The name Lana Del Rey entered our world around 2011 when the YouTube video of her first single, Video Games, went viral and basically broke the internet. Once her debut album, Born to Die, was released, she attracted an unbelievable amount of hate online. She was accused of all kinds of things, like having a rich dad who bankrolled her first album, of getting her lips done, of being a poser, and of trying to be Nancy Sinatra.
“A lot of what’s been written about me is not true: of my family history or my choices or my interests,” Del Rey stated. “Actually, I’ve never read anything written about me that was true. It’s been completely crazy.” Okay, so who is this mysterious pop star?
A Girl Named Lizzy Grant
The thing with Lana Del Rey is that it can be pretty hard sometimes to tell what is fact and what is fiction. I mean, we’re talking about a person has admitted to being “a lot of different people.” While many things about the pop star remain mysterious to this day, there is a true story to be told about the woman behind the image.
Before Hollywood entered her vision, she was known as Lizzy Grant. Well, she was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant on June 21, 1985, in Manhattan, but she was raised in Lake Placid. The eldest of three siblings, she was raised Roman Catholic by her parents, who were of Scottish descent.
From Church Choir to Boarding School
It was clear that music was her passion in her elementary school years when she became the cantor at her church and started singing in the choir. The young Lizzy Grant was doing pretty well for herself, up until the age of 15, when her parents felt the need to send her to a boarding school for her budding drinking problem.
Boarding school was no fun: She wasn’t making friends and was something of a loner during her teenage and early adult years. It was during this period that she became preoccupied with death. She wrote once: “I had a sort of a philosophical crisis… I was unhappy for some time. I got into a lot of trouble. I used to drink a lot. That was a hard time in my life.”
She Called Herself “Sparkle Jump Rope Queen”
After high school, she lived on Long Island with her aunt and uncle and worked as a waitress. Her uncle taught her how to play the guitar, which is when she realized she could “probably write a million songs with those six chords.” Not long after that, she started writing songs of her own and performing them in nightclubs around the city.
She was slowly turning herself into a mysterious pop persona, and it began with all kinds of stage names. She played around with various names, like “Sparkle Jump Rope Queen,” “May Jailer,” and “Lizzy Grant and the Phenomena.” She was having fun with her stage names because she wasn’t taking herself too seriously.
The Early Works of “May Jailer”
She was 19 when she went to Fordham University in the Bronx, where she majored in philosophy and metaphysics. To her, it was about “bridging the gap between God and science.” Between 2005 and 2006, while in college, she made extended plays called Rock Me Stable, Young Like Me, and From the End – all recorded under the name May Jailer.
As May Jailer, she recorded an acoustic album called Sirens under the May Jailer project (it was later leaked on the internet in 2012). 2006 was the year she performed in public for the first time. At the Williamsburg Live Songwriting Competition, she met a representative of 5 Points Records.
She Lived in a Trailer Park After College
Del Rey sent him a demo tape of acoustic tracks that she titled No Kung Fu. She was offered a recording contract for $10,000. What did she do with all this money? She bought a trailer at the Manhattan Mobile Home Park (despite the name, it’s located in North Bergen, New Jersey).
She lived there after graduating from college. Del Rey said she wanted the “white trash element” because she didn’t want to be a part of mainstream society, which was “gross” to her. The way she put it, she was “trying to carve my own piece of the pie in a creative way.”
A “Cute but Dark” Person
According to the label’s executive, David Nichtern, their plan was to get her record out and for her to start touring after college. He also recalled the difference between Lizzy Grant and the pop star she morphed into.
When she first came to 5 Points, she was playing “plunky little acoustic guitar” and had straight blonde hair. He said she was a “very cute young woman… a little bit dark, but very intelligent.” Eventually, her managers, Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, helped her get out of her contract with 5 Points because, as she said, “nothing was happening.”
Settling on the Name Lana Del Rey
“I was always singing but didn’t plan on pursuing it seriously,” she later recalled. When she got to New York City, she was 18 and started playing in clubs in Brooklyn. She said she had “good friends and devoted fans on the underground scene” and that they were playing for each other at that point.
Eventually, though, her hobby became her life. She settled on the name Lana Del Rey when she was on a trip to Miami with her sister. There she realized that she “wanted a name that sounded sort of exotic and reminded me of like the seaside on the Floridian coast.”
Miami, Lana Turner, and the Ford Del Rey
She chose the name for her feature debut album. Why? Because she wanted a name that she “could shape the music towards.” In Miami, she was speaking Spanish with her friends from Cuba and the name Lana Del Rey reminded them of the “glamour of the seaside.”
It also “sounded gorgeous coming off the tip of the tongue,” she said. But it wasn’t just Florida that inspired the name. The name was also based on the actress Lana Turner and the Ford Del Rey sedan, which was popular in Brazil in the 1980s.
The Blonde in a T-Shirt and Jeans
Lizzy Grant became Lana Del Rey, but you can still find traces of her early self online. There is a video, dated June 8, 2009, on YouTube, showing a young, casually dressed blonde in a green T-shirt and jeans singing all by her lonesome on stage in a New York club. She was in a show called The Variety Box.
While her voice was strong, she was shy and spoke quietly to the audience, which only responded with a smidgen of applause. In those days, she was like any other “nobody” in NYC, trying to be spotted by a “somebody.”
Starting Out With Pre-Lady Gaga
Lizzy Grant and Stefani Germanotta (whom you know as Lady Gaga) started out in the same downtown music scene in New York. Del Rey told Rolling Stone that Gaga’s manager, Bob Leone, was a “confidante” of hers and gave her a two-month scholarship to a songwriting class.
He put her on a list of Monday night lineups at a club called The Cutting Room. She and Gaga played a couple of shows together, “but never met.” One of Del Rey’s early songs, So Legit, was leaked, and many people interpreted it as a jab at Gaga. The song literally has the lyrics “Stefani, you suck.” According to Del Rey, the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
Who Is This Mysterious “Gangster Nancy Sinatra”?
Lizzy Grant never experienced fame. It was 25-year-old Lana Del Rey who did, the sultry songstress who suddenly became the hottest name in American music. Del Rey’s image was nothing like Lizzy Grant’s, and her new sound won millions of fans. Thanks to her Video Games video, she became a cult hit.
She became one with her mysterious image – a self-styled “gangster Nancy Sinatra” who lived and breathed 1960s fashions and showbiz glamour – which quickly turned into one of the most controversial figures to emerge in music for years. Her music videos were going viral, and her few live gigs were selling out fast.
What Happened to Lizzy Grant?
Del Rey won the “Next Big Thing” title at the Q Awards, and her future seemed set. But then the questions came. Was the transformation from Grant to Del Rey planned? Was she just another manufactured act? Rather than an outsider hungry for recognition, is Del Rey really just a girl with a rich daddy who has backed her career?
People were suspicious, and it didn’t help that Grant’s failed album – along with all her social media websites – were seemingly wiped from the internet just before Del Rey showed up on the scene. The assumption was that label Interscope simply marketed her the right way. Overall, the sentiment was: The woman is fake.
From Fast Fans to Fast Foes
“There are a lot of things that don’t seem organic about it,” Steven Horowitz wrote in a cover story about Del Rey for Billboard magazine. “She’s putting on a show. She’s here to entertain us.” Del Rey’s fast fans became fast foes.
Music blogs poured fuel on the already ignited fire that was online hatred towards Lan Del Rey. To add insult to injury, Del Rey appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in January of 2012. Her performance was cautious and uncertain. It was as if Lizzy Grant was on stage, and not the Lana Del Rey she presented herself to the world as. In short, the performance was disastrous.
The SNL Debacle
What has now become a notorious fail video, Del Rey can be seen giving a sleepy rendition of Video Games, where she is wandering aimlessly in circles on stage. She was, after all, an inexperienced live performer. But empathy wasn’t anywhere in sight when it came to reviews. That appearance triggered brutal criticism.
News anchor Brian Williams sent an email (later published on gossip website Gawker) calling Del Rey’s performance one of the “worst outings in SNL history.” Ouch. Celebrities even got in on the act, too, including one of Del Rey’s own friends.
Her Friend Juliette Lewis Dissed Her
Juliette Lewis tweeted: “Watching this ‘singer’ on SNL is like watching a 12-year-old in their bedroom when they’re pretending to sing and perform.” (Ouch, again). As it turns out, Del Rey is actually friends with Lewis.
“I was friends with her before that, but she didn’t know it was me on TV,” Del Rey explained. “I had been blonder before or something.” She then said that Lewis called her up and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” The friends got over it because “the truth is, we’re birds of a feather in a way. In the end, we thought it was really funny.”
It wasn’t just her poor live performances that were giving Del Rey a bad rap. People were also throwing shade at her appearance. If you compare pictures of Lizzy Grant to Lana Del Rey, it’s easy to assume that she had something done to her face.
People speculate that she had collagen injections in her lips and probably some plastic surgery (it’s Hollywood, after all). But Del Rey has heatedly denied the claims: “I haven’t had anything done at all… I’m quite pouty. That’s just how I look when I sing.”
Lana Del Rey’s Dating History
Del Rey may love singing about love and loss, but she doesn’t seem to like talking about her own relationships. What goes fittingly with her mysterious persona is her mystifying dating history, which includes a few hookups, long-term romances, famous faces, and two engagements.
Del Rey said once that she hoped the music industry would bring her friends and lovers. According to Digital Spy, her mission was “half-inspired because I didn’t have many friends, and I was hoping that I would meet people and fall in love and start a community around me, the way they used to do in the ’60s.”
2011 – 2014: Barrie-James O’Neill
Del Rey and Scottish singer Barrie-James O’Neill got engaged in the summer of 2013 after two years of dating. But by 2014, Del Rey revealed that they had broken up. “We are currently not together,” she said, “He is a wonderful person. But there are some things he has to deal with.”
Word on the street is that up until an interview in which Del Rey revealed their breakup, O’Neill had no idea they weren’t still a couple. While they were still together, Del Rey was spotted vacationing with another dude… Italian photographer, Francesco Carrozzini.
2014 – 2015: Francesco Carrozzini
Del Rey started dating Francesco Carrozzini on and off for over a year before The New York Daily News reported that the two were no longer an item in November 2015. “They love each other, but she’s wanted to settle down for over a year now, and he’s just not there yet,” an insider claimed.
Del Rey has never spoken publicly about her relationship with Carrozzini, but fans suspect that her 2017 song 13 Beaches might be about the photographer. Del Rey seemed to take a break from relationships for a couple of years until 2017.
The romance rumors came back when Del Rey was seen with rapper G-Eazy kissing at Coachella in April 2017. “They were together for the entire weekend,” a source told The Mirror. “They barely left one another’s sides and looked very lovey-dovey.”
Apparently, it was a short-lived romance. Five months after Coachella, the two went their separate ways. The rapper even replaced Del Rey on his track Him & I with Halsey, whom he dated soon after. In 2020, G-Eazy threw some shade about Del Rey in his song Moana, and fans suspect that her 2017 song White Mustang is about G-Eazy.
2019 – 2020: Sean Larkin
In 2019, two years after her split with G-Eazy, Del Rey started dating police officer and reality TV star Sean “Sticks” Larkin. She even confirmed the relationship to The Los Angeles Times. The couple dated for six months and made a few cute red-carpet appearances together before going their separate ways.
During a 2020 New York Times interview, Larkin stated that he and Del Rey were “just friends,” adding that they “still talk and whatnot;” they just have “busy schedules right now.” It was all for the best since it opened the doors for her to meet her next big love…
2021: Clayton Johnson
In December 2020, Del Rey was seen wearing a giant rock on her finger during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The next day, it was announced that Del Rey was engaged to Clayton Johnson, her musician boyfriend of four months.
According to People, they met on a dating app, and he reportedly posted a flirty comment on one of Del Rey’s Instagram posts. Del Rey has yet to confirm whether she’s engaged or not, so only time will tell. Whether they’re serious or not, one thing Del Rey has said about her relationships is that they’re part of her “creative process.”
From Marilyn Manson to James Franco
Del Rey has a few famous names in her dating history, such as James Franco (in 2012) and Marilyn Manson (in 2014). Neither of them were serious romantic partners, but they occurred in 2012 and 2014.
Lana has been linked to several musicians, including Guns N’ Rose’s Axl Rose, alternative rock musician and producer Steve Mertens and the Thirty Seconds to Mars drummer Shannon Leto. She and Rose were seen together at Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. She wrote the song Axl Rose Husband about him (duh). The lyrics include the lines, “You’re my one king daddy, I’m your little queen.”
The Oldest Trick in the Book
Despite all the outrage, Del Rey used one of the oldest tricks in the book: She reinvented herself. Creating a stage persona has been done by some of the biggest names in the industry, like David Bowie and Madonna – two notorious shapeshifters. Not to mention her old almost-friend, Lady Gaga.
Let’s not forget that Bob Dylan’s real name is Robert Zimmerman and that Iggy Pop was born James Osterberg. Since Lizzy Grant wasn’t getting any fame, she needed to create a new version of herself. And, hey, it worked in the end. Bad publicity is good publicity, right?
“I Wish I Was Dead Already”
In a 2014 interview, Del Rey told reporter Tim Jonze that “I wish I was dead already,” after they spoke about some of her music icons, including Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. Jonze ended up making that line the title of his piece, which obviously was met with tons of backlash.
Del Rey’s response? “F*** that guy, though. I didn’t think he would print it and make it the headline. I was having a really tough time. I had been on the road for a year. I was really struggling,” she said. She admitted to being “stupid” to say something about wanting to die. “Maybe I meant it. I don’t really know.”
Welcome to Showbiz, Baby
After that interview with Jonze, Del Rey said she started recording all her interactions with journalists. All those “years of feeling manipulated and harangued by the media” were taking a toll on her. It wasn’t hard for the media to find stuff to talk about, though.
Del Rey was going from one controversy to another. In Del Rey’s eyes, she lives in a cruel world where she’s always up against other artists and music critics. (Lana, baby, this is the biz.) Maybe she didn’t realize that it all comes with the package.
Here are some of her headline-making mishaps…
March 2012: Cover Art That “Glamorizes Abuse”
Del Rey has been accused of “glamorizing abuse” multiple times, and it started when she shared the artwork for Blue Jeans (the B-side to Video Games). The cover art showed a man’s tattooed hand putting her in a chokehold. Feminists united, and the hate was yet again being thrown towards Del Rey.
But she has responded via social media, criticizing all these “female writers” who are attacking her for “glamorizing abuse.” She explained that her lyrics often talk about “the realities” of emotionally abusive relationships. She argues that there should be a place for those topics in music. (Can’t really argue with that.)
October 2012: She Wears a Headdress That “Appropriates Culture”
Her 2012 album Paradise features her in a head of curls for her single Ride, which she then tucks into a Native American feathered headdress. For this, she was accused of appropriating culture. Seven years later, she released a spoken-word album for “around $1,” where all profits were donated to Native American organizations.
Del Rey stated that she was hoping to benefit Native American organizations around the country, “whether it was for preserving their rights or trying to help keep their land intact.” Native Americans weren’t the only group that the pop singer was accused of appropriating…
December 2013: Her Short Film “Appropriates Latino Gangster Culture”
In June 2013, she filmed Tropico, a 27-minute musical film paired with songs from Paradise (directed by Anthony Mandler). But Del Rey experienced some trouble in paradise after people saw the film. Del Rey transformed into a stripper with two teardrop tattoos and a belly tattoo that says, “Trust No Bi***.”
Toward the end, Del Rey and her thug boyfriend shed their gangster outfits and redeem themselves as a white-clothed couple ascending into Heaven. The backlash she received from this video was that she was “appropriating Latino gangster culture.”
October 2018: Del Rey vs. Banks
The birth of this notorious feud between Del Rey and rapper Azealia Banks began when Kanye West pulled out his red “Make America Great Again” hat for the first time. Del Rey posted online that the then-president “was a loss for our country,” but West’s “support of him is a loss for the culture.”
Banks fired at the singer for her privileged standpoint: “To me, this just looks like the typical White woman talking using a weakened target to ‘pretend’ to be an ally.” A catfight ensued and escalated to the point where the rapper threatened to burn down Del Rey’s house with “Azealia Voodoo.”
Banks Threatened to Burn Del Rey’s House Down
Banks’ tweet read: “Honestly, you know the Big Bad Witch is smarter than that. When her house mysteriously goes up in flames while she is asleep inside… I want to see as many #Azealiavoodoo hashtags as possible.”
The two music artists went at each other, with Banks pointing out her “pointy Michael Jackson nose” to Del Rey suggesting Banks see a psychiatrist since her “psych meds aren’t working.” Then, for a while, it seemed like the feud was over, but then Banks appeared to have reignited her beef with Del Rey when she posted a series of Instagram stories body-shaming the singer.
This Rapper Is Annnggrrryyyy
Banks’ now-expired stories showed the rapper mocking Del Rey over her physical appearance in a paparazzi photo. Banks suggested that Del Rey watch what she eats, saying she needs to “stay out of 7-Eleven.” Judging by the sheer hostility of her comments (which can’t even be shared here), it’s clear that Banks is still pretty angry.
Del Rey urged Banks to “say it to my face.” She tweeted at Banks, saying, “Banks. u coulda been the greatest female rapper alive, but u blew it. don’t take it out on the only person who had ur back.” Time will tell if the feud is still ongoing.
September 2019: Slamming an NPR Critic
Del Rey’s sixth album, Norman F***ing Rockwell!, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and got two Grammy award nominations, but a certain reporter at NPR didn’t have nice things to say about it. Titled “Lana Del Rey Lives in America’s Messy Subconscious,” Ann Powers referred to Del Rey as “a bad girl to whom bad things are done” who writes “uncooked” lyrics.
Del Rey denied both claims on Twitter: “So don’t call yourself a fan like you did in the article and don’t count your editor one either… I don’t even relate to one observation you made about the music. There’s nothing uncooked about me. To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will.”
May 2020: A Scathing Letter to the Public
Del Rey published a scathing letter on Instagram, pointing out that “Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyonce have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f***ing, cheating, etc.” yet she can’t sing “about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love.”
Her point: Why can’t she write whatever she wants “without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorizing abuse?” She continued to write that over the last decade, it’s been “pathetic” that her “minor lyrical exploration” about her “sometimes submissive or passive roles” is seen to have “set women back hundreds of years.”
October 2020: Putting Her Fans “at Risk” With Her Mesh Mask
If you ask me, Del Rey just can’t catch a break. During the height of the pandemic, she was blasted for wearing a mesh, netted mask at a book signing in Los Angeles, where a large crowd of fans waited for her signature.
Critics were quick to call her out for putting her fans at risk with a mask that does nothing to protect others from the virus. She didn’t officially apologize for it, but the following day, she posted a video reading a poem in a proper cloth mask.
How Old Is Lana Del Rey?
The artist is now 35 years old and has lived in the persona of Lana Del Rey for 11 years now. She was 28 and only a few years into her run when Rolling Stone did a cover story on her. The interview covered a lot of things, but mainly it was for her album Ultraviolence, which was produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach.
They recorded it mostly live, with his Nashville rock musicians and Del Rey singing into a $100 handheld microphone. Almost like a prophet, Del Rey’s co-manager, Ben Mawson, warned her about her album’s lyrics “He hit me, and it felt like a kiss,” arguing that she was going to need to answer for them.
Her “Very Selfish” Approach to Music
Del Rey told Rolling Stone that she’s “very selfish” when she makes music. “I make everything for me, kind of. I mean, every little thing, down to the guitar and the drums. It’s just for me. I want to hear it, I want to drive to it, I want to swim in the ocean to it.”
The way she frames it, she’s not selling the record – she’s “signed to a label who’s selling the record.” It’s clear to anyone who read the Rolling Stone cover story on her that the writer (who spent “two long days” with her) isn’t much of a fan.
What Drives Her? Apparently, Nothing
It could have something to do with the fact that she said, “I don’t need to make any money. I really could care less” and “I know everything about myself” in the same breath. When asked what drives her, the 28-year-old said, “Now? Nothing.”
She said she used to have drive, but not so much anymore. Maybe she was talking about her early days as a teen in jeans, wanting to be popular. She told Rolling Stone about her early life and how she was 14 when she started drinking and hanging out with older kids. The scenario, she recalled, was like the disturbing movie Thirteen.
What Do Her Parents Think?
With all the controversial lyrics Del Rey writes, you would think her parents would disapprove of them. But apparently, there’s only one line in her lyrics that made her parents react dramatically. Perhaps not surprisingly, the lyrics “My pu**y tastes like Pepsi-Cola” didn’t make them very happy campers.
“My Dad thought ‘Cola’ was funny,” she said. “My mom didn’t think it was that funny.” Del Rey revealed that the line came from her Scottish ex-boyfriend, who said something about American girls and them being “such a dream.” Del Rey said she “thought that was the funniest f***ing thing I’d ever heard.”