In 2011, Lizzie Grant introduced the world to Lana Del Rey with songs like “Video Games” and “Born to Die.” Her offerings somehow sounded both apocalyptic and romantic at the same time. Teens, particularly those of the We Heart It set, instantly ate it up.
Since then, Del Rey has evolved past many a Tumblr GIF, cementing her place in the pop canon through carefully-crafted ballads and bangers alike. She’s undertaken purposeful collaborations with contemporary stars and the kids of folk icons. An undeniable aesthetic permeates it all, but beneath the schtick is a truly great songwriter. The industry has paid attention, too; Del Rey’s work has earned her six Grammy nominations.
Meanwhile, when it comes to both her opinions and her music, LDR is fairly prolific (for better or for worse). On Oct. 22, she dropped her eighth studio album (and her second of 2021), “Blue Banisters.” To celebrate, we’ve picked our 10 favorite Lana tracks.
10. “Lust For Life”
When Lust For Life’s lead single “Love” dropped in early 2017, it left many in Del Rey’s ardent fanbase scratching their heads. Did the Queen of Sad sound almost… happy? By the time the singer teamed up with The Weekend for the title track two months later, it was clear her fifth album was bringing a different, more peaceful dimension to the persona that is Lana Del Rey. As romantic and sweeping as the view of L.A. from the “H” of the Hollywood sign, “Lust For Life” signaled that Del Rey was just as capable of blissfully dancing in the bright lights of La La Land as she was of brooding in its shadows. — Glenn Rowley
9. “Brooklyn Baby”
For an artist synonymous with L.A. cool, Del Rey declared herself a “Brooklyn Baby” on third album Ultraviolence’s fourth and final single. “Well my boyfriend’s in a band/ He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/ I’ve got feathers in my hair/ I get down to Beat poetry/ And my jazz collection’s rare/ I can play most anything/ I’m a Brooklyn baby,” she croons on the hazy, millennial-skewering chorus. And sure, the singer’s satirization of Brooklyn hipster culture may be surface-level at best (hydroponic weed and self-serious amphetamine-fueled novels, anyone?), but isn’t that kind of the whole point? — G.R.
8. “Young and Beautiful”
It’s true: Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” is perhaps the best part of Baz Luhrmann’s maligned Great Gatsby adaptation (apologies to Leonardo DiCaprio’s collection of cream colored sweaters and high school junior English classes everywhere). The song was used in the film as a motif to accompany Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship, but ultimately ended up transcending the screen and becoming massively popular on its own. Almost a decade later, few parts of that film hold up as particularly impressive — but this song definitely does. — Mary Siroky
After the success of Born to Die, the expectations for a follow-up were sky-high, and Del Rey responded to the pressure with “Ride” — a slow burning anthem to life on the open road that doubled as the lead single for her Paradise EP and Born to Die: The Paradise Edition reissue.
The torch song also doubled down on everything that made the chanteuse’s debut such a runaway smash: The now-familiar California noir sonic palette. The lyrics filled with sultry call-outs to a “Daddy” most definitely not her father. The 10-minute music video-turned-short film that sent tongues wagging and pearls a’clutching. All as Del Rey coolly coo’d, “I hear the birds on the summer breeze/ I drive fast, I am alone at midnight/ Been trying hard not to get into trouble/ But I, I’ve got a war in my mind/ So I just ride, just ride.” — G.R.
6. “Blue Jeans”
Yes, “Video Games” and “Born to Die” were already gathering heat, but it was third single “Blue Jeans” that took the buzz surrounding the enigmatic artist to a whole new level all thanks to a certain performance on Saturday Night Live. Over the course of three minutes and 47 seconds, the mystique of the newly-heralded star simply didn’t translate thanks to a combination of nerves, pitchy vocals, and a swaying stage presence that has since been meme’d and GIF’d into infinity.
However, by Monday morning, Lana Del Rey was the only thing the internet was talking about, and the conversation inevitably led them back to the album. While the singer hasn’t been back to Studio 8H since, she certainly proved adept at using the moment to her advantage. — G.R.
5. “Summertime Sadness”
Before there was Hot Girl Summer, there was Miss Lana’s Summer of Sadness. There’s plenty of speculation around what might have inspired the tragic track, and, in mysterious artiste fashion, she has never confirmed anything. Regardless of the source, the song holds up — it’s melancholy, it’s eerie, and, somehow, it’s romantic. — M.S.
4. “Venice Bitch”
Yes, it’s nearly ten minutes long, and yes, it’s all worth it. “Venice Bitch” is a fever dream of California, desire, strings, and quiet rage. It’s probably a perfect introduction to someone who isn’t familiar with Lana Del Rey’s vibe, and, like many of her other songs, it works best when the listener is in a specific mood. The story goes that when she first played it for her team, pitching it as the lead single for Norman Fucking Rockwell!, she was met with the reply: “Can you make a 3-minute normal pop song?” What a silly question to ask of this artist. — M.S.
3. “Video Games”
“Video Games” was the first single off of Lana Del Rey’s debut album. (Read that again: first single, first album!) No one was doing it like this in 2011, for better or for worse. “Video Games” is a masterful modern pop ballad that acted like a lightning rod for the cultural zeitgeist. Del Rey’s storytelling is on full display here, particularly her brand of hyper-specific experiences wrapped in a way that makes them relatable. She carved out her own niche in pop, to the extent that the label of “pop” doesn’t feel quite right — not to mention that this song is perhaps single-handedly responsible for launching millions of aesthetic reblogs on Tumblr for at least five subsequent years. Her impact! — M.S.
2. “Born to Die”
In Lana’s world, love is almost always a tragedy. “Born to Die” acted as the opening track to the album of the same name, and placing it at the top was an incredibly appropriate choice on her part. From the first strings, the world designed within the song is visceral and all-encompassing. Lana wrote the treatment for the music video herself, ensuring that any accompanying visuals were truly in line with her perception of the story. “Don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry/ Sometimes love is not enough and the road gets tough, I don’t know why,” she drawls. It’s a truth of life stated so simply that it’s jarring, and, ultimately, unforgettable. — M.S.
1. “National Anthem”
Is it satire? Is it earnest? Who cares, it’s kind of perfect. Time for a brief deep dive into some Lana Lore: perpetually inspired by the past, Lana uses “National Anthem” to explore the life of President John F. Kennedy (portrayed in the video by a dashing A$AP Rocky) and his infidelitous love triangle with his wife, Jackie Kennedy (played by Lana, of course), and Marilyn Monroe (Also Lana?!). There was drama; there was money; there was American tragedy of multiple counts. So, of course, Lana decided to turn this into a pop song — and wouldn’t you know it, it’s still somehow a gloomy and relatable anthem in the end. Who but Lana Del Rey could pull that off? — M.S.