Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. These are just a few of the artist’s that are close to Lana Del Rey, literally. Del Rey has each of their names tattooed on her shoulders (Whitney & Amy on one side, Nina & Billie on the other). These are just a few of her obvious influences. So, is evidence of these predecessors apparent in her music? Not always.

What does Lana Del Rey sound like? These artist’s clearly affect Del Rey’s vocal delivery, but not always her lyrics. To me, Del Rey’s sound epitomizes sex, drugs, and rock & roll, plus a lot of Americana and a sometimes-simple (piano, guitar, drums) sometimes-lush (harps, strings) orchestration. To identify the lineage of Del Rey’s poetic, idyllic, and alluring lyrics, one can turn to Elton John. Superstar Elton John said to Del Rey in a recent “musicians on musicians” interview that her new album reminded him, “of the era when he first came to Los Angeles, in 1970: ‘You drove around in a convertible, and you listened to Joni Mitchell and you listened to Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and it was just a magical time,’” John said.


Lineage of lyrics/songs about gun violence:

California Dreamin’ [song] by The Mamas & The Papas (1966)San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) [song] by Scott McKenzie (1967)→  California [song] by Joni Mitchell (1971)→ Pumped Up Kicks [song] by Foster the People (2010)→ Killing Strangers [song] by Marilyn Manson (2015)→ This Is America [song] by Childish Gambino (2018)→ Looking for America [song] by Lana Del Rey (2019)


Joni Mitchell, a female artist who sang about political, cultural issues in the ‘60s, is closely connected to Lana Del Rey’s as an artist. Del Rey’s existence in the artistic landscape is directly linked in time to Mitchell and Baez. As a singer-songwriter-type artist who draws from folk, pop, rock, and jazz, Del Rey is following Mitchell’s precedence. Mitchell’s “All I Want” was about loneliness, wanting to dance, and wanting to fall in love. Today, several of Del Rey’s songs are about being “blue,” love, lust, traveling, and freedom including “Born to Die,” “High by the Beach” and “Ride.” Here are two lyric examples from “All I Want’” and “Ride” respectively:

  • “I am on a lonely road” vs. “I’ve been out on that open road”
  • “I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling” vs. “So, I just ride, just ride, I just ride, just ride”
  • “I wanna belong to the living, alive, alive, I wanna get up and jive” vs. “dying young and I’m playing hard”

Del Rey’s “Looking for America” is a modern-day shattering of idyllic images of California created by artist’s like The Mamas & The Papas and Scott McKenzie. California is the site of all of these narratives, and dreaming is the central concept.

California Dreamin’ was written by Michelle Phillips and John Phillips, who were living in New York at the time, and experiencing a brutal winter. (Joni Mitchell also wrote “California” while in France, as she longed to return to the creative mecca of the west coast. Lyrics: ” That was just a dream some of us had” vs. “It’s just a dream I had in mind”) The lyrics reveal a narrator who longs for the safety and warmth of California. While the Phillips’ biggest “dream” of the time was to be surrounded by a warmer climate, in our modern times, Del Rey dreams of a California, and an America, “without the gun.” Here are two lyric examples from “California Dreamin’” and “Looking for America” respectively:

  • “The sky is gray” vs. “no bombs in the sky,”
  • “Stopped into a church I passed along the way” vs. “pulled over to watch the children”

Here’s a lyric example from “San Francisco” and “Looking for America” respectively:

  • “For those who come to San Francisco, Summertime will be a love-in there” vs. “Took a trip to San Francisco, All our friends said we would jive”

San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear…) is the antithesis of “Looking for America” as it represents a time in America, and specifically in San Francisco which Del Rey also mentions, when the culture was about happiness, hippies (against the Vietnam war), peaceful protesting through song, and the youth (which Lana also talks about in her track). Mass shootings weren’t a topic of conversation in this time, or as Lana puts it in “Looking for America,” this was the time when you only had to worry about your children being in the park after dark. There are so many things that we never had to think twice about, and now we do.