like Adele, Kanye West, Taylor Swift,  The Weeknd, Stevie Nicks, Elton John, and several others, have classified Del Rey as a major talent. Elton John commented for Rolling Stone, “These are amazing girls. [Lana Del Rey], Billie Eilish, Kacey Musgraves — I mean, the girls are leading the way. They’re writing about their life. That’s what moves me.”

John regarded both Del Rey and Eilish as “girls leading the way,” but essayist Duncan Cooper, for Vice, stated, “It’s hard to imagine an Eilish, a Lorde, or a Halsey, without [Del Rey] first.” Music journalist Al Horner adds, “Tuning into a mainstream radio station over the last few years, you might have heard Lil Uzi Vert declare ‘I might blow my brains out’ or Lorde delve deep into melancholy on hits like ‘Royals’…”

The existence of “sad” lyrics on mainstream radio was unheard of until the mid-2010s with the rise of SoundCloud rappers and alternative pop acts that came after Del Rey. Billboard’s “Songs that defined the decade” writer Alexa Shouneyia states, “Prior to [Del Rey’s] arrival, the alluring sadness and melodrama of her cinematic, beat-heavy alt-pop was something largely associated with male-fronted, lightly raging emo bands…” Shouneyia goes on, “She took sadness and vulnerability and made them sexy and mainstream. With it came a sonic shift that completely changed the pop landscape.” 

Del Rey told Pitchfork in 2017, “There’s been a major sonic shift culturally; I think I had a lot to do with that.” 

Her vintage, old Hollywood, and literary references in her visuals and audios enhance the “persona” that Lana Del Rey has created for herself. She alludes to the past in a retrospective manner and effortlessly modernizes themes to appeal to younger generations.

Arguably the biggest artist in pop music, and Billboard’s woman of the decade honoree, Taylor Swift, took these sentiments a step further in her speech at Billboard’s annual Women In Music Event. Swift stated, “I’ve watched as one of my favorite artists of the decade, Lana Del Rey, was ruthlessly criticized early in her career and then slowly but surely she turned into, in my opinion, the most influential artist in pop,” she continued, “Her vocal stylings, her lyrics, her aesthetics, they’ve been repurposed everywhere in music.” 

Del Rey did not have overnight success as Swift pointed out. After a tragic and lackluster performance on SNL prior to her debut album’s release, critics were quick to judge Del Rey’s integrity and talent. Fast-forwarding from 2011, The Washington Post’s “Decade Influencers” last year cited Del Rey as “A mature pop artist, one of the greats of her generation, and someone worthy of being taken seriously.” 

In this speech, Swift was also alluding to the birth of a new movement in pop music which conceived notable acts like Billie Eilish and Lorde, but also veteran acts who drew inspiration from Del Rey’s work like Swift herself. 

Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” was nominated for album of the year at the 2020 Grammys and was her most critically acclaimed project to date. Also, “Born To Die” placed at No.14 on Metacritic’s “Albums Mentioned on Most Best of the Decade Top 10 Lists,” despite it having the lowest critical score largely due to the misconceptions of Del Rey during her freshman status in the music industry. 

The full-circle moment from the beginning of the decade to the end is similarly symbolic of the body of work Del Rey has extraordinarily orchestrated. 

Del Rey is planning to release a spoken word poetry album, “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass,” later this year, and is also in the works of writing a Broadway musical expected to be completed within the next few years. Thus, she is continuing to expand her repertoire and legacy as a music industry and pop culture force to be reckoned with. 

Del Rey has made clear that she is more than just a nontraditional pop star — She is a visionary.