Lana Del Rey has been through the wringer since her breakthrough success in 2011. But after this controversial interview in which she talks about death, the singer is at the centre of a new storm
IWISH I WAS dead already,” Lana Del Rey says, catching me off guard. She has been talking about the heroes she and her boyfriend share – Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain among them – when I point out that what links them is death and ask if she sees an early death as glamorous. “I don’t know. Ummm, yeah.” And then the death wish. Don’t say that, I say instinctively. “But I do.” You don’t! “I do! I don’t want to have to keep doing this. But I am.” Do what? Make music? “Everything. That’s just how I feel. If it wasn’t that way, then I wouldn’t say it. I would be scared if I knew (death) was coming, but…”
We’re in New Orleans, a city not known for peace and quiet. A couple of blocks from Lana Del Rey’s hotel lies Bourbon St, the scene of drunken rampages from morning till night. Head in the opposite direction and you can expect to be assaulted by the vibrant brass of the French Quarter’s street jazz musicians.
Even inside Del Rey’s elegant suite there is carnage: suitcases half-exploded; bags of corn chips strewn across the floor. Even her laptop has been doused in tomato ketchup, temporarily thwarting our attempts to hear songs from her new album Ultraviolence.
“Ewww,” she says, baffled as to how a condiment could have found its way inside the power socket.
And yet when we move outside to sit on her balcony, the scene is transformed into complete calm. “This place is magical,” she says, sparking up the first of many cigarettes.
So serene is the setting, in fact, that it takes me by surprise when Del Rey begins to tell me how unhappy she is: that she doesn’t enjoy being a pop star, that she feels constantly targeted by critics, that she doesn’t want to be alive.
“Family members will come on the road with me and say: ‘Wow, your life is just like a movie!’” she says at one point. “And I’m like: ‘Yeah, a really f**ked-up movie.’”
Throughout our conversation she keeps returning to dark themes. Telling her story – a remarkable one that involves homelessness, biker gangs and being caught in the eye of a media hurricane – also involves working out why a songwriter who has sold more than 7m copies of her last album, Born To Die seems so disillusioned.
Perhaps the logical place to start, then, is with the extraordinary reaction to Video Games, her breakthrough song in 2011. Arriving seemingly out of nowhere (although Del Rey had been posting her songs and homemade videos for some time), the video’s Lynchian creepiness cast a spell on almost everyone who saw it, causing the song to go viral.
Yet no sooner had the plaudits started rolling in than Del Rey was placed under the intense scrutiny of endless blogposts and think pieces, with critics poring over her past for evidence of fakery: was her carefully studied aesthetic for real? Was she really just a major label puppet? Had her dad funded a previous bid for fame? Were her lips the result of plastic surgery? Was she really born as plain old Elizabeth Grant rather than emerging from the womb fully formed as the popstar Lana Del Rey?
“I never felt any of the enjoyment,” she says. “It was all bad, all of it.”
Del Rey says she’s not scared to put another record out because she “knows what to expect this time”, but during the two-anda-half years since Born to Die came out, she has often dismissed the idea of a follow-up because she’d “already said everything I wanted to say”. So what changed?
“I mean, I still feel that way,” she says. “But with this album I felt less like I had to chronicle my journeys and more like I could just recount snippets in my recent past that felt exhilarating to me.”
From the handful of songs I get to hear at the hotel, it’s safe to say the new material has plenty to get the bloggers worked up about again. Sad Girl, for instance, talks about how “being a mistress on the side, might not appeal to fools like you”.
She laughs when I ask where the inspiration came from: “A good question. I mean… I had different relationships with men, with people, where they were sort of wrong relationships, but still beautiful to me.”
By wrong does she mean being the other woman?
She laughs again and looks away coyly. “I mean, I guess so.”
It’s not clear if Money, Power, Glory was originally written to rile her detractors but it makes a decent stab at it by warning: “I’m going to take them for all that they’ve got.”
“I was in more of a sardonic mood,” she says of writing that song. “Like, if all that I was actually going to be allowed to have by the media was money, loads of money, then f**k it… What I actually wanted was something quiet and simple: a writer’s community and respect.” She talks about that frequently: craving a peaceful life in an artistic community, away from the glare of a media that “always puts an adjective in front of my name, and never a good one”.
Like the woozy soft rock of the album’s teaser track West Coast, many of the songs on Ultraviolence are slow-tempo and atmospheric, ditching the hip-hop