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Is Lana Del Rey Really a Pop Star?

Or is she a brilliant, alt-leaning singer-songwriter disguised as one?

Lana Del Rey

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Lana Del Rey hasn’t had a solo hit single since 2014, and she’s shown far more interest in pursuing her own singular aesthetic vision than in chasing the charts. “It’s not meant to be popular,” she said, flatly, in her first Rolling Stone cover story, right after the release of 2014’s noir-rock classic Ultraviolence. “It’s not pop music.”

Despite all of the evidence that she is, in fact, a brilliant, alt-leaning singer-songwriter, the world keeps categorizing Del Rey as a pop star — perhaps in part because she is, in her own words, a “glamorous person.” The good news, of course, is that this possible misclassification has exposed countless self-identified pop fans to some seriously edgy and inventive music.

(The new episode of our weekly Rolling Stone Music Now digs into this subject, and Del Rey’s entire discography — find it here at the podcast provider of your choice, go directly to Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play above.)

Del Rey long ago declared that the contemporary artist she most identifies with is the brainy indie artist Father John Misty, and she started on her career path after reading a Bob Dylan discography. Her masterpiece, 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell, is one of the great singer-songwriter triumphs of the 21st century, retroactively inserting itself into the classic-rock canon, anchored by the nine-minute-long, Jack Antonoff-assisted psychedelic freakout of “Venice Bitch.” She continues her eccentric music journey on her new album, Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd — it’s her strongest since Norman, winning rave reviews from critics as well as Taylor Swift, who called Del Rey “the best we have” from her Eras Tour stage.

On the other hand, as that shout-out from Taylor suggests, Del Rey has deeply influenced the course of pop over the last decade — and perhaps even presaged an era in which pop stars, as such, became a niche while hip-hop ruled the charts. In the new episode, Brittany Spanos (who reviewed Ocean Blvd) and Rob Sheffield join host Brian Hiatt for a discussion of the new album, Del Rey’s pop star status (Sheffield definitely sees her as one), the highlights of her discography, and her controversies along the way.

Download and subscribe to our weekly podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts). Check out six years’ worth of episodes in the archive, including in-depth, career-spanning interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Halsey, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Rick Ross, Alicia Keys, the National, Ice Cube, Taylor Hawkins, Willow, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Dua Lipa, Questlove, Killer Mike, Julian Casablancas, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Marr, Scott Weiland, Liam Gallagher, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, John Legend, Donald Fagen, Charlie Puth, Phil Collins, Justin Townes Earle, Stephen Malkmus, Sebastian Bach, Tom Petty, Eddie Van Halen, Kelly Clarkson, Pete Townshend, Bob Seger, the Zombies, Gary Clark Jr., and many others. Plus, there are dozens of episodes featuring genre-spanning discussions, debates, and explainers with Rolling Stone’s critics and reporters.

From Rolling Stone US