Ever since the video for Lana del Rey’s debut single, “Video Games,” began to ricochet off the far-flung corners of the Internet, the 21-year-old siren has become the subject of both adoration (for her impressive vocals) and derision (for her prominent pout). The Manhattan native, known to her friends as Lizzy Grant, sensuously bemoans heartbreak over lush cinematic arrangements and hip-hop beats, a fusion so unique it’s earned its own genre: Hollywood sadcore.
BULLETT: Your music is obviously very sultry and cinematic, but also heartbreaking. Is it a romantic experience to revel in one’s melancholy?
LANA DEL REY: I actually don’t enjoy reveling in my own sadness; in fact, I find that my best work comes out of new beginnings and happiness. I know the tone of my songs are sort of sad, but I don’t have the luxury of reveling in my sadness. It doesn’t usually do me any good.
What do you think of Hollywood Sadcore, the new genre your music has inspired?
I just think it’s really funny.
Is there a more appropriate way to describe it?
Hollywood Sadcore is a good way of describing it, I suppose, if I were going to describe it. The cinematic influence on these songs comes from my working with two amazing composers who live in Hollywood, so there is that nostalgic Hollywood aspect. And the songs are sort of downbeat and sad, some of them.
You’ve refered to yourself as “The Gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Where did that come from?
Three months ago, I only had 200 fans on Facebook and I had a bunch of things on my page, that being one of them. It was sort of a joke, because, you know, no one was really reading anything on my page anyway, but as soon as I started getting a little bit of press, that was something that for some reason people read and picked up on and sort of recycled over and over again. It’s not something that actually accurately describes my music—I’m not really familiar with Nancy’s work.
How important is sex appeal to you as a performer?
I don’t think the traditional way of being sexy is important as a performer. What I find compelling and sexy when I watch performers is whether or not I believe they mean what they say. And in honesty, innocence is the sexiest thing—for me, that’s what’s essential in a performer. I remember the first time I saw Antony and the Johnsons—this is sort of an unusual reference for you question—but in terms of somebody who like stops me in my tracks, I just remember when I heard him sing for the first time I truly believed what he was saying. If anything, sex appeal gets in the way, because look at my songs: They’re pretty simple, there’s not any instruments in half of them, and yet barely anyone talks about the music. Sometimes my face gets in the way of things.
Are you upset that people sometimes pay more attention to your image than your music?
Like anyone else, it makes me uneasy having people, I don’t know, take a negative view of things only because I’ve had a sort of simple, quiet career up until now. It’s been a very big shift in a small amount of time, but what people think of me is none of my business, and I really believe that the important thing is that the record’s almost out and I really do love it—most of it—so I’m proud of that.
What do you think is the most haunting melody or song of all time?
Even though it’s not that new, Gary Jules’ version of “Mad World” upsets me. Frank Sinatra‘s “It Was a Very Good Year”—that touches me, as does the way that Janis Joplin sings “Summertime.” That’s always fucked me up.
Since parts of this interview will appear in our winter Secret Issue, I’d like to ask you a few questions about human nature and your relationship with the world around you. Do you have a deeply felt relationship with the outdoors?
I lived in like a national park for a really long time, but the city is my nature. I’m fucking rejuvenated by tall buildings and lots of people and loud places. I hope it doesn’t mess up your spin on the article, but I feel more of a connection with crowded places and lots of people. Sometimes I feel a little bit lonely when I’m alone in nature. I like to ride the subway. I like taking the J train down to Alabama Avenue or the F train down to Coney Island, because I feel like I’m moving but I’m not really doing anything. When my body’s in motion, my mind tends to follow.
What do you consider to be the epitome of glamour?
Innocence? I’m not really sure why. Innocence and gold… and diamonds.
I have to ask about “Video Games.” In the video for it, you show footage of Paz de la Huerta at last year’s Golden Globe Awards.
I love Paz. I loved her the first time I saw her on her show, Boardwalk Empire. My sister Caroline and I would watch the show because of Paz—we could tell exactly who she was just by the way she acted, and then Caroline sent me that clip of her at the Chateau Marmont. I thought it was perfect. I like her because I think she’s definitely worked in the business for a long time, and she’s starting to get famous and she really enjoys her fame. She enjoys it whether she’s home alone naked, or if she’s falling down drunk at the Chateau Marmont.
I think she’s the perfect person because she’s really made for the fame, the glamour. She loves it. I don’t think that there’s any hiding what she really adores, which is attention and love. I think there’s something innocent about that because she’s uncompromising in her love of being adored. She doesn’t pretend she wants success for any reason but success. She really loves being loved, and I think there’s something simple and innocent about that.
I think so, yeah. What secretly makes you cringe?
Watching myself on camera, but that’s no fucking secret.
If you were to adapt one of your songs into a film, which one would it be?
There are a lot of things I would do to “Video Games.” I also really like the single that’s coming out in December, “Born to Die.”
I’m having fun planning the treatment of it. It’s in the same vein as “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games.” It’s kind of like the final piece in my trilogy.
Going back to the issue theme for a minute, what do you think is the greatest mystery of all time?
Was Jesus really the son of God?
Does it bother you that we’ll probably never know the answer to that question?
Not really! I’m sort of at peace with knowing that everything will be revealed to me in perfect time. I’m really curious, but I’m also okay with not knowing. I actually don’t know what’s going on most of the time.
So you believe in keeping secrets?
No, I have no secrets. I used to, a long time ago, but I’ve found that when you keep secrets, your secrets keep you. It’s really dangerous unless you find the right person to confide in. I do believe, however, in making secret wishes that only you know about, that are only between you and the universe.
Do you have a secret you could tell me?
What? A secret?
Yeah, I don’t know, like a secret favorite song or something.
A secret song?
That’s just an example. Or maybe you have a daily ritual most people don’t know about?
I mean… I put on makeup to go to sleep. I don’t wear a lot, but I always do. I have since I was 4. I blush my cheeks, put on lipstick, and get into bed—in case there’s a fire.