Controversial singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey covers the dark side of the American dream on her debut album, Born to Die, and follow-up EP, Paradise. Initially proclaiming herself a “Lolita lost in the ‘hood”, Lana has since dropped the slight hip-hop influence present in her earliest work to focus on orchestral pop vignettes that have been termed “Hollywood sadcore”. With her song “Young and Beautiful” on the Great Gatsby soundtrack, she has earned critical acclaim and commercial success. With a sound that is both forward-looking and nostalgic, Lana’s influences are understandably diverse.
When she gave her first interviews, Lana described herself as a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Although her sound has evolved somewhat, Nancy’s influence on Lana can still be felt. The daughter of mega-star Frank Sinatra, Nancy became a pop icon in 1966 with her song “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. She cultivated a tough-girl image with edgy songs like “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, “Lightning’s Girl”, and “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?” Lana would eventually cover Nancy’s “Summer Wine”, and songs like “Summertime Sadness” and “Ride” bear her mark.
Lana’s voice, in its darkest, smokiest moments, recalls Fiona Apple. Fiona’s first album, Tidal, was released in 1996 when she was just 19 years old. The sensual hit video for her single “Criminal” made her a 90’s icon, but Fiona refused to be boxed in and changed her sound for each of her subsequent albums, typically taking more than five years between each one. Lana borrows some of her sulky sultriness, along with her vocal mannerisms, on songs like “Million Dollar Man” and “Video Games”.
Lana is beloved by her fans for her distinctive style, for which she owes a debt to Marianne Faithfull. In her life as a “Swinging London” pop star in the 1960s, Marianne was prone to wearing flowers in her hair. She also performed sitting down, frozen, due to her crippling stage fright. Her sweet image, in songs like “As Tears Go By” and “Summer Nights”, belied her secret addiction to heroin. After breaking up with her longtime boyfriend Mick Jagger, Marianne lived on the streets of London. She eventually kicked the habit and made a comeback in 1979 with the punk-influenced album Broken English. Her story of the devastating effects of fame is right in Lana’s line, as are her vintage look and sound.
With her languid vocals, Lana has often been compared to Mazzy Star lead singer Hope Sandoval. Releasing their debut album in 1990, Mazzy Star were known for their hazy, dreamlike sound and Hope’s enigmatic lyrics. They scored their biggest hit in 1994 with “Fade Into You”, a song that showcased the best they had to offer. The band released several albums before calling it quits in 1997. They are currently in the midst of recording a reunion album.
With their slow beats and indolent vocals, English trip-hop band Portishead provided a template for Lana’s songs. Originating in Bristol in the early 90’s, the band was a staple of that decade, and continue to perform and record today. Their influence can be felt on songs like “Cola” and “Body Electric”.