A decade ago this month, a mysterious, enigmatic and undeniably alluring popstar-in-training made her major label debut. With a sullen stare, orchestral grandeur and a singular voice drenched in melancholy, Lana Del Rey, the professional moniker of Elizabeth Grant, transfixed the world from day dot. “Video Games” kick-started one of pop’s most fascinating careers, as Del Rey gracefully oscillated between mainstream obsession and obscene mystique. For a large portion of her career, she felt like a true star – private, unattainable, highly criticised. While Del Rey has more recently become outspoken in response to her critics, showcasing a very specific type of defensiveness and privilege, the cultural fascination still exists: partly because her influence is everywhere.
It’s hard to imagine that Lorde, Halsey, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo and other pop juggernauts would have had the success they have were they not running down the trail Del Rey blazed for them. Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen have both gone on record to call her one of the best songwriters alive. Even Adele, just last week, said that she loves her. But, despite only ever playing two tours in Australia, her influence can be seen in our very own artists. But don’t take our word for it – we spoke to eight different Australian artists about how Lana Del Rey shaped not only their careers, but their art itself.
I came across “Video Games” on YouTube one day and was completely spellbound. The song alone – stunning. But paired with the video, which she edited herself, she offered a whole world that I hadn't seen before in any other artist. It was a new, exciting feeling.
After her first album came out it was impossible to escape the "Lana" sound – everyone started doing it.
Strings, vintage samples, and hip-hop influenced drum programming. I still hear this sound 10 years on and I honestly think it's stuck around because no one can do it better than Lana and it has remained untouchable in a way. There are countless dollar-shop copycats, but Lana is a God and we're all just living in her world.
I remember I saw Lana before I heard her.
I read about her online. Someone said she was an indie artist backed by a huge label. That she was insincere, or her father was really rich. I don't remember. It was before that SNL performance, everyone was already trying to discredit her, and there were a few glossy photos of her circling the internet wearing flower crowns, sucking on lollipops, wearing the sunglasses from Lolita. The SNL performance was labelled a disaster, Juliette Lewis described her as a "12-year-old girl singing in her room", and memes in their early pubescent stages ping-ponged around cyberspace, jokes of Lana twirling in a blender unable to perform.
It seemed she was being burnt to the ground and eviscerated just for existing, like some kind of Mary Magdalene, or a fallen woman in a Victorian novel that never stood a chance and whose only role was to suffer both in public, and in private.
But the interesting thing is that while Lana may have suffered, she always came out swinging. What does it say about our culture that we have made a critical assessment about someone's path, place, talent, role, and impact by looking at them from the outside when they're only learning to spread their wings.
Lana has a special place in my heart for her unwavering dedication to music, sound and vision. She is a true architect much the same way Kate Bush or David Bowie or even David Lynch might be viewed, where her singular vision, inspiration and desire are un-wavered as she builds and constructs entire universes around her, layer upon layer, to house her ideas and meditations. Her impact and identity to shape, move, influence and impact culture is undeniable, and I am never not interested to follow and make time for the work of the modern world's most "scorned woman".
The first time I heard “Born to Die”, I literally could not believe my ears. I had never heard a voice, melody, or lyricism quite like it; and I listen to a lot of music from a wide range of genres. I am a musician/artist who was a writer/poet before a singer, thus the irony of the "Born to Die" moment really stuck with me. It’s so simple, yet so packed full of subtextual content.
She is unwavering in her authenticity and clearly does not care what anyone else thinks. This, above all, I try to carry with me through my career. I tend to worry so much about what others think, but that’s when narratives can be squashed, and visions crushed. I value my ability to write and produce music as a queer woman, as well as style, creatively conceive, direct, and edit music videos without depending on anyone.
Telenova’s Angeline Armstrong
I admire the way Lana carved out a whole new world for herself – her whole body of work is like one continuous movie with herself as the central character. Being a filmmaker and musician myself, it inspired me to look beyond just the pure songwriting in building a world around my music. It opened my eyes to the artistry that compliments and builds upon the songs themselves.
There’s a simultaneous air of grace and guile in her artistry. As a young woman, Lana paved the way for me – and a whole host of female musical contemporaries – to be bold in exploring a personal kind of feminine fragility, without losing sight of the inner strength that enables that vulnerability to exist in the first place. She has walked that line since day one of "Video Games" and only continues to unravel the complexities of the feminine psyche with nuance and compassion.
Vallis Alps’ Parissa Topif
Whenever I'm lost with lyrics, and trying to enter the state of flow I look to Lana's lyrics to help make me feel the emotions to guide me there. They've shaped how I see storytelling and inspired me to be more vulnerable over the years and I am grateful to her for that.
I first heard about her on Tumblr in 2013, [a platform] which I believe she personally, single-handedly invented. Lana had that website in a chokehold, and my timeline was ruled by GIFs of her short film Tropico. Born To Die was the soundtrack to my summer that year, its woozy glamour and romanticisation of toxicity serving as this exciting escape from mundanity for introverted, homebody baby me.
Although she seems to have a love affair with controversy, I don’t think anyone can refute the fact that Lana defined a huge subsection of pop culture with some of her earlier releases and visual identity. However unintentionally, she played an undeniable role in shaping Tumblr, which served as a breeding ground for innumerable young writers and bedroom pop artists – myself included.
In all honesty, it took me a moment to digest the first moment I listened to Lana Del Rey because it was so different to the pop I had consumed up until then. It was kind of like a roller coaster going so fast and you’re expecting the same momentum but it suddenly decelerates so hard to turn a left corner, and it’s still thrilling just of a different kind. That was what Lana Del Rey’s music was like to me in my first moment.
She influenced my music because she helped me give myself permission to make genre bending music that can still be classified as pop. That you can be soulful, you can be brooding, you can be fragile but still command attention. She’s one of the artists I think of in the mainstream world that wasn’t defined by the pressures and expectations of her environment. She’s one of the few pop artists who built entire worlds around them and made unconventional conventional.
When I was in school there was an older bully on the bus who, after I sang at a school performance, said "You got a deep man's voice. You sing like a Brian". He called me Brian until he left school. I had always had a huge range and loved low voices but most of the pop music that was around was high and wispy. Hearing Lana sing for the first time I thought ‘She can sing low like me!’. She's tough and beautiful and her voice has a weighted deepness. It didn't take away from her power, and it encouraged me to find mine.
I read somewhere that the most progressive thing a woman can do is live without shame. Lana is a soft-powered superhero. Her artistry has encrypted the female narrative with forceful convincing emotions that will leave most listeners on her side. The romanticisation of the sad girl narrative makes women's stories palatable. I can see that in my own work, in Lorde, Billie Elish. It’s like saying “Hey, I'm going to unleash my vulnerability and trauma in my songs. I'm going to make it so beautiful that you're going to wish it was your sorrow too".