A debut single is always intended to make an impact, but few artists manage to do so quite like Lana Del Rey did with 2011's Video Games. The lead single from the singer-songwriter’s major label debut Born to Die, it was a breakthrough hit like no other, merging a romanticised melancholia with a distinctive elegance to form what would become dubbed as ‘Hollywood sadcore’.
The stage name of New York-born artist Elizabeth Grant, Lana Del Rey has spent over a decade honing her sound. With each new release having a marked impact on pop culture, whilst critics have been left pondering her authenticity and genius, the singer has remained an intriguing mystery. Swerving through cinematic pop bravado, vulnerable folk melodies, spoken-word poetry, and often intertwining them all alongside trip-hop beats, each body of work she creates is remarkably multi-layered, with her penchant for detail making one of the 21st century’s most fascinating storytellers.
Here are her studio albums ranked from worst to best.
8. Lust for Life (2017)
Harking back to the hip-hop inspired sound of her major label debut, Lust for Life retains a similar aesthetic to its predecessor, 2015’s Honeymoon, while veering in a different sonic direction.
Brimming with A-list guest appearances - The Weeknd, ASAP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Playboi Carti - it’s arguably the closest Del Rey has ever come to releasing a straight-up pop album. But with nods to trap, folk, and classic rock across its sprawling 75-minute length, it's an unorthodox contemporary pop collection, merging the old-school sensibilities of her sound with the talents of midas touch producers such as Max Martin and Benny Blanco.
Whilst much of album holds up well, it's the only one in her catalogue that feels disconnected. From the collaboration with Stevie Nicks on the euphoric Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems, to the autobiographical account of experiencing a Father John Mistry set with her best friend on Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind and the singalong Tomorrow Never Came, Lust for Life is a scrapbook of wonderful ideas from some of the finest artists in the game, but there isn’t enough thread to bind the pages together.
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7. Blue Banisters (2021)
Lana Del Rey's second album of 2021, Blue Banisters is a testament to the artist's diversity. Pushing the boundaries of her signature sound with stripped-back, lo-fi textures, its sparse musicality showcases a raw and vulnerable side to Del Rey's songwriting, revealing a new level of emotional depth to her work.
With her folk influences prominent in tracks like Wildflower Wildfire and Dealer, there’s a warm nostalgia that weaves through the album, which is fitting as some of its tracks date back as far as 2013. With Nectar of the Gods and Cherry first emerging during the sessions for 2014’s Ultraviolence, and Dealer and Thunder arising from a scrapped 2017 collaboration with The Last Shadow Puppets, Blue Banisters is a collection of off-cuts from different eras, thrown into a melting pot and forged into something entirely new.
On album seven Del Rey peeled back the layers and delivered some of her most distinctly intimate work to date. From documenting the experience of gaining weight during the pandemic (Black Bathing Suit) to powerful odes to Los Angeles (Arcadia), the songs on Blue Banisters are tied together within its intricate autobiographical storytelling, with the singer reclaiming her narrative from naysayers.
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6. Honeymoon (2015)
On her fourth studio album, Del Rey ditched the guitar-driven instrumentation of 2014’s Ultraviolence and continued building upon the cinematic baroque pop soundscape of her debut.
With hints of jazz’s golden age, through lush orchestral arrangements and ethereal guitar lines, Honeymoon captures the essence of a bygone era. It's packed full of deeply evocative tracks, with Terrence Loves You and Salvatore vividly illustrating the nostalgic image of star-crossed lovers from the past whilst Music To Watch Boys To leans into intense infatuations and post-breakup ballad The Blackest Day comes cradled in old Hollywood strings.
Written and produced entirely by Del Rey and her two closest collaborators, Rick Nowels and Kieron Menzies, Honeymoon is distinctly Lana. And from the atmospheric strings that usher in its opening moments to the curtain-closing rendition of Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, it's an album of sheer wonder.
5. Chemtrails Over The Country Club (2021)
Following up 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell was never going to be an easy task. But where a lot of artists would take a ‘bigger and better’ approach, Lana Del Rey’s first album of 2021 stripped everything back.
A dedication to the women in the musician’s life, it’s a refreshing change from LDR’s familiar laments about the actions of men, but the melancholy remains. An album of self-care and acceptance, songs like Let Me Love You Like A Woman delve into Del Rey’s disassociation with fame whilst Tulsa Jesus Freak and Dance Till We Die see her singing fondly about her ranch near Coldwater Canyon.
Co-produced with Jack Antonoff following his work on its predecessor, Chemtrails Over The Country Club is a masterclass in nuanced songwriting and stunning execution. A vital statement from an artist at the peak of their game, it ensured Lana Del Rey’s reign over the alternative scene carried over into a new generation.
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4. Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (2023)
A stark departure from the intricate world-building found elsewhere in Lana Del Rey’s catalogue of work, her most recent album is remarkably self-aware and brilliantly self-referential.
Described as a spiritual album made through a process which Del Rey described as “totally effortless”, it sits as one of her most intimate and introspective efforts, with the gentle piano-led instrumentation taking a backseat to her powerful and often confessional storytelling.
Offering glimpses into Lana's personal experiences, struggles, and triumphs, a duet with Father John Misty on Let The Light In and the piano melodies on Texas emerge as highlights of the singer’s career, whilst elsewhere a four-and-a-half-minute message from her preacher transports the listener into her world.
Whether she’s musing on life without kids, reminiscing on memories with lost relatives, or completely baring her soul on A&W, on album eight Del Rey provides a soundtrack to new beginnings.
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3. Born To Die (2012)
The album that started it all, when Born To Die was released over a decade ago it was swiftly picked up by millions who sought refuge in its romanticised melancholia.
Putting the musician firmly on the path to stratospheric fame following the success of her debut single Video Games, the album’s tongue-in-cheek take on pop stardom and vulnerable nature led her to become an immediate success. An ode to love, life, glamour, excess, and kissing in the rain, Born To Die uncovered the magnificently nihilistic character of Lan Del Rey, laying the foundations for everything to come.
Like a soundtrack to a doomed Hollywood romance, it’s a debut dripping in cinematic grandeur. With sweeping strings and dramatic percussion, tracks like National Anthem delve into the glitz and glamour of American culture, whilst the album's title track sees Del Rey singing about the fleeting nature of love and the inevitability of death. Other standout tracks include the haunting Video Games and the infectious Off To The Races.
One of the most seminal pop albums of the 21st century, Born To Die was a formative record for many, and still dazzles today. An impressively composed and self-assured debut effort that sets the tone perfectly for the musician’s innovative world-building approach, it’s a true modern classic.
2. Ultraviolence (2014)
Following her commercial breakthrough on Born to Die, Lana Del Rey joined forces with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Dialling up the alternative rock influence on an album of dreamy minimalism, jazz and ‘70s pop, the result was Ultraviolence, a sultry monochromatic pop record like no other.
Opening on the gentle guitar notes of near-seven-minute-long opus Cruel World, the tone is immediately set. Darker than its predecessor, and infinitely darker than most pop artists would dare to venture, Ultraviolence is fuelled by the adrenaline rush of doing all the things you shouldn’t. Documenting the forbidden glamour of drugs, sex, and reckless decisions, if Born to Die is the American dream, Ultraviolence is the American nightmare.
From the Bond-theme-ready Shades of Cool to sarcastic declarations of fame on Money Power Glory, on album two we see Lana are her most brilliantly unhinged. Fighting back against public misconceptions of her as a glossy damsel in distress on Fucked My Way Up To The Top, it was further proof of the sharp-witted lyricism that catapulted her to stardom.
From sensual hip-hop grooves to reverberating guitar lines, Ultraviolence is an immersive sonic journey from beginning to end. Pop music doesn’t get much better than this.
1. Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019)
The beginning of Del Rey’s collaborative relationship with Jack Antonoff, Norman Fucking Rockwell was the moment she solidified her position as a visionary artist. An album that defies categorisation and displays the full breadth of her abilities, it serves as a love letter to a fading American dream, examining the complicated relationships that exist within it.
Drawing on the classic sounds of Laurel Canyon folk and the production techniques of modern pop music, heart-wrenching ballad Mariners Apartment Complex is a standout track, with Del Rey’s voice soaring over a simple guitar melody, while The Greatest offers an apocalyptic country-tinged ode to the power of art in troubled times. Showcasing Del Rey’s ability to be simultaneously melancholic and hopeful, Venice Bitch, is a sprawling 10-minute epic that sees the artist reflecting on a past relationship over a slow-burning guitar riff.
Having previously seen her songwriting criticised for its romanticised depictions of abusive relationships, on album five Lana grapples with the complexities of her own feelings, painting a nuanced picture of love and desire that doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of human nature. Dealing with themes of love, loss, and disillusionment, it’s a slow burner that rewards each listen with new layers of precision, with Antonoff’s production allowing Del Rey’s careful introspection to shine bright.
A culmination of everything that Lana Del Rey had been building towards throughout her career, with its lush arrangements, poignant lyrics, and complex world-building, Norman Fucking Rockwell cemented her place as one of the most important artists of her generation. An album both timeless and distinctly of its time, it’s the perfect snapshot of a world spiralling into chaos.