Lana Del Rey on her journey from 'Born to Die' to 'Norman F---ing Rockwell!'


Lana Del Rey.
Lana Del Rey is back with fresh music for 2019. (Universal Music)

In the video for "The greatest" (the second half of a shared clip with "F--k it I love you"), Lana Del Rey sings, "L.A. is in flames, it's getting hot/ Kanye West is blond and gone/ 'Life on Mars' ain't just a song." She's walking through the fossil-fuel infrastructure of the California coast, suggesting an apocalyptic reckoning.

"I'm always thinking big-picture, whether I say it or not." she said when we spoke by phone just before her new album, Norman F---ing Rockwell!, was released. "I don't know if I was thinking specifically about climate change, but just where we are now culturally."

The new album, made in collaboration with super-producer Jack Antonoff (Lorde, Taylor Swift, St. Vincent, Carly Rae Jepsen), has an acoustic, piano-driven aesthetic...but yes, she confirms with a laugh, there is supposed to be an exclamation point in its title. "I liked the idea of the 'f---ing' in the middle being an exclamation on the state of the culture and everything going on."

Del Rey's journey since 2012's breakout Born to Die has taken her through orchestral ballads, jazz inflections, and even the occasional trap beat, but she says the constant has been her own voice telling her own story.

"It's definitely been a kind of chronicling in real time" of her changing emotions, she said. "Almost like a diary chronicling the love stuff" — she laughed — and, lately, "a little bit of politics and thinking about art, just pulling up and getting more of a bird's-eye view rather than being so insular. I've always just kind of written about wherever I am in the moment, whether it was New York or now, this new album is kind of California-centric.

"It's always kind of interesting for me to listen back to stuff years later, in a different context," she continued. "Some of it I really love. Some of it cracks me up, and some of it I just can't believe I did."

Listening back to Born to Die today, she said, takes her to a more isolated point in her life. "I had to write a lot of that after I moved from New York and I moved to London. It was hard, because I didn't really know anyone. I just think about being in London for two years, trying my best to write this really cool album, and coming back to New York, having somebody like Emile Haynie put the finishing touches on it."

By contrast, "now I record in my living room and I'm really comfortable. It's just not as stressful as it was then, which is a good thing!"

Another question about "The greatest" video took her back to a simpler time. In the video, she browses through a jukebox stocked with classic rock and R&B...and, prominently, songs by The National and Bon Iver.

As for The National, she said, "I didn't know them, but I used to go see their shows, I want to say, 14 years ago. My boyfriend at the time, Steven Mertons, was in the Moldy Peaches, and we would go to little house parties and little bars in Brooklyn. The National were always playing. At the time, I couldn't get over [Matt Berninger's] voice. I still think about that."

Del Rey said she admires the self-effacing sensibility of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. "He just seems like he's not in it for self-promotion. He just loves the music."

Here in Minnesota, just across the border from Justin Vernon's Eau Claire headquarters, Del Rey has spent more time than you might expect.

"My brother's in Minneapolis," she said. "We're similarly from a cold spot, up in Lake Placid, so when he moved to Minnesota, I was like, you're nuts! You want to go to somewhere even colder than where you're from! But he loves Minneapolis. It's a very cool vibe out there."

She visits her brother, director Charlie Hill-Grant, "every few months," but the two generally lie low. "We literally just look at the work he's doing, or he was just taking classes for a little bit, so I would just see him in between classes and hang out for a day or two." Soon they'll be able to get together more often: Del Rey said her brother is planning to move out west next month.

She gave her brother a shout-out at her first — and, so far, only — Minnesota show, in January 2018 at Target Center. Despite it being her tour opener, she was relaxed and convivial. "Being in the studio is so easy, it's like breathing. You don't think about anything. Being on stage, I'm thinking about everything," she said. "I'm thinking about the fans and wanting it to be fun and interesting."

In addition to 13 original songs, the album also includes a cover of Sublime's "Doin' Time." It's not a shock that the California dreamer likes that band and that song...what other bands, I asked, does she like that might surprise people? "I like Bob Seger! I love the Eagles, probably not a surprise. 311?" She laughed out loud. "I love anything hip-hop. I like a little country."

Life is changing, for all of us, in ways that are sometimes scary. As Lana Del Rey sings on the album, though, "hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have — but I have it."

"I have hope with certain things, and then with other things I'm more skeptical. I really like the idea that the individual is a little microcosm, and that the state of politics and culture is a reflection of that." The reason she has hope, she said, "is that I can see myself changing, so I feel like if I can change, on a wider scale there is a possibility for things to keep shifting upward and for the better."

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