Since 2012, Lana Del Rey has been building her myth as indie’s poet laureate of dusty, vintage Americana through a series of albums that traverse desolate sadness, plucky attitude, loved-up elation, and more. It’s hard to pick just 10 tracks from her golden back catalogue, but the below songs are some of the California star’s finest work so far.
10. ‘Venice Bitch’
A nine-and-a-half-minute odyssey, ‘Venice Bitch’ transforms from a finger-picked folkie dream into an experimental patchwork of droning sounds and fragmented lyrics. It’s brilliantly weird, completely refusing to play into structures expected of pop songs or Lana, and sounds like an artist fully at ease and overflowing with ideas.
Elizabeth Grant has taken us on a confounding journey with her Lana Del Rey alias, a complex character who blends pseudo-biography with sad-face grandiosity to enhance her Twin Peaks-esque enigma. The title track from her second record, ‘Ultraviolence’ starts off in the vein of slow-burners like ‘Video Games’ before taking a disconcerting turn into Crystals-referencing descriptions of domestic violence.
8. ‘Brooklyn Baby’
This single didn’t get the fanfare of its ‘Ultraviolence’ counterparts, but its creeping, wispy melodies soar in and out of huge reverb washes to create a darkly atmospheric beauty, with semi-ironic lyrics perfectly poised between hipster-hate and hipster-bait. Loving Lana might be an unpopular hobby for the dedicated music fan, but if Arctic Monkeys had written this one your mates’d be all over it.
“Been trying hard not to get into trouble, but I got a war in my mind,” Lana croons on the cinematic beauty that is ‘Ride’. Her answer? To hit the road and “just ride”, where she can clear her head, feel the breeze on her skin, and escape her problems, at least for a little bit.
Best known for her elegantly sad songs, Lana switched things up on her fifth album, ‘Lust For Life’. Just as she could be seen smiling on the record’s cover, so she could be heard singing happily on its lead single, ‘Love’. Like an astronaut watching over Earth from space, she narrated scenes of young people gliding through life in a romantic daze. “You get ready, you get all dressed up/To go nowhere in particular/Back to work or the coffee shop,” she sang before dropping a dreamy, doe-eyed pay-off. “Doesn’t matter cos it’s enough/To be young and in love.”
5. ‘West Coast’
What Lana’s critics tend to overlook is how weird her songs are. Take ‘Ultraviolence’ single ‘West Coast’, an international hit that blends trip-hop, postpunk, dark soul and woozy psychedelia to deliver an effortlessly catchy tune that fucks with chart-pop like Picasso fucks with facial features.
4. ‘Summertime Sadness’
Nowhere is Lana’s self-identification as “Hollywood sadcore” more keenly felt than on this ‘Born to Die’ anthem. It hinges on a lurching rhythm switch-up in the chorus, but its calling card are sweetly melancholy lyrics shot through with euphoria, sizzling like a snare.
3. ‘Shades of Cool’
With quietly haunting verses and an interstellar chorus that would suit a later Muse album, ‘Shades of Cool’ is the kind of stunning ‘Ultraviolence’ single that just wouldn’t have worked on ‘Born to Die’, which worked to a more rigid mould of regal pop. It’s not quite as alluring as her very finest stuff, but the change of pace marked a vital evolution for the singer.
2. ‘Blue Jeans’
After ‘Video Games’ turned the internet into one big Lana Del Rey comment section, ‘Blue Jeans’ had a whiff of anti-climax. In light of her later work, though, it makes perfect sense, elegantly wrapping passive-aggressive declarations of devotion – “Love you more than those bitches before” – in sumptuous strings and prowling guitar twangs.
1. ‘Video Games’
It’s testament to Lana’s enduring myth that, while her shaky ‘Video Games’ performance on Saturday Night Live momentarily posed a genuine threat to her status, the fuck-up has since become a footnote on her way to the top. It’s true that the song works best in studio form, a ballad so lucid and intimate that listening to it is like looking through a stranger’s photo diary. It’s as faded and sunken an account of romantic disillusionment as they come.