How Lana Del Rey uses music to show character development
When done right, using a discography as an artistic outlet can be quite spectacular.

In 2012, with the releases of songs like “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans,” Lana Del Rey was met with a lot of controversy. She sang about drugs, sadness, and her utter devotion to a male partner. With her deep, sultry voice and an image reminiscent of 1950s golden-age America, her songs were a stark opposite to the pop hits of the time. Many people criticized her music for being anti-feminist due to the content matter. Nevertheless, Del Rey persisted. Over the course of her career, she has released eight well-received albums—all a reflection of her persona.

Born To Die (2012) featured Del Rey’s most accomplished hit, “Summertime Sadness.” The album was polarizing to the public—its style of music stuck out as being extremely different, creating a “cultural reset” for listeners at the time. Artistically, the songs on Born To Die  seem to reflect the mindset of a young girl who is vulnerable, naïve, and has a boyfriend much older than her. This description is reflective of Del Rey at the time of the album’s release. People speculated that she was only famous because of her dad’s money, or that she slept around to get her album out. Despite the gossip, Born To Die spent 300 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart. 

Soon after, Del Rey released Paradise (2012)a collection of eight songs with a more summery vibe. The album included a cover of Tony Bennett’s “Blue Velvet,” a song originally released in 1951. While Paradise did not experience the same commercial success as Born to Die, it can be seen as a new development for her persona. Paradise comes off as more laid-back, lacking the same upbeat, bubbly flow of her earlier releases. Throughout the collection of songs, Del Rey seems to share a prominent message: she’s not going to change her style because of the public opinion. 

In 2014, Del Rey released Ultraviolence (my personal favourite). As a total change from her 2012 albums, Ultraviolence is pure rock. Its songs are flooded with electric guitar and manufactured melancholy—an album packed with raw emotion. Del Rey sings about violence in intimate relationships, cocaine, and the way that she feels pretty when she cries. Track two, “Ultraviolence,” features lyrics like “he hit me and it felt like a kiss.” Such soul-crushing content in mainstream music is rare. As such, Ultraviolence may as well be her magnum opus.

Honeymoon (2015) came as the musical love child of Born to Die and Ultraviolence. This cinematic album poses similarities to silent films, with songs that serve hope with a touch of drama. Honeymoon seems to reflect on Del Rey’s personal life. She merges her 2011 and 2014 self and unifies these eras, musically and personally.

In 2017, Del Rey delivered another album, Lust for Life, titled after the track of the same name that features The Weeknd. The album displays a pivotal turning point in Del Rey’s music. According to Apple Music, this album is “quintessentially her: gloomy, glamorous, and smitten with California.” Unsure but bold, Lust for Life paved the way for one of her best releases yet.

Critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated, Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019) includes piano ballads, soft pop, and a tone of pure hope and light. The tracks on this album totally deviate from Del Rey’s previous work, and the lyrical developments act as reflections of Del Rey’s growth. As a once immature girl who was reliant on a man three times her age, Del Rey finally finds peace in this collection. She realizes that she does not need a man. 

Del Rey released two albums in 2021—Chemtrails Over the Country Club and Blue Banisters. Both are reflections of a better time—with a light mood that characterizes each record. By changing her gloomy black-and-white tone that we saw in Ultraviolence, Del Rey seems to have come to terms with her life, career, and her musical range. 

Through her many styles and sounds, Del Rey has greatly showcased her talents as a songwriter and singer. By turning her life story into art, she places a poetic twist on pop music. From the sharp openings to mellow endings, Del Rey puts all of her emotions on display—making her musical journey like no other. 


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