Since her 2010 album failure, Lana has switched up her style a bit. The former bleach blonde has gone red. That combined with the name change has led some to question her authenticity. “This whole thing about her name is absolutely insane,” says her manager, Ben Mawson. “David Bowie, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and Lady Gaga are not using their real names. Why is she being picked on? She came up with the name herself. She had three Myspace pages. One was Lizzy Grant, one was Lana Del Ray, another was Lana Del Rey with an ‘E.’ I was like, ‘You can’t have three—decide!’” After three months she settled on Lana Del Rey. “It makes me laugh,” Mawson adds. “I’ve represented 60 to 70 artists and I’ve never gotten more of the real deal than I’ve gotten from her. She’s absolutely a self creation. I guess it’s sort of a weird compliment because she appears to be so perfect. People can’t believe it’s true.”
I'm interested in the gorgeous side of life, but also familiar with the dark side too.
Lana herself didn’t waste any time refuting the naysayers. She was too busy fielding label bids. Interscope Chairman Jimmy Iovine got her, but Lana is nobody’s prefab pop star. She’s the one driving her career.
“If you consider the definition of authenticity,” Lana says, “it’s saying something and actually doing it. I write my own songs. I made my own videos. I pick my producers. Nothing goes out without my permission. It’s all authentic.” Web-savvy skeptics can check for themselves. Lana’s older songs aren’t too hard to find. And there hasn’t been much of a transformation from her early work to now—just progression toward a more orchestral feel.
“Why would it be a different thing?” she asks, sounding genuinely confused. “I never changed my sound. I never stopped writing about what was actually going on in my life. There’s nothing to hide.”
But she does keep quiet about some portions of her life. All her singles to date revolve around affairs of the heart—specifically, drowning in and even dying for love. Lana’s music would make a perfect soundtrack for the scene where the girl is dumped by her man and, pistol to skull, decides life isn’t worth living anymore.
The video for her latest single, “Born to Die,” was shot in Paris by Yoann “Woodkid” Lemoine, who directed Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Taylor Swift’s “Back to December.” It starts with castle gates swinging open to reveal Lana seated on a throne—with tigers reclining to her left and right. (Kanye West tweeted the stunning image soon after the video dropped.) Lana’s expression is somewhere between pissed and heartbroken. What follows is a compulsive affair that leads to fiery explosions and, yeah, bloody death.
Lemoine and Lana became friends after he saw the first version of “Video Games” in the spring. “She naturally has a lot of drama coming out of her,” the French-born director says. “When you work with her, you get trapped in a twister of comments and reactions from people who are so intense about her.”
But if you think her fans have an intense relationship with Lana, imagine her old boyfriend. She confirms that the inspiration behind many of her songs comes from a wonderful long-term relationship that turned ugly. “We were both living life on the straight and narrow when we met,” Lana says. “And two years into it, I didn’t know it, but he was off doing other things that he got in trouble for.” Whether those “other things” included infidelity, a Scarface-like drug operation, or some white-collar Madoff stuff, she won’t reveal out of respect for her ex.
Was he perhaps the kind of guy she might have been helping if she became a mental-health social worker? “Exactly,” Lana affirms with a nod. “You get to a point where you run out of everything. You’ve gone through everyone. You have no money, you’ve done everything you could do. The last thing you can do is start over.”
Suddenly Lana apologizes for being a downer. “Sorry, this is really fucking depressing,” she says to Haynie.
“It’s actually interesting,” he replies. “I just heard ‘Blue Jeans’ kind of manifest itself. I never knew that.”
They may still be getting to know each other, but the pair make beautiful music together. As their works-in-progress blare, they frequently lean together to exchange ideas. Haynie says he knew they’d be a good fit when they first met months ago.
“What excited me was playing different ideas and seeing what would make her face light up,” he says. “I thought, ‘She likes the shit I like.’ She likes the hard, yet beautiful stuff. That’s when I thought we could do something special.”
“Emile knew that there was a heavier, more street side that needed to be brought out,” she says. “He knows that I'm interested in the gorgeous side of life, but also familiar with the dark side, too.” Lana also happens to be a big rap fan who’s been in touch with A$AP Rocky about a possible collaboration. But her love of hip-hop reaches back beyond last fall. “Eminem is sick and unbeatable,” Lana says when asked to name her favorite rappers. “50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Biggie Smalls—the way he talked stuff out was inspiring to me. It made me feel like music could be autobiographical and more of an art form than just rhyming over sugary chords.” There is an unmistakable hip-hop swagger to Born to Die. It knocks like a rap album, and careful listeners will notice that Lana delivers some lines as if she’s spitting rhymes. “You’re so fresh to death,” she sings at one point, “and sick as ca-cancer.”