Q&A: Lana Del Rey

The singer on her controversial 'SNL' performance, getting sent to boarding school and loving Biggie

American singer Lana Del Rey performs on stage at Scala in London, on November 16th, 2011. Credit: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty

JUST 36 HOURS AFTER THE the most polarizing Saturday Night Live performance in recent memory, Lana Del Rey is in New York, eating a cookie. "I actually felt good about it," she says. "I thought I looked beautiful and sang fine." But it's clear that Del Rey has been rattled by the overwhelming Internet vitriol hurled her way after her awk­ward renditions of two tunes, including the breakout single "Video Games." Del Rey's ace in the hole: her debut LP, Born to Die, which blends sweeping orchestral arrangements and hip-hop beats with confessional lyrics about partying and unhealthy relation­ships. "Now my life is sweet like cinna­mon," she sings on standout cut "Radio." "Like a fuckin' dream I'm livin' in."

How did it feel to sing on live TV?
It felt OK. The cast and crew said they loved it. I know some peo­ple didn't like it, but that's just the way I perform, and my fans know that.

Are you comfortable on stage?
I'm nervous. I'm not a natural performer or exhibitionist. When I was younger, I hated the focus, and it made me feel strange.

The backlash to that performance has been pretty harsh.
There's backlash about everything I do. It's nothing new. When I walk outside, people have something to say about it. It wouldn't have mattered if I was absolutely excellent. People don't have anything nice to say about this project. I'm sure that's why you're writing about it.

Have I given you the impression that I don't like your music? I do! Especial­ly the song "Radio."
No. I don't know how you feel about it. It's not easy to gauge how people feel about it. I don't really want to go into it. But thank you, I love "Radio" too.

When was the first time you stepped onstage?
I was the littlest orphan in Annie when I was three.

What was the first music you loved?
We didn't have a TV, so I remember seeing Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" video when I was 11, at a party at my mom's friend's house. There was just something about the look in Kurt's eye that made me feel like I knew what he was feeling, like I could relate to him. I still listen to Nirvana most days.

In your song "Blue Jeans," you sing, "I grew up on hip-hop." Did you?
I really loved Eminem. And in high school, my English teacher introduced me to Biggie Smalls. I loved "Me & My Bitch."

Do you have a big record collection?
I'm more of a singles person. I love the Beach Boys'"Fun, Fun, Fun," Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and Nina Simone's "The Other Woman." And hearing Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" for the first time was a revelation. I watched Don't Look Back a lot and read the biography by Anthony Scaduto. Like everyone else, Bob floors me.

Where did you write "Video Games"?
In London. I was with Justin Parker, one of my producers, and I just start­ed humming and freestyling over that progression of chords. It took me about 10 minutes, maybe. We knew we had something special. It was the perfect song for me — it was me in song form.

In your song "Off to the Races," you mention cocaine, Bacardi chasers and cognac. Do you drink much?
I've been clean for some time now. I haven't had a drink in many years, but I used to. Back when I was drinking a lot, I got in trouble and was sent to boarding school. But I straightened out after that.

Lyrics about taking some­one's body "downtown" appear twice on the album. What does that mean?
It has a couple of mean­ings. One is, "Let's go out, let's go downtown!" And the other is... [Laughs] That's it.