lana del rey: from video games to ultraviolence

Lana del Rey is the mysterious American superstar who stole the hearts of the world with her dreamy, nostalgic sound. As she releases her third album, Ultraviolence, we look back to our 2011 interview with the stunning songstress.

by Milly McMahon
Jun 16 2014, 9:20pm

Lana Del Rey by Scott Trindle

Lana Del Rey is a captivating creature. Breathtakingly beautiful, yet delicately fragile, something mysterious lurks behind her deep blue eyes. Oozing the kind of je ne sais pas found in the silver screen starlets of yesteryear, she is the songstress who does not enjoy performing nor like crowds. In person, this Elvis-obsessed beauty is as infeasible to relate to as she is to perceive. Born in Namibia and raised in Lake Placid, Lana moved to New York City as a teen where she launched her singing career under her birth name Lizzie Grant. Despite her debut album being produced by a major record label, Lizzie's dreams of making it big fell short and the album was shelved. With success seeming further away than ever, a downtrodden Lizzie took control and reinvented herself, entering the music industry once again, this time as Lana Del Rey, an alias coined in ode to her all-time favourite Hollywood icons. It wasn't long before Lana caught the world's attention with Video Games; a nostalgic, lullaby-like ballad to the lad she was in love with at the time. Boasting over three and a half million hits on YouTube, Video Games has catapulted the former trailer-park-dwelling gal into the mainstream. A success she's yet to get used to. Gingerly concealing intimate facets of her character, Lana is clearly intellectual but never outspoken. Speaking quietly and slowly, with a tobacco stained tone, she describes her sombre, cinematic music as "happy" yet is reluctant to give anything away. Suspended in motion, Lana Del Rey could exist in any period of time, if she even exists at all. i-D met up with illusive songstress to try and discover more…

Video Games went viral long before its release date. Did you anticipate its success?
I've been putting my music online for so long that I didn't expect Video Games to get more attention than any other song. It's strange that people would react to a five-minute ballad, it's great though.

What's the song about?
I spoke to some journalists yesterday and they told me they thought Video Games was a sad song, but to me it feels happy. Things hadn't been working out for me musically for such a long time. I wrote Video Games after I let go of my ambitions of becoming a noteworthy artist, and was just enjoying being with my boyfriend instead, living in a trailer park, watching him play video games. That was all my life consisted of and I was at peace with that, so to me it's a happy song.

How do you think your boyfriend of the time felt when he heard the song?
I think he would find it rad. It captures the simple things about our relationship, getting dressed to go out, sitting down to watch TV. The melodies are pretty; they're the perfect match for what I was feeling… It's like, when you get a lot of things you want, and you lose them, then you get them again, then you lose them, you become a simpler person. You realise that stuff is going to keep leaving, what you really want is to find someone you can have fun with and spend all your time with.

Do you remember the first time you saw someone perform and thought 'This is what I want'?
When I saw Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged I thought 'Fuck my life! That is so sexy.' I was young but you could tell there was something tragic going on. The undertone was dark, even the funeral flowers and candles on the MTV set. He was so much more epic than anyone else I had ever encountered on television, or in real life.

Who inspires you today?
Eminem. He's a big truth teller and a mastermind rhymer. He's completely autobiographical; he's funny and as smart as they come. He's smarter than anyone else in pop music, other than Weezy. Everyone knows that.

Were you hesitant about how people would perceive you as a singer?
If I had realised just how many people were gonna watch Video Games then I would have had my hair and make-up done [laughs]. And maybe I wouldn't have shot it on my laptop! The downside of having the video online is that for as many people who really like it, there are an equal number who fucking hate it. The amount of hate mail I get in my inbox is crazy. They always talk about my face and say terrible things. It's one of the worst things I've ever encountered in my entire life. It sounds like a luxury problem - but it's not. I'm a pretty simple person. I don't know many people and I've kept myself to myself for a really long time, so it's not something I anticipated. I anticipated no one really listening to it...

In Video Games you show a clip of Paz de la Huerta falling down drunk at the Golden Globe Awards. Why?
She's perfect. She's perfect because she's a person who wanted fame all her life and then she got it, and she loves it.

Do you identify with her?
No, I mean yes. I guess that's why I put it in. I don't want the same thing, but I know what she meant. She loves falling down, she fucking revels in her own disaster. She knows exactly what's happening and she loves it. I put it in because I thought it was right for the song, in the same way the Super 8 footage of the kids by the pool was right. I let my intuition guide me. I have a very strong narrative in mind. Maybe you could say it's my take on the dark side of the American Dream… Fame gone bad, but I just think it's funny.

Does writing come naturally to you?
It used to. Francis Ford Coppola said if you sit down at the same place, at the same time, every day, the muse will know where to find you. I was so inspired by the visions I was having and the sonic world I was creating it was easy, but now I only sit down to write when it comes to me. Like the other night I had this idea… [sings about whisky and vintage clothing]. Sometimes things like that just come.

Do you enjoy performing?
Ummm, I really like writing, I really like singing, taking pictures is easy, but performing is pretty fucking terrifying. Really fucking terrifying actually.

How do you prepare?
Fucking pray all night, I get sick, whatever. I'm hoping it will change. I haven't been on a stage in sixteen months.

Have you had any thoughts on a name for the first album?
Yeah, I've come up with a bunch of things… like The Best Of Lana Del Rey [laughs] and The World Is Ours, which is a Scarface quote, but I think a rapper already used that.

What about the artwork?
I want to use this picture that I love. It's kind of Lauren Bacall-ish. Not too soft, not too hard, right in the middle. It's very beautiful, very Vivienne Westwood… white… Veronica Lake hair against a blue sky.

If you were the star of a film, who would play your love interest?
Probably Elvis…

What does the 'M' tattoo on your hand stand for?
Magic, 'cos I need it [laughs].

I read that at college you studied whether you could mathematically prove god's existence? Did you come to any conclusions?
[Laughs] No. There are different branches of metaphysics, cosmology and cosmogony and my branch studied the origins of the universe and how reality came to be real. Metaphysics is still more questions than answers right now, but basically, there's a concept called the Theory of Everything that attempts to discover how the universe began. They're getting closer and closer to discovering the answer. Like, what are the components of all things solid and all that…

When you were at your lowest ebb, what inspired you to continue?
It was only by fate and luck that I was allowed to keep going. Not by my own means. It's been a long, difficult road… love lost, having no money, and a number of other things.

Have the tough times damaged you or made you stronger?
Neither, I'm just glad they're over. I'm still the same person. I'm not better or worse for it… I probably just know a little bit more.


Text Milly McMahon
Photography Scott Trindle
Styling Caroline Newell
Hair Marc Ramos using Bumble & bumble
Make-up Pamela Cochrane at OB Represents using NARS
Photography assistance Mark Simpson
Styling assistance Raphael Hirsch
Lana wears bra What Katie Did. Skirt Christian Dior. Shoes Alberto Guardiani.

Milly McMahon
caroline newell
scott trindle