Del Rey was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant on June 21, 1985 in Manhattan, New York City, to Robert England Grant, Jr., a Grey Group copywriter, and Patricia Ann "Pat" (née Hill), an account executive at Grey Group. She has one younger sister, Caroline, and one younger brother, Charlie. She was raised Roman Catholic and is of Scottish descent. Her ancestors were from Lanarkshire. When she was one year old, the family moved to the upstate New York town of Lake Placid. In Lake Placid, her father worked for a furniture company before becoming an entrepreneurial domain investor; her mother worked as a schoolteacher. There, she attended St. Agnes School in her elementary years and began singing in her church choir, where she was the cantor.
Elizabeth Woolridge Grant (born June 21, 1985), known by her stage name Lana Del Rey, is an American singer-songwriter. Her music is noted for its stylized, cinematic quality; themes of sadness, tragic romance, glamor, and melancholia; and references to pop culture, particularly 1950s and 1960s Americana.
In fall of 2004, at age 19, Grant enrolled at Fordham University in The Bronx where she majored in philosophy, with an emphasis on metaphysics. She has said she chose to study the subject because it "bridged the gap between God and science... I was interested in God and how technology could bring us closer to finding out where we came from and why." In the spring of 2005, while still in college, Del Rey registered a seven-track extended play with the United States Copyright Office; the application title was Rock Me Stable with another title Young Like Me also listed. A second extended play, titled From the End, was also recorded under Del Rey's stage name at the time, May Jailer. Between 2005 and 2006, she recorded an acoustic album titled Sirens under the May Jailer project, which later leaked on the internet in mid-2012.
Born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, Del Rey returned to New York City in 2005 to begin her music career. Following numerous projects, including her self-titled debut studio album, Del Rey's breakthrough came with the viral success of her debut single "Video Games" in 2011. She signed with Interscope and Polydor later that year. Her major label debut, Born to Die (2012), was an international success and spawned a top-ten single "Summertime Sadness" on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the singles "Blue Jeans" and "Born to Die", which charted in several overseas territories. Del Rey released the EP Paradise in 2012. The next year, Del Rey ventured into film, writing and starring in the music short film Tropico; she released "Young and Beautiful" as the lead single for the romantic drama film The Great Gatsby (2013).
At her first public performance in 2006, for the Williamsburg Live Songwriting Competition, Del Rey met Van Wilson, an A&R representative for 5 Points Records, an independent label owned by David Nichtern. In 2007, while a senior at Fordham, she submitted a demo tape of acoustic tracks titled No Kung Fu to 5 Points, who offered her a recording contract for $10,000. She used the money to relocate to Manhattan Mobile Home Park, a trailer park in North Bergen, New Jersey, and subsequently began working with producer David Kahne. Executive Nichtern recalled: "Our plan was to get it all organized and have a record to go and she’d be touring right after she graduated from college. Like a lot of artists, she morphed. When she first came to us, she was playing plunky little acoustic guitar, [had] sort of straight blonde hair, very cute young woman. A little bit dark, but very intelligent. We heard that. But she very quickly kept evolving."
Prior to the release of her debut major label album Born to Die in 2012, Del Rey was the subject of several articles discussing her image and career trajectory. One article by Paul Harris published by The Guardian a week before the album's release noted the differences between Del Rey's perceived persona in 2008, when she performed as Lizzy Grant, and in the present, as Lana Del Rey. Harris wrote:
Del Rey graduated from Fordham with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 2008, after which she released a three-track EP titled Kill Kill in October as Lizzy Grant, featuring production from Kahne. She explained that "David asked to work with me only a day after he got my demo. He is known as a producer with a lot of integrity and who had an interest in making music that wasn't just pop." Meanwhile, Del Rey was working doing community outreach work for the homeless and drug addicts; she had become interested in community service work in college, when she had helped paint homes on an Indian reservation in Utah.
Tony Simon, a producer who had worked with Del Rey in 2009, defended her against the public claims of inauthenticity and allegations that she was a product of her record label: "To be clear, all the detractors saying she's some made-up-by-the-machine pop star are full of shit. While it's impossible to keep the businesses' hands out the pop when creating a pop star, the roots of where this all comes from are firmly inside of Lizzy Grant." In Del Rey's own words, she "[n]ever had a persona. Never needed one. Never will."
On choosing a stage name for her feature debut album, she said: "I wanted a name I could shape the music towards. I was going to Miami quite a lot at the time, speaking a lot of Spanish with my friends from Cuba – Lana Del Rey reminded us of the glamour of the seaside. It sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue." The name was also inspired by actress Lana Turner and the Ford Del Rey sedan, produced and sold in Brazil in the 1980s. Initially she had chosen the alternate spelling of Lana Del Ray, the name under which her self-titled debut album was released in January 2010. Her father helped with the marketing of the album, which was available for purchase on iTunes for a brief period before being withdrawn in April 2010. Kahne, as well as previous label owner Nichtern both stated that Del Rey bought the rights back from the label, 5 Points, as she wanted it out of circulation to "stifle future opportunities to distribute it—an echo of rumors the action was part of a calculated strategy."
Born to Die was released on January 31, 2012, worldwide, and reached number one in 11 countries, although critics were divided. The same week, she announced she had bought back the rights to her 2010 debut album and had plans to re-release it in the summer of 2012 under Interscope Records and Polydor. Contrary to Del Rey's press statement, her previous record label and producer David Kahne have both stated that she bought the rights to the album when she and the label parted company, due to the offer of a new deal, in April 2010. Born to Die sold 3.4 million copies in 2012, making it the fifth-best-selling album of 2012. In the United States, Born to Die charted on the Billboard 200 well into 2012, lingering at number 76, after 36 weeks on the chart.
Del Rey met her managers, Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, three months after Lana Del Ray was released, and they helped her get out of her contract with 5 Points Records, where, in her opinion, "nothing was happening." Shortly after, she moved to London, and moved in with Mawson "for a few years." On September 1, 2010, Del Rey was featured by Mando Diao in their MTV Unplugged concert at Union Film-Studios in Berlin. The same year, she acted in a short film titled Poolside, which she made with several friends.
In 2011, Del Rey uploaded self-made music videos for her songs "Video Games" and "Blue Jeans" to YouTube, featuring vintage footage interspersed with shots of her singing on her webcam. The "Video Games" music video became a viral internet sensation, which led to Del Rey being signed by Stranger Records to release the song as her debut single. She told The Observer: "I just put that song online a few months ago because it was my favorite. To be honest, it wasn't going to be the single but people have really responded to it." The song earned her a Q award for "Next Big Thing" in October 2011 and an Ivor Novello for "Best Contemporary Song" in 2012. In the same month, she signed a joint deal with Interscope Records and Polydor to release her second studio album Born to Die. Del Rey performed two songs from the album on Saturday Night Live on January 14, 2012, and received a negative response from various critics and the general public, who deemed the performance uneven and vocally shaky. She had earlier defended her spot on the program, saying: "I'm a good musician ... I have been singing for a long time, and I think that [SNL creator] Lorne Michaels knows that ... it's not a fluke decision."
Del Rey cites a wide array of musical artists as influences, including numerous pop, jazz, and blues performers from the mid-twentieth century, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Bobby Vinton, The Crystals, and Miles Davis. Torch singers Julie London and Julee Cruise have also served as influences. "[I really] just like the masters of every genre", she told BBC radio presenter Jo Whiley in 2012, specifically naming Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley.
In September 2012, Del Rey unveiled the Jaguar F-Type at the Paris Motor Show. Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar's global brand director, explained their choice, saying Del Rey had "a unique blend of authenticity and modernity." She also recorded the song "Burning Desire", which appeared in a promotional short film for the vehicle. In late September 2012, a music video for Del Rey's cover version of "Blue Velvet" was released as a promotional single for the H&M 2012 autumn campaign, which Del Rey also modeled for in print advertising. On September 25, Del Rey released the single "Ride" in promotion of her upcoming EP, Paradise. She subsequently premiered the music video for "Ride" at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California on October 10, 2012. Some critics panned the video for being allegedly pro-prostitution and antifeminist, due to Del Rey's portrayal of a prostitute in a biker gang.
Paradise was released on November 12, 2012 as a standalone release, as well as Born to Die: The Paradise Edition, which combined Del Rey's previous album with the additional eight tracks on Paradise. Paradise marked Del Rey's second top 10 album in the United States, debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200 with 67,000 copies sold in its first week. It was also later nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. Del Rey received several nominations at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards in November and won the award for Best Alternative performer. At the Brit Awards in February 2013, she won the award for International Female Solo Artist, followed by two Echo Award wins, in the categories of Best International Newcomer and Best International Pop/Rock Artist.
Over the next several months, she released videos of two cover songs: one of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel#2", followed by a duet with her then-boyfriend, Barrie-James O'Neil, of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's "Summer Wine". In May 2013, Del Rey released an original song, "Young and Beautiful" for the soundtrack of the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Following the song's release, it peaked at 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, shortly after its release to contemporary hit radio, the label prematurely pulled it and decided to send a different song to that format; on July 2, 2013, a Cedric Gervais remix of Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" was sent there; a sleeper hit, the song proved to be a success, surpassing "Young and Beautiful", reaching number 6 and becoming her first American top ten hit. The remix won the Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical in 2013, while "Young and Beautiful" was nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
In June 2013, Del Rey filmed Tropico, a musical short film paired to tracks from Paradise, directed by Anthony Mandler. Del Rey screened the film on December 4, 2013 at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. On December 6, the soundtrack was released on digital outlets.
Critics have noted Del Rey for her typically simple but authentic live performances. A September 2017 concert review published in The New York Times noted: "For more than an hour, Ms. Del Rey was eerily casual, singing and smiling with the ease of someone performing at singer-songwriter night at the local coffee shop." Another review by Roy Train published in The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 noted "a distance in her bonhomie, obvious even from my perch at the opposite end of the stage high above the fray, the chill still palpable."
Del Rey possesses an expansive contralto vocal range, which spans three-plus octaves and has been described as captivating and highly emotive, ranging from high notes in a girlish timbre to jazzy ornaments in her lower gesture with great ease. Following the release of Ultraviolence, which was recorded live in single takes and lacking Pro Tools vocal editing, critics fell into favor with Del Rey's vocal ability, praising her large range, increased vocal confidence, and uniquely emotive delivery. When recording in the studio Del Rey is known for vocal multi-layering, which, as it has been noted, is difficult for her to replicate within a live setting, especially with the lack of backing singers to fill out the original vocal style. Stage fright has also been noted as a major contribution to Del Rey's struggles with live performances. However, journalists noted in 2014 that her live performances had increased in confidence. Billboard deemed the Coachella debut of "West Coast" to be a "star-making performance" and lauded the singer's vocal abilities. Contemporary music critics have called her voice "smoky", "gravelly", and reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. Upon the 2015 release of Honeymoon, her voice was compared by Los Angeles Times critic Mikael Wood to those of Julee Cruise and Eartha Kitt.
On January 26, 2014, Del Rey released a cover of "Once Upon a Dream" for the 2014 dark fantasy film Maleficent. Following the completion of Paradise, Del Rey began writing and recording her follow-up album, Ultraviolence, featuring production by Dan Auerbach. Ultraviolence was released on June 13, 2014, and debuted at number one in 12 countries, including the United States and United Kingdom. The album, which sold 880,000 copies worldwide in its first week, was preceded by the singles "West Coast", "Shades of Cool", "Ultraviolence", and "Brooklyn Baby". Del Rey described the album as being "more stripped down but still cinematic and dark," while some critics characterized the record as psychedelic and desert rock-influenced, more prominently featuring guitar instrumentation than her previous releases. Later that year, Del Rey contributed the songs "Big Eyes" and "I Can Fly" to Tim Burton's 2014 biographical film Big Eyes.
Del Rey issued her third album, Ultraviolence (2014), to critical success. It topped charts and spawned the single "West Coast". That same year, Del Rey recorded the eponymous theme for the drama film Big Eyes, which earned a Golden Globe nomination. She released the albums Honeymoon in 2015 and Lust for Life in 2017, the latter topping the US Billboard 200. Her sixth album, Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019), received widespread critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year. In 2019, Del Rey released the singles "Doin' Time" and "Don't Call Me Angel", the latter being a collaboration with Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus for the soundtrack of the film Charlie's Angels (2019). In 2020, Del Rey rebased her first poetry collection, Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass as well as an accompanying spoken word album.
Honeymoon, Del Rey's fourth studio album, was released on September 18, 2015 to acclaim from music critics. Prior to the release of the album, Del Rey previewed the track "Honeymoon", the single "High by the Beach", and the promotional single "Terrence Loves You". Prior to the release of Honeymoon, Del Rey embarked on The Endless Summer Tour in May 2015, which featured Courtney Love and Grimes as opening acts. Additionally, Del Rey co-wrote and provided vocals on the track "Prisoner" from The Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness, released on August 28, 2015.
In November 2015, Del Rey executive produced a short film Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston, documenting the life of singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. For the film, she covered Johnston's song "Some Things Last a Long Time". In November 2015, Del Rey received the Trailblazer Award at the Billboard Women in Music ceremony and won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Alternative.
On February 9, 2016, Del Rey premiered a music video for the song "Freak" from Honeymoon at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Later that year, Del Rey collaborated with The Weeknd for his album Starboy (2016), providing backing vocals on "Party Monster" and lead vocals on "Stargirl Interlude". "Party Monster", which Del Rey also co-wrote, was released as a single and subsequently reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified double-platinum in the US.
In 2017, Del Rey further clarified her updated view on feminism in an interview with Pitchfork:
Del Rey's fifth studio album, Lust for Life, was released on July 21, 2017. The album was preceded by the singles "Love", "Lust for Life" with The Weeknd, "Summer Bummer" with A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti, and "Groupie Love", also with Rocky. Prior to its release, Del Rey commented: "I made my first 4 albums for me, but this one is for my fans and about where I hope we are all headed." The record further featured collaborations with Stevie Nicks and Sean Ono Lennon, marking the first time she has featured other artists on her own release. The album received generally favorable reviews and became Del Rey's third number-one album in the United Kingdom, and second number-one album in the United States. On September 27, 2017, Del Rey announced the LA to the Moon Tour, an official concert tour with Jhené Aiko and Kali Uchis to further promote the album. The tour began in North America during January 2018 and concluded in August. Lust for Life was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album for the 60th Grammy Awards, marking Del Rey's second nomination in the category.
In January 2018, Del Rey announced that she was in a lawsuit with British rock band Radiohead over alleged similarities between their song "Creep" and her song "Get Free". Following her announcement, legal representatives from their label Warner/Chappell denied the lawsuit, as well as Del Rey's claims of the band asking for "100% of the song's royalties". Del Rey announced that summer while performing at Lollapalooza in Brazil the lawsuit was "over."
Her sixth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, was released on August 30, 2019. Having announced the album in September 2018, the album was preceded by the singles "Mariners Apartment Complex", "Venice Bitch", "Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman like Me to Have – but I Have It", and "Doin' Time", as well as the joint-single "Fuck It, I Love You"/ "The Greatest". The album received widespread critical acclaim, and, according to review aggregator website Metacritic, is the best-reviewed album of Del Rey's career to date. NME awarded the album a full five out of five stars, In his review for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield wrote that "the long-awaited Norman Fucking Rockwell is even more massive and majestic than everyone hoped it would be. Lana turns her fifth and finest album into a tour of sordid American dreams, going deep cover in all our nation's most twisted fantasies of glamour and danger," and ultimately deemed the album a "pop classic." The album was nominated for two Grammy Awards, Album of the Year and Song of the Year for its title track.
Billboard credits Born to Die for being one of the main catalysts for pop's mid-2010s shift from brash EDM to a moodier, hip-hop-inflected palette; they also argue that popular music in the 2010s wouldn't be the same without Del Rey. Billboard also stated that Del Rey has influenced both her peers and the next generation of alternative-leaning pop stars, such as Halsey, Banks, Sky Ferreira, Father John Misty, Sia, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. Swift has called Del Rey her favorite lyricist. Similarly, Vice suggests that "it's hard to imagine an Eilish, a Lorde, or a Halsey" without Del Rey. In 2019, Billboard included Del Rey's song "Born to Die" as one of the 100 songs that defined the 2010s, adding that it influenced "a sonic shift that completely changed the pop landscape".
On August 6, 2019, Del Rey presented filmmaker Guillermo del Toro with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and subsequently released a cover of "Season of the Witch" for his film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. On the same day, Del Rey released the non-album single "Looking for America" which she spontaneously wrote and recorded earlier that week in response to the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
Del Rey has been critical of US President Donald Trump, voiced her support for the #MeToo movement, and identified herself as a feminist; in 2020, she voiced her support for a third wave of feminism. However, in May of that year, she attracted criticism for an Instagram post defending herself against accusations of glamorizing abuse in part by pointing out an array of other female artists, mostly black, and their successes with works about "imperfect sexual relationships". Del Rey responded to the criticism that race was the theme of her post by saying that she mentioned the singers she did because she "[loves] these singers and [knows] them." She also clarified that she was referencing those "who don't look strong or necessarily smart, or like they're in control etc.," when she mentioned people "who look like [her]." She attracted further criticism for posting a video of looters during the George Floyd protests.
In 2020, Del Rey will self-publish a book of poetry titled Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass and release a corresponding spoken word album. Del Rey reported that half of the proceeds from the album will benefit various Native American-centered causes. The record was originally slated for release on January 4, but on that date Del Rey tweeted that it was to be released "in about a month" due to personal matters. However the singer confirmed that she was still working on the album in an interview with Access at the 2020 Grammys. On July 9, 2020, she revealed the cover of Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass, which features a piece of artwork by Erika Lee Sears. The physical book is set for release on September 29 and the audiobook was released July 28. The spoken word poem "LA Who Am I to Love You" was released the day prior to the audiobook's release.
On May 22, 2020, Del Rey announced a second book titled Behind the Iron Gates – Insights from the Institution would be released in March 2021.
On an Instagram post from May 21, Del Rey confirmed that she would have a new album coming out on September 5, 2020. She later revealed the title of the record to be Chemtrails over the Country Club. In early September, Del Rey reconfirmed the record would be coming out in the fall and announced "Let Me Love You Like A Woman" as the lead single. Additionally, Neil Krug directed a video for the title track.
In an interview for L'Officiel's first American edition in early 2018, when asked about her interest in making a film, Del Rey responded that she had been approached to write a Broadway musical and had recently begun work on it. When asked how long it would be until completion of the work, she replied, "I may finish in two or three years."