Lana Del Rey practically taunts you with her wide-reaching range of inspirations. The 29-year-old torch singer born Elizabeth Grant is a nostalgia hall of mirrors, writing about tortured artists, dressing up like lost starlets, and feeding an old-Hollywood aesthetic with her choices of covers. Vintage instrumentation gets shaken (not stirred) with the bounce of hip-hop, reverb coats everything with a sheen of Fifties-via-Nineties dreaminess, and her contralto has the vacant sadness of a faded Coney Island picture postcard. Marking the recent release of her RS cover story and her second album, Ultraviolence, here are some of her most influential droogs. By Reed Fischer
Lana Del Rey's whispery and disorienting delivery isn't a far cry from what David Lynch targeted in Julee Cruise for "Falling," the theme of his cult Nineties cult drama Twin Peaks. The breathy, ethereal voice of Cruise (paired with Angelo Badalamenti's brittle synths and Lynch's lyrics) is a dream-pop staple. Like the tragic story of Laura Palmer, Lana Del Rey's output is death-obsessed and penetrating. Del Rey has been spotted wearing a T-shirt featuring the Rolling Stone cover dedicated to the women of Twin Peaks, and even sings the Peaks-referencing "He's got the fire, and walks with it" in "Sad Girl."
With her own stylish bad-girl image, retro-soul influence, tendency to collaborate with rappers, the Amy Winehouse template deeply resembles Del Rey's. Both embrace darkness and criminal behavior, and try to spin the unsavory into something beautiful in their work. "I believe in Amy Winehouse," Del Rey said in an interview with Fashion. "I know she's not with us anymore but I believe she was who she was and in that way she got it right."
One of the most-controversial lyrics on Ultraviolence's title track (as well as an unreleased LDR track called "Beautiful Player" dating back a few years) nods to an unsettling hit by Sixties girl group the Crystals. The chilling Goffin/King composition, "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)," was produced by Phil Spector and a precursor to Del Rey's cinematic arrangements and taboo-treading storytelling. When pressed whether such lyrics are anti-feminist, she told NPR, "When I'm recording or writing, I don't have other people in mind. It's not always comfortable for me, but I don't not say what I want to."
Lana Del Rey told the Guardian that she had Lou Reed on her mind when she wrote "Brooklyn Baby." She name-checks him (and the Who's "My Generation") in the breezy discussion of hipster Americana backed by big drums. Apparently there was a mutual appreciation. She flew over to New York to meet him. "I took the red eye, touched down at 7 a.m…" she says. "And two minutes later he died."
Aside from covering Sixties heartthrob Bobby Vinton's signature hit, "Blue Velvet," for an H&M ad campaign, Lana Del Rey uncannily reverberates with the mainstream sadness of Mr. Lonely himself. Like Vinton, Roy Orbison and other crooners of that era, Del Rey seems happiest to mope.
Two of Lana Del Rey's favorite poets are beat writer Allen Ginsberg and transcendentalist pre-beat Walt Whitman. For the latter, she went as far as to say that "Whitman is my daddy" in the song "Body Electric," named after the bearded 19th century legend's sprawling, sensual poem "I Sing the Body Electric." When she recited Whitman's poem "Song of Myself" for a French fashion magazine, the line "I beat and pound for the dead" sounded exactly like one of her own.
Lana Del Rey is not a rapper, but hip-hop has influenced her singing, her style, and her video co-stars (A$AP Rocky plays JFK to her Jackie in her "National Anthem" video). But it's Eminem's honest approach that had the most profound effect on her. "He really changed my life because I didn't know music could be intelligent," she told an Italian website. "He was talking about his own life and he wasn't just rhyming over music for rhyme's sake…That made me think I could talk about the way things were instead of just making stupid music."
Google the phrase "gangsta Nancy Sinatra," and all search results lead back to Lana. By the time the press came calling, Del Rey was "a little embarrassed" by the comparison. ("That was supposed to be a joke," she told British GQ). Favoring a low voice and massive musical backdrops did echo Sinatra's stylish run in the swinging Sixties, so it's easy to see why the tag stuck. For her part, the daughter of Frank Sinatra, who’s best known for her no-nonsense hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," is an O.G. for setting her own brash career agenda. (She shared one of the first interracial kisses on TV with Sammy Davis, Jr., and posed for Playboy in her 50s.) Last year, Del Rey and ex-boyfriend Barrie-James O’Neill covered "Summer Wine," a duet made famous by Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood in 1967.
Brooding and nostalgia are the ropes that bind Lana Del Rey to poetic songwriter Leonard Cohen. That and a willingness to describe sex acts performed on unmade beds – as they are in Cohen’s 1974 classic "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." Covered by Del Rey last year, the slow, impossibly sad song refers to intimate details of his romance with Janis Joplin at the New York artists' hangout. Her quavering voice wraps around it, and latches tightly onto the lyric "You were famous, your heart was a legend." The Chelsea won't take new tenants anymore, but Del Rey still makes herself at home.
Squint your ears a little while listening to the morose "Pretty When You Cry," and before you know it, you'll be on a dark desert highway with cool wind in your hair. Lana Del Rey has said she listens to the Eagles' "Hotel California" while getting ready for photo shoots.
Credited with shaping Lana Del Rey's current album with a Nashville band, Dan Auerbach has netted recent production credits with musicians both retro and retro-minded – Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, Reigning Sound and more. The Black Keys frontman, who met Del Rey through a mutual friend in New York, has proven himself a master of gritty ambiance in his own band, and infused Ultraviolence with most of its guitar licks, especially on the tempo-churns of "West Coast." "She's a true eccentric, you know, extremely talented," the 2013 Grammy winner for Producer of the Year told Rolling Stone. "She looks at this whole thing as this great big art project."
Before Lana Del Rey occupied the entire spectrum of Lizzy Grant's artistry there was her May Jailer phase. The folk side of Grant resulted in an Edie Brickell-ish acoustic album called Sirens that's still lurking on the web. Del Rey has said in interviews that ex-Fleet Foxes singer-songwriter Father John Misty reminds her of her roots. Typical Misty-cisms are often more drug-addled gonzo folk explorations than anything Grant has released under any name, but there's a shared desire for freedom in both of their work. They eventually toured together earlier this year.