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Lana Del Rey: A Decade in the Making; Tumblr’s Golden Age

By Sumaiya Nasir | November 14, 2022

Picture this: it’s 2014. You’re lying in bed, reblogging gifs of Tate Langdon from “American Horror Story” and Sky Ferreira to add to your soft-grunge, angst-ridden Tumblr blog page. Your scuffed combat boots are thrown haphazardly by the foot of your bed, and the tips of your hair are highlighted a turquoise tint to match Kylie Jenner’s. The bass from your Lana Del Rey “Ultraviolence” vinyl resounds through your bedroom. No one understands me, you think to yourself. But Lana does.

For many of us, the early 2010s were a pivotal era, as many fans of indie music were pre-adolescents and teenagers. “Electra Heart” was the soundtrack of our lives, and it was no matter that Marina’s satirical lyrics passed over our heads; we wanted to embody her. The Arctic Monkeys were steadfastly on their way to the height of their success, and images of lead-singer Matty Healy of The 1975 smoking cigarettes on stage littered our Tumblr feeds. It was a period of coming-of-age.

Since her official debut over ten years ago, Lana Del Rey’s influence remains an indelible mark on popular culture. In an age where pop artists such as Justin Bieber and the Black Eyed Peas dominated music charts, Del Rey’s mellifluous voice and unique poeticism reshaped the alternative culture of the 2010s.

Ten years ago, with the releases of Del Rey’s album “Born To Die,” and its reissue, “Born to Die: The Paradise Edition,” released on Nov. 9, 2012, the world changed.

Tumblr had begun to take off in 2011 and had curated a large audience of (mostly) young women, who came together with the shared experience of being a teenage girl. The social media platform had been a wasteland of memes, philosophical text posts written by pretentious bloggers on the site, and histrionic black and white photos overlayed with sad song lyrics. “Reblogging” and crafting posts onto one’s blog was the site’s currency.

It was a simpler time then, as social media was only just coming into fruition, and the gravity of trauma dumping and oversharing on a public platform had not yet been discovered. It was an experience that brought thousands of users together, and it had been a space for teenagers to exchange information, explore girlhood and sexuality, and receive validation from virtual strangers.

As someone who was already immersed in this culture at such an impressionable age, the emergence of Lana Del Rey altered my tastes fundamentally. I was used to the grittiness in instrumentals of groups like Nirvana and Arctic Monkeys, and Del Rey’s incorporation of the Classical, Jazz, and Hip-Hop genres in her music was a breath of fresh air. I was but only one of the many young Tumblr users in the years spanning 2011 and 2016 who had become entranced by Lana Del Rey.

Thus, the Sad Girl Tumblr revolution ensued.

Lana Del Rey embodied the glamor of sadness. Her doe eyes, smudged with mascara so as to give the impression that she had been crying; pouty, maroon-stained lips; a cigarette held between trembling fingers; her not-so subtle song titles “Summertime Sadness” and “Sad Girl,” and her love of Sylvia Plath proclaim the artist as a resident sad girl.

Del Rey is undoubtedly one of the last musical acts to universally shift the culture of a generation of depressed teenagers growing into themselves, with her effortlessly cool attitude, crooning voice, dark makeup, and “beauty queen” hair. She cultivated a persona around nostalgic Americana with her debut in 2012; her looks alternated between the Norma Jean, girl-next-door archetype, and the Priscilla Presley sixties do up. Her autobiographical dark lyrics about love, loss, and her obsession with California spoke to the souls of young men and women around the world.

Born Elizabeth “Lizzy” Grant, Lana had been virtually unknown outside of her open mic night gigs in small clubs and bars, until the release of her single “Video Games” in 2011, later featured on her sophomore album, “Born To Die” went viral on social media.

A deeply melodic and nostalgic track, the song evoked simulated memories of summers spent with an old lover in my childish mind. I was immediately drawn to her haunting voice.

The “Born To Die” era contains motifs of Old Hollywood and American symbolism in the form of tributes to John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley, and its references to Pepsi-Cola, New York City and Marlboro cigarettes. The album is a love letter to her years living in New York City, and her yearning for Hollywood fame.

“The Paradise Edition” differs aesthetically in its seemingly romanticized version of working-class America, with Del Rey riding on the backs of older men’s motorbikes through deserts, hanging around motels and trailer parks with a beer in hand, and holding up the American flag in her “Ride” music video. Del Rey received harsh backlash for wearing a Native American headdress in the music video, the first of several cultural appropriation allegations the artist would face in her career.

While Del Rey’s recent releases stray from her beauty queen aesthetic, they share the singer’s love of 20th century literature and music, prevalent in the pre-chorus lyrics to her song “Off to the Races” being a direct reference to the opening line in Vladimir Nobakov’s 1955 novel, “Lolita,” “light of my life, fire of my loins.” Also on the Paradise album is another song entitled “Lolita.”

She sings “He hit me, and it felt like a kiss” in her song “Ultraviolence” from her third studio album, which references a popular The Crystals song from the sixties titled “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).”

“Ultraviolence,” released in 2013 wrapped up the Golden Age of Tumblr perfectly. Del Rey’s fashion evolved from sixties baby doll dresses to skinny jeans and leather jackets. Her sad girl image, whose melancholy was so deep, it was beautiful, evolved to tell the tale of a toxic, volatile relationship with a man whom she deems her “cult leader.” The album draws comparisons between being in love and being in pain. The album follows the flesh of grungy alternative aesthetics, with grainy, monochromatic music videos and photographs, and lyrics about being a hipster “Brooklyn Baby.”

“Norman F—ing Rockwell,” Del Rey’s sixth studio album is named after the esteemed American painter, Norman Rockwell, who illustrated the history of 20th century America, and is most famous for his depictions of the American Dream.

“Norman F—ing Rockwell” and “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” Del Rey’s sixth and seventh studio albums are the artists best works to date (argue with the wall). The artist continues to reminisce over past lovers and a life before fame, in songs like "White Dress" and "California," but it is as though Del Rey is saying her farewells to her former self, and is looking towards years to come. Both albums have their own distinct sound and aesthetic but stay in line with Lana Del Rey’s curated persona – a deep devotion for California, America, and being in love.

Lana Del Rey is undoubtedly one of the greatest living artists. Her unreleased music, which has a fandom of its own, exceeds what many artists today release on official albums, and her studio releases are untouchable pieces of art. Her ten years of reign over the music charts, and social media platforms such as Tik Tok continue to introduce her artistry to new fans every day.

Lana Del Rey is rumored to release her ninth studio album in the new year.


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