Courtesy of Polydor Records

March 27, 2023

Below Ocean Blvd and into the Mind: Del Rey Guides Us Through Her World on Latest Album

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“When you’re good, it’s gold,” Lana Del Rey reminds us on the track “Margaret” from her ninth studio album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, released on Friday, March 24. The singer-songwriter Del Rey’s ability to convert singular, diaristic stories into beautiful folk-pop melodies — and some surprise hip-hop-influenced tracks harkening back to her Born to Die era — underwrites this proposition: When Lana is good, emotionally and spiritually, she’s gold. 

Del Rey’s early albums, too, felt like a storybook, but one that was ultimately a deliberate creation. Listeners became accustomed to her tales of  “facin’ time again at Rikers Island” in Born to Die (2012) and “dying by the hands of a foreign man” on Honeymoon (2015). Yet, since her critically acclaimed 2019 album Norman F*****g Rockwell, there has increasingly been a convergence between “Lana Del Rey” and Elizabeth (Lizzy) Grant, the real life New York-raised artist who caught fame at the dawn of the Instagram era. 

Her latest release marks their long-awaited unification. She directly addresses her now decade-long struggle of managing both the public’s and her own perception of herself on tracks such as “A&W” and “Grandfather Please Stand on the Shoulders of my Father While He’s Deep-Sea Fishing” (yes, that’s the full title). She frequently name-drops her brother and sister, and all the integral figures in her life, from her father to her fortune-teller, find a place on Ocean Blvd. At points, it even feels like we’re present with Del Rey, eavesdropping on everyday galavants with her lover through Southern California. Moment by moment she describes, “[I] Pick you up at home, quarter to three / Ask you if you want somethin’ to eat” on “Let the Light In,” a tender duet with folk rocker Father John Misty that’s perfect for belting out on a late-night ride. 

However, even with all this difficult soul searching, Lana finds time for fun. “A&W” opens with the tough acknowledgement that she “hasn’t seen her mother in a long, long time.” Yet, we sense a frank, daring version of Lana is approaching when she states plainly in the track’s initial chorus, “No, this is the experience of bein’ an American whore.” As this line ominously fades out, an electronic beat floods in, and the bass kicks up. The song’s distinct second part, peppered with playful, hypnotic chants of “Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff” returns a hip-hop-inspired Del Rey that has only occasionally resurfaced since her 2012 mainstream debut. For those who have become disenchanted with the artist as she has increasingly oriented herself in an alternative folk-pop direction in her post-NFR releases, the last three songs on this 78-minute record are sure to alleviate some of this discontent. Rapper Tommy Genesis’s feature on “Pepper” delivers a summer-ready punch, and Del Rey peps up past single “Venice Bitch” with an electronic remix that concludes the album.

Although Del Rey’s work might have advanced further into a representation of her authentic reality, defiantly unaffected by others’ desires to frame it differently, those entranced by her mystique of imperfect love and vice can be reassured that these themes have not gone away with her subversion of past (mis)representations. She’s still there with the men who are “actin’ pretty reckless / dancin’ like the young and restless” in “Candy Necklace” and beckoning her lover to the club in “A&W.” Yet, we now get the full picture: she’s also live-streaming her pastor’s sermon in “Judas Smith Interlude” and expressing her love for her niece in “The Grants.” Lana Del Rey, in all her glamor and fame, has always been the real person Lizzy Grant, and Lizzy Grant, as she penned her captivating narratives that put her in the spotlight of global fame (and critique), is Lana Del Rey.

“I just needed two seconds to be me,” she explains on the album’s track “Fingertips.” Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is those two seconds. Now is your chance to unseal the tunnel’s hidden glory — and the tumult and joy that comes with being both Lizzy Grant and Lana Del Rey.

Jackson Feldman is a sophomore in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He can be reached at [email protected].