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Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey splits opinion

Singer-songwriter splits opinion. Some succumb to her melancholic, cinematic take on pop, while others insist she is a manufactured charlatan, writes Shaun Curran

 

For someone as talented as Lana Del Rey, it might surprise some to find out that the singer-songwriter dreads performing in front of an audience. "Getting on stage is the part I like least about my job," admits Del Rey, one of pop's most contentious figures. "I love to write and produce music, but everything that comes after that is difficult for me."

As far as the singer goes, this opening gambit might not quite be on par with the "I wish I was already dead" quote that caused a stir in recent weeks, but it gives a suitably accurate glimpse into the Lana Del Rey enigma. With her major-label debut album, Born to Die, having sold 5 million copies, all should be well in the 28-year-old musician's world.

Yet, as the two sample sound bites suggest, that is far from the case. Del Rey is a complex character; one who divides opinion. For everyone taken with her melancholic, cinematic take on pop, there are others who will insist she is nothing but a manufactured charlatan with little substance.

So who is Del Rey? Is she entirely a construct of Elizabeth Woolwich Grant, Del Rey's real name? Is the David Lynch-meets-femme fatale persona just that, an act she plays out? Those familiar with her songs, which often deal with troubling and depressing topics, may wonder if the lyrics are a true reflection of her state of mind.

"I haven't yet found that easy path towards happiness," she says. "It's been years since I've felt at peace. That's been my theme in life: trudging the road to happiness. Definitely a happy destiny, but it's trudged.

"For me, there are moments of pure happiness, but you can't achieve that over a sustained period of time. You try to make those as many as possible. Happiness is not a static state, it's an active state. That's the ancient Greek definition - it's not a state of rest, it's a process."

If creating music - music that has proved incredibly popular with some of the most devoted fans in modern pop - doesn't offer her that route to happiness or peace of mind, then it makes one consider what could. "By being a patient person," she says. "By surrounding myself with those I love and by being generous and seeking serenity. In general, I have found that devoting your life to the people around you and caring for them is the true road to general happiness."

In the few past interviews that have ranged from the emotional to the faintly disturbing, Del Rey has spoken about believing in alternative ways of being.

"My life has gone through various incarnations, mostly transitions. But I don't consider myself to be someone very provocative or radical - I embrace a lot of traditional things. But I believe in alternative lifestyles and in alternative relationships. I think we've lost the kind of cultural and personal liberation that we were exploring in the 1960s, when people were talking about experiencing a new concept of freedom. That was a much more exciting notion than the freedom we talk about now."

Her third album, Ultraviolence, has just been released and has much to live up to after Born to Die, with its viral hit Video Games helping Del Rey reach over 100 million YouTube hits. Unsurprisingly, given her nature, the fruits of Ultraviolence - "I love the idea of having a one-word title because I think that has a beautiful simplicity" - were formed in solitude.

"I would spend a lot of time driving around by myself, sitting in my car and just thinking. I didn't really lay stuff down and start writing until last winter in New York. I've got this old 1981 Mercedes convertible, and sitting in it was a place of real inspiration. Now that I'm living in Los Angeles, I find myself sitting in my car at the beach a lot, so as to avoid being approached. But I'm still screwed because there's no top on the car," she laughs.

Swapping her native New York for LA also infused the attitude to the record - everything from her working process to her coffee consumption.

"Being in LA has been an escape, and I've been inspired by how casual everything is over here. I love to swim; I love going to the beach every day. And I spend hours and hours during the week driving up and down the coast listening to music.

"I'm a pretty nocturnal creature. I write at night, outdoors, and often with a lot of noise in the background - either with the radio in my car playing or in my house and the TV turned on, usually chain-smoking and drinking coffee. This is my life; this is who I am right now, and if it stirs music and creativity in me, then good."

At this point, one sees a different side to Del Rey. She seems more light-hearted, jovial, and doesn't mind poking fun at herself - she recounts a recent incident in London in which she mistook Chinese lanterns for sights of the more supernatural kind. "I actually called 911, and I realised that there was no 911 in London. I swear to God, these three apparitions appeared above this deck on Kingsland Road. It was really humiliating."

One can't help but hope that this upbeat attitude might become more prevalent as time passes.

 

MILESTONES

2010
Releases her debut full-length album, Lana Del Rey

2011
Signed to Interscope Records and Polydor, as she releases her self-made video Video Games, gaining more than 20 million views in the first five months on YouTube and winning an Ivor Novello for "Best Contemporary Song"

2012
Releases her second album and major-label debut, Born to Die, with 1 million copies sold in the United States, and tops the iTunes chart in 14 countries

2013
Wins the Best International Female Solo Artist at the BRIT Awards 2013

2014
Releases her third album, Ultraviolence, which goes straight to the top of the British album chart

 

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