Lana Del Rey

Un­pack­ing the fan­tasy around to­day’s most enig­matic singer

ELLE (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - La na Del Rey

Does Lana Del Rey live right in­side the mid­dle of the ‘H’ of the Hol­ly­wood Sign, and spend most of her nights perched high above the chaos that swirls within the city of an­gels be­low, as the teaser for her new al­bum, Lust For Life, sug­gests? Or does she rent a house in LA’s Santa Mon­ica or Sil­ver Lake or some­place else she’s not about to di­vulge, in case, hav­ing taken a cryp­tic Fe­bru­ary tweet of hers lit­er­ally, a posse of her 6.3 mil­lion well-mean­ing Twit­ter fol­low­ers show up on her doorstep with the ‘magic in­gre­di­ents’ to cast spells on Pres­i­dent Trump?

Does she re­ally only dip her toes into “the muck and the mires of the city ev­ery now and then”, as she says in the al­bum’s trailer? Or does she “go out quite a lot ac­tu­ally”, as she tells me when we meet, and spend her nights hav­ing fun with a tight crew of mainly mu­si­cian mates, danc­ing at house par­ties, go­ing to gigs and oc­ca­sion­ally wrestling the mi­cro­phone from her male friends to sing Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia in karaoke bars? In this post-truth world, it feels pedan­tic to care too much ei­ther way.

The ‘real’ Lana Del Rey is a 31-year-old woman called El­iz­a­beth Wool­ridge Grant, born in Lake Placid, New York. She’s close to her younger sis­ter – Chuck, a pho­tog­ra­pher – but less so to her par­ents, Pa­tri­cia and Robert, and her lit­tle brother, Char­lie. They’re a fam­ily of in­di­vid­u­al­ists, she tells me: “It was nat­u­ral that we all went down our own sep­a­rate paths, and we’ve all stayed there.”

We are sit­ting next to each other on a sofa in the Los An­ge­les record­ing stu­dio where she has been cre­at­ing her most mu­si­cally ac­com­plished work yet – the afore­men­tioned al­bum, Lust For Life, is des­tined to be the sound of this sum­mer. Lana is fully present, smart, funny, en­gag­ing and re­fresh­ingly able to laugh at her­self. She wears jeans and a vin­tage shirt, and she talks softly but with a com­pelling cer­tainty. I like her all the more for the fact that no amount of ev­ery­day­ness negates the magic she ex­udes as a per­former. To her fans, Lana ex­ists in flick­er­ing Su­per 8; the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who comes with no bag­gage or bad days, but is here only for you in a Va­len­cia-fil­tered fan­tasy. She’s an idea of a woman who didn’t grow up any­where, but emerged fully formed from the el­e­va­tor at the Chateau Mar­mont Ho­tel. She’s a mon­tage of Amer­i­cana, fin­ished with a flick of black eye­liner.

Both the re­al­ity and the fan­tasy of Lana Del Rey make up a fully formed, al­beit ex­cep­tional, hu­man be­ing. But, as Lana tells me, in­hab­it­ing th­ese two worlds hasn’t al­ways been easy: “I know that if I had more of a per­sona then [when she re­leased her break­through hit, Video Games, on the in­ter­net in 2011], I have less of one now. I think it comes down to get­ting a lit­tle older. Maybe I needed a stronger look or some­thing to lean on [back then]. But it wouldn’t re­ally be hard for me to­day to play a mega-show in jeans with­out re­hears­ing and still feel like I was com­ing from the right place.”

I sug­gest that the scru­tiny Lana was put un­der by the me­dia for hav­ing a melan­cholic per­sona was un­fair. Ev­ery­one, to some de­gree, presents a dif­fer­ent side of them­selves at work, right? Plus, she’s hardly the first artist to change her name or cul­ti­vate a dis­tinc­tive stage look. Yet, count­less con­spir­acy the­o­ries called into ques­tion her ap­pear­ance, ta­lent and fam­ily back­ground around the time her sec­ond al­bum, Born

To Die, was re­leased in 2012 – but Lana is re­mark­ably un­der­stand­ing.

“Look­ing back now, I get a lit­tle more of what [the crit­ics] were say­ing. When I was in the mix of a lot of re­views and cri­tiques, I was kind of like, ‘What? I do my hair and my makeup just like ev­ery­one else for my pic­tures and my show, and yes my songs are melan­cholic, but so are who­ever else’s.’ So to see a cou­ple of other fe­male artists not get crit­i­cised made me think, ‘What is it about me?’” In hind­sight, she says, she un­der­stands what the crit­i­cism and in­trigue over her au­then­tic­ity as an artist was about: “I think it comes down to en­ergy, I re­ally do. I wasn’t overtly say­ing, ‘I’m un­happy’ or ‘I’m strug­gling’ in my mu­sic, but I think maybe peo­ple did catch that and they were say­ing, ‘If you’re go­ing to put mu­sic like that out there, you

bet­ter ’fess up to it.’ But I don’t think I re­ally knew how I felt. Then when things got a lit­tle big­ger with the mu­sic, I was still fig­ur­ing out what was im­por­tant to me.”

I get the sense that she’s done a lot of fig­ur­ing out in the past few years, like many of women in their our early thir­ties prob­a­bly have done, too. The dif­fer­ence with Lana, of course, is that all her ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, mis­takes and re­grets were fod­der for pub­lic con­sump­tion. I men­tion that sink­ing feel­ing I get when I stum­ble across an old diary or a Face­book post that feels like it was from a to­tally dif­fer­ent place to where I am now. I ask if she can re­late.

“That ap­plies to me,” she says. “I have cringy mo­ments. Cer­tain things I have said and songs I have done, but mostly the ones that were leaked… I mean, they’re not my finest.”

She’s talk­ing about her com­puter be­ing hacked in 2010, when hun­dreds of un­fin­ished songs were re­leased on­line, with­out her per­mis­sion. It was a hor­ri­ble in­va­sion of her pri­vacy, and it leads us on to a dis­cus­sion about vul­ner­a­bil­ity – though in­ter­est­ingly, it’s not a word she says she has ever ap­plied to her­self.

I ask her what per­form­ing on stage takes from her emo­tion­ally and what she gains from it; her am­phithe­atre shows usu­ally hold up to 24,000 peo­ple at ca­pac­ity. She fixes me with a not-at-all vul­ner­a­ble look and says, “Well, it de­pends on the day. If I’m hav­ing a good day, it still takes a lot, but so much of it is phys­i­cal. I try to take strength and sing from my core, so I have to ac­tu­ally feel good and get a lot of sleep. Of course, it also helps if my per­sonal life is even; when you’re on stage for an hour and 40 min­utes, you think while you’re singing. I don’t like my in-be­tween thoughts to be rest­less, or wor­ri­some, so I can fo­cus on the crowd.”

Af­ter a show, she feels re­flec­tive and needs time to process it. “It’s not like you do it and it didn’t hap­pen; it’s a real ex­pe­ri­ence. I know rock bands who say they f**king love it – that they would [per­form] ev­ery night and wouldn’t do any­thing else. I don’t know if it’s as emo­tional an ex­pe­ri­ence for them [as it is for me].”

Back to that need to feel good and have an ‘even’ per­sonal life. Lana has lived in both New York and Lon­don, but says Los An­ge­les is start­ing to feel like home, and that’s a big part of what’s mak­ing her happy right now: “I’m grow­ing my roots and meet­ing a lot of other friends, so I feel a lit­tle more set­tled.” In her down­time, she loves swim­ming in the ocean: “I have a friend called Ron who likes to swim with me. So ev­ery now and then, we find an empty beach, jump in and swim the length of the coast, from one side of the cove to the other.”

Her friends are her fam­ily, says Lana, and that’s why she can’t ac­cept any­thing less than to­tal hon­esty and trust from them: “The fact that I know that now makes ev­ery­thing a lot clearer. What’s in­ter­est­ing is how un­safe we [could] feel among each other [if we weren’t] able to ex­press how we re­ally feel. It’s hard know­ing that if you tell some­one ex­actly how you feel, like if you’re happy or un­happy, that could be the end of the re­la­tion­ship be­cause they don’t feel the same way.”

We speak about the crews you pick up through your life and agree that, in your thir­ties, you are much bet­ter at sur­round­ing your­self with peo­ple who make you feel good. “When you’re in your twen­ties, you let this cast of char­ac­ters [into your life], es­pe­cially if you’re in the arts,” she says. “It didn’t mat­ter what they stood for or what they thought was im­por­tant. But as the years went on, there were things I saw in peo­ple that I didn’t like.” Lana is en­joy­ing be­ing part of a mu­sic scene in LA where her friends in­clude pho­tog­ra­pher Emma Till­man (also the wife of singer-song­writer Fa­ther John Misty), Zach Dawes, who has played bass with the Bri­tish su­per-group The Last Shadow Pup­pets, and mu­si­cians Jonathan Wil­son and Cam Avery. They play mu­sic to­gether, which is not some­thing she’s done with friends be­fore. The first time she had din­ner with the whole gang, she thought: “Wow, this is great.” She tells me: “Feel­ing part of some­thing is def­i­nitely a nice feel­ing.” The down­side to rolling with a crew of fel­low mu­si­cians is that karaoke be­comes a com­pet­i­tive sport: “If I’m with guys, they’re al­ways on the mi­cro­phone and it’s hard to grab it from them. Ev­ery­one pre­tends it doesn’t mat­ter, but you can tell there are mo­ments in the cho­ruses when peo­ple are re­ally singing.”

We laugh and I feel pleased that I’m meet­ing Lana at a time in her life when, as she puts it: “All the tough things that I have been through – that I’ve drawn up on [in my work] – don’t ex­ist for me any­more. Not all my ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships were bad, but some of them chal­lenged me in a way that I didn’t want to be chal­lenged, and I am happy I don’t have to do that now.”

I don’t mean to rain on her pa­rade, but I ask whether she feels that when she ad­mits she’s happy that some­thing bad might be just around the cor­ner? “Yes, some­times. I have a lit­tle bit of that. I feel that it’s a hu­man thing to be su­per­sti­tious. Some­times I say to my friends, ‘I don’t want to jinx it.’ Or if I’m on the phone I’m Iike, ‘I’m so ex­cited about this’, and then I’m wait­ing for that phone call the next day…but there’s no such thing as jinx­ing it. Just let go.”

The key to hap­pi­ness, she says, is to ask your­self what will make you happy: “I try not to do any­thing that won’t [make me happy], even if it’s a show in a place that doesn’t suit me. It’s so sim­ple; I al­ways used to ask my­self that, but I never lis­tened [to the an­swer] be­cause I knew I was prob­a­bly go­ing to do it any­way. If some­one re­ally needed me to do some­thing, I would prob­a­bly be like, ‘Okay!’”

“I think hap­pi­ness is the ul­ti­mate life goal. I think it’s the only thing that’s im­por­tant.”

I won­der if we put too much em­pha­sis on be­ing happy and that in it­self causes stress and anx­i­ety, but Lana pas­sion­ately dis­agrees: “No! I think hap­pi­ness is the ul­ti­mate life goal. I think it’s the only thing that’s im­por­tant. There are no mech­a­nisms in place for routes to hap­pi­ness, that’s the whole fuck­ing prob­lem. I think peo­ple are un­happy in school – the ed­u­ca­tion struc­ture has been the same for a long time and kids are still not sat­is­fied all over the world with their ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. And you don’t have enough con­ver­sa­tions when you’re young about what makes for a sat­is­fy­ing, mu­tual re­la­tion­ship. Those col­lec­tive life ex­pe­ri­ences – your youth, your aca­demic ed­u­ca­tion and your ed­u­ca­tion about busi­ness, mar­riage or re­la­tion­ship goals – they all lead up to your col­lec­tive hap­pi­ness. I think the em­pha­sis is on the wrong things, and it has been for a long time.”

Lana tells me she’s more so­cially en­gaged than ever; her fifth and lat­est al­bum is a mix of per­sonal in­tro­spec­tion and out­ward-look­ing an­thems, such as God Bless Amer­ica, in which she sings: ‘God bless Amer­ica and all the beau­ti­ful women in it.’ She says that, with this record, she was striv­ing for a feel­ing that we’re all in this to­gether: “I think it would be weird to be mak­ing a record dur­ing the past 18 months and not com­ment on how [the po­lit­i­cal land­scape] was mak­ing me or the peo­ple I know feel, which is not good. It would be re­ally dif­fi­cult if my views didn’t line up with a lot of what peo­ple were say­ing.” I ask how she rec­on­ciles her per­sonal well­be­ing with the col­lec­tive feel­ing that we are all go­ing to hell in a hand­cart.

“I think it’s a bal­ance. You are so for­tu­nate if you have good health and high en­ergy be­cause it takes a lot to be a re­spon­si­ble hu­man. Re­spon­si­ble to your­self, re­spon­si­ble to oth­ers, and to know when not to get too deep into the worm­hole of news, but still be po­lit­i­cally in-the-know, and not be dis­con­nected. In my life, it’s like walk­ing on a tightrope. I read the news, but I won’t read it be­fore bed; I won’t read it when I get up and I won’t read it be­tween my record­ing ses­sions. I have win­dows of time where I check in and catch up with ev­ery­one, but I keep my sa­cred things sa­cred.”

And as for her paean to Amer­ica’s women? “I wrote God Bless Amer­ica be­fore the Women’s Marches sprung up, but I could tell they were go­ing to hap­pen. As soon as the elec­tion was over, I knew that was go­ing to hap­pen. Peo­ple were way more vo­cal and way more ac­tive on so­cial me­dia and in real life, so I re­alised a lot of women were say­ing out loud that they needed sup­port and they were ner­vous about some of the bills that might get passed that would di­rectly af­fect them. So yes, it’s a di­rect re­sponse in an­tic­i­pa­tion of what I thought would hap­pen, and what did hap­pen.”

Pre­dict­ing the Women’s Marches must have taken a se­ri­ously smart so­cial in­stinct, or some kind of sor­cery straight from one of her oth­er­worldly

Lust For Life trail­ers. What­ever you think, you can’t deny that the pulse of the zeit­geist beats through­out Lana’s new al­bum, from her pop col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Weeknd on the ti­tle track to the moody duet with John Len­non’s son, Sean, and my per­sonal favourite, Yosemite, a beau­ti­ful song about the way re­la­tion­ships change over time.

Af­ter she plays me this track in the very room in which it was recorded, I can’t help but ask what Lana is like as a girl­friend. “I’m amaz­ing. I’m the best,” she jokes, be­fore clar­i­fy­ing, “I ac­tu­ally am the best girl­friend be­cause I only get into a re­la­tion­ship if I’m re­ally ex­cited about it. I’m un­con­di­tion­ally un­der­stand­ing, very lov­ing and I like to be with that per­son for a lot of the time.” Af­ter hear­ing

Yosemite’s re­frain that she’s no longer ‘a can­dle in the wind’, which I take to mean she’s found a stead­ier light in her life, I won­der whether what she looks for in a re­la­tion­ship has also changed? “For me, the dream is to have a lit­tle bit of the edge, the sex­i­ness, the mag­netism, the ca­ma­raderie, be on the same page and all that stuff, but with­out the fall­out that comes from a per­son who is re­ally self­ish and puts only their needs first, which is like a lot of front­men if we’re talk­ing about mu­si­cians!” (Lana pre­vi­ously dated Bar­rie-James O’Neill, the Scot­tish lead singer of alt-rock band Kas­sidy.) “I’m go­ing to write a book one day called, ‘The curse of the front­man and why you should al­ways date the bassist.’ I guess I have a lit­tle bit of a fan­tasy that re­ally great re­la­tion­ships, friend­ships and ro­mances can stand the test of time. Even though each per­son in the re­la­tion­ship or the group changes, they don’t change in ways that would make the re­la­tion­ship come to an end. The cho­rus [of Yosemite] is about do­ing things for fun, for free and do­ing them for the right rea­sons. It’s about hav­ing artis­tic in­tegrity; not do­ing things be­cause you think they would be big, but be­cause the mes­sage is some­thing that’s im­por­tant. And then, it’s about just be­ing with some­one be­cause you re­ally can’t see not hav­ing them in your life, not be­cause it would be ‘ben­e­fi­cial’ to you to be in their com­pany. It’s that con­cept of be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship for 100 per cent the right rea­sons. Be­ing a good per­son, ba­si­cally.”

Lana Del Rey is mer­cu­rial – just when you think you’ve got her, she slips through your fin­gers like quick­sil­ver – but in that hot sec­ond, I think I see her clearly: an artist ris­ing from the am­bi­gu­ity of youth and emerg­ing into a woman with an au­then­tic vi­sion for her life and her art. Yes, that might one day fade like the barely there ‘Chateau Mar­mont’ tat­too on her left wrist, but right now her power is in sharp, un­fil­tered fo­cus. Lana Del Rey’s fifth stu­dio al­bum, Lust For Life, is out now.

Coat, Ro­darte, ro­darte.net

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