Lana Del Rey's Secret Past Reveals Exactly What's Wrong With How We Think About Music


On June 12, the Guardian ran a profile of Lana Del Rey, the avant-garde pop singer whose real name is Elizabeth Grant, in which she told reporter Tim Jonze, "I wish I was dead already." Her second major-label LP, Ultraviolencedebuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 the next day.

The comment, like any of Grant's public gestures, was melodramatically uttered as part of her performance as Lana Del Rey, the hyper-glum songstress whose artifice she's alluded to, if not outright admitted. It drew major flak, not least of all from Kurt Cobain's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, who pointed out that dying young really isn't that great. The two made up pretty quickly when Del Rey rapidly and casually rescinded her pretty extreme comment. But it was easy for the singer to cast aside her dark proclamation because Lana Del Rey is not a real person — she's a pop creation. That's what the ailing music industry has demanded of her.

Image credit: Interscope Records

It's unclear whether Grant's death-wish crack was just Elizabeth Grant overdoing Lana Del Rey or something darker. Regardless, she made it in a highly (and easily) circulated newspaper interview. While Del Rey's authenticity might be debatable, her clout is indisputably real. It can be dangerous to orchestrate a performance of that magnitude.

But in all the uproar, nobody is pointing out that the very music media now accusing Del Rey of senseless morbidity are the ones who demanded she act so unsteadily in the first place. Before she was Lana Del Rey, she was Lizzy Grant, a less morose singer with the same exact songs and an infinitesimal fraction of Del Rey's success. For proof, just look to the albums Grant released on 5 Point Records under her old name, Lizzy Grant — the blonde, unmarketable version of Lana Del Rey whose songs were just as good.

Take "Kill, Kill," the single from her 2008 debut of the same name:

Grant's croon circa 2008 was as hypnotically woozy as it is now. Her lyrics were just as morose. But it's things like the grin at 1:40 (and the hula dance at 2:10) which were scrubbed for a marketable Del Rey.

For instance, the new Del Rey couldn't sing "Gramma," which features the self-proclaimed "gangster Nancy Sinatra" in a jazzier mode than anything on hit dark pop albums Born to Die or Ultraviolence.

They were good songs, funky, lovesick and raw. But Lizzy Grant sans gloom wasn't holding the spotlight long enough for them to make it into the world. Because in this world, it seems, it's never just about the music.

That's why there was a sad edge to Del Rey's success. Fast forward to March 2010: Grant, under new management, buys the rights to her three-month-old Lana Del Ray a.k.a. Lizzy Grant LP from 5 Points Records. She pulls it from iTunes, along with the rest of her online persona, and moves to London, where she disappears. When she reappears in 2011, she has rebranded. Then, with a deal from Interscope and the sweetest, saddest love song of the year, Lizzy Grant gets her moment in the sun.

"Video Games" exploded on the Internet. Her music hit a vein with its deep sadness and her born-to-die vibe. On the death of Lizzy Grant, Lana Del Rey made her name:

That, give or take a few music awards and a No. 1 album, is where we are now. The songs are no better or worse than anything Lizzy Grant ever put out; the difference is solely that, where Lizzy Grant might have been happy about her fame, Lana Del Rey is willing to be contrary and say she'd rather be dead. If that's what it takes for Grant to hold our attention, so be it. After all, Slipknot wore masks with nails coming out of them to get people to listen to their terrible band, and they won a Grammy. 

Image credit: Getty

But if we're going to gripe about Lana Del Rey's authenticity, or the off-the-cuff remarks it spurs in interviews, the conversation should be about us, not Elizabeth Grant. Whether the death-wish comment was a slipup or not, it reflects the type of musician in which we're willing to invest our time and attention. 

Lizzy Grant wouldn't have have told Tim Jonze she wanted to die. Her album probably wouldn't have gone platinum either. The facade is cold, but it's what we asked for.