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Lana Del Rey Goes Back to the Beginning on Blue Banisters

A look back at some of the folk pop superstar’s strangest moments.

by Ben Boddez

After her last project was renamed a couple times, delayed a couple times, and briefly abandoned in favour of promoting a joint poetry collection and spoken-word album, the glamorous folk-pop singer-songwriter that is Lana Del Rey has been uncharacteristically following through on her often lengthy list of promises and announcements as of late. Releasing her second album of the year, Blue Banisters sees Del Rey on the other side of the free-spirited romantic bliss she described on March’s Chemtrails over the Country Club, reaching deep into her back catalogue to reclaim her strong sense of self in the wake of a breakup. Fans are aware the colour blue has been a major lyrical motif throughout her entire career, as she twists the familiarly forlorn colour to apply it to happier moments inescapably and beautifully tinged with the lachrymose melodrama of her extravagant persona. As the colour appears in one of her album titles for the first time, she latches onto it as a descriptor of her persona. 

Del Rey’s lyrics are as dense and allusive as ever on Banisters. As her nation has become increasingly chaotic, her romanticization of America and Old-Hollywood aesthetics have subsided in recent years, but as she confidently reclaims who she is – with help from her sisters, friends and dogs – images of Hilton Hotels, movie marquees and Swisher Sweets return. Del Rey even compares herself and her lasting impact to the Statue of Liberty. The project also includes a handful of tracks from nearly decade-old recording sessions, and while including these alongside overt nods to the pandemic and recent times can sometimes make the project feel like a disjointed collection of B-sides, there are some poignant full-circle moments as well. The album opens with “Text Book,” where Del Rey exhibits some self-awareness as she dubs herself the poster child for daddy issues, before powerfully closing with an ode to familial bonds co-written by her father himself, a man famously decried in her early works.

For all the fan frustration surrounding Del Rey’s promo cycles – or lack thereof – her distinctive vocal tone and poetic lyricism is still as entrancing as ever. Since this album takes such a dive back into her past, we’re looking back at some of Lana’s most questionable moves that she managed to overcome with the simple strength of her musicality. It seems that when this much focus goes into the music, there’s not enough time to pay attention to much else.

Tumultuous Titling

Anyone who used to follow Del Rey on her social media accounts when they were active were frequently bombarded by her imagination running wild with new titles and ideas for projects that either morphed into what we eventually received much later, or never came to be. We’re still waiting on her album of country covers and collab with The Last Shadow Puppets, and in our opinion the scrapped names for her last two projects – White Hot Forever and Rock Candy Sweet – sound appropriately timeless. At the same time, not many artists are going to achieve a stroke of titling brilliance like when Del Rey made the Grammys drop an F-bomb – a censored one, but still – on live TV when they announced her magnum opus Norman F**king Rockwell! among the Album of the Year nominees.

Taking a Break

Speaking of Del Rey’s social media accounts, they no longer exist. Del Rey can frequently be just as candid and open-minded as her flowery lyrics suggest, and letting the lengthy streams of consciousness begin to drift over and touch on political issues isn’t always the soundest strategy for audience growth on today’s discourse-heavy Twitterverse. An even more questionable strategy is not having an account at all. Del Rey has been free of the bounds of timeline scrolling and caustic comment sections since early September, but her musical depictions of the ensuing normality and calming domestic life from when she was just testing out the idea sound rather nice.

Selfie Queen

Yes, the image posted above is the only promotional photo provided by Del Rey’s team. Subject to quite a few “graphic design is my passion” memes over the years and often floating out the idea of using various grainy or oversaturated selfies as official album art – or committing to it, like in the case of the image used for the single artwork leading up to the drop of her latest album – Del Rey usually settles eventually on something that matches her elegant character and lets the music speak for itself. At least she didn’t use the proposed Blue Banisters cover that used the curly font from Picsart.

When the Character Goes Too Far

While Del Rey has always played up the damsel in distress, many of her older lyrics haven’t aged well when it comes to playing pretend in the post-WWII landscape of America. Del Rey’s embodiment of character has previously seen her romanticizing the outdated gender roles of the past as part of her ongoing fascination with the aesthetics of the era, but most of her recent music has been so compelling due to her use of some creative ways to show her evolving views on blind patriotism as well, sarcastically addressing the mess around her while dejectedly telling it like it is – her use of gunshots as percussion on 2017 album track “God Bless America” was a particularly moving example.

The Infamous Debut

Taking things back to the very beginning – remember when the entire Internet was set ablaze when a then-unknown Lana Del Rey took the Saturday Night Live stage back in 2012? The rising star was clearly beset by nerves as she performed her first hit “Video Games,” and her lack of recognition made her an easy target for just about everyone to jump on the bandwagon for Internet points, unfamiliar with her high drama concepts. In hindsight, it’s far from the worst – even Elton John emphatically agreed when the two sat down for a 2019 edition of Rolling Stone’s “Musicians on Musicians.” The public simply weren’t ready.