Lana Del Rey's Four Most Ambitious Music Videos

Lana Del Rey Music to Watch Boys To
Courtesy of VEVO

Lana Del Rey in the video for "Music to Watch Boys To."

Given the cinematic quality of her songwriting, it’s not surprising that Lana Del Rey has remained heavily invested in the conceptualization and execution of her music videos. Since she first shot “Video Games” on a web cam five years ago, she’s gone on to work with some of the best-known directors in the business. But the latest Billboard cover star remains one of the few working artists in pop music who collaborates one-on-one with her directors, from writing her own treatments to turning in extended post-production notes. As Del Rey’s sound evolves, her visual aesthetic goes back and forth across familiar paths, rewriting and revising the themes that appeal most to her: old-school, Americana, film noir, and pulling back the veneer on a culture built around pop icons as modern gods. Billboard takes a look at the enigmatic singer's most ambitious videos to date. 

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“Music To Watch Boys To” (Honeymoon)

Director: Kinga Burza

Lana Del Rey tasked Kinga Burza with bringing out her “softer side” for “Music To Watch Boys To.” The director tells Billboard the singer had a strong concept for the video, including specific images she wanted to match with particular lyrics. “She outlined a treatment and I just filled it in, adding my flavor to it,” explains Burza. “She’s the most involved artist I’ve ever worked with.” Del Rey envisioned the most mesmerizing clip, featuring the singer lounging on a beach chair, listening to “soft grunge” as gramophones spin around her. It was important to her that the boys playing basketball were filmed in silhouette, so you couldn’t recognize them. “It wasn’t one type of guy, it could have been anyone. They’re being watched, but they don’t realize it. It’s voyeuristic,” Burza says. “The video epitomizes everything she’s into: underwater footage, Super 8 footage, a projector, the cut in between a non-linear narrative. It’s the essence of her.”

“Ride” (Born To Die: Deluxe Edition)

Director: Anthony Mandler

Book-ended by two surreal monologues delivered with the gravitas of a Shakespearean soliloquy, “Ride” delves further into Del Rey’s obsession with the dark side of American iconography. “The way she thinks, both in minutiae and vastness, is in a written form,” the video’s director, Anthony Mandler, has said. “It’s borne from her and filtered through me. I don’t know that I can think of [another] artist that I’ve worked with who deserves a writing credit.” If “Tropico,” also directed by Mandler, was the singer’s creation myth, then “Ride” is her roman a clef: She describes herself as an “unusual club singer” searching for herself on the open road with the three aging bikers who play her lovers. In one scene, Del Rey hosts a kind of Last Supper desert campfire with her motorcycle gang, resplendent in a Native American headdress. A close-up shot sees her lip-synching the phrase, “I’m fucking crazy.” “Sometimes you’re blessed enough to meet your artistic soulmates,” the singer has said of the video’s concept. “After years of staying true to my own artistic visions, I met Anthony Mandler, who shared my love of all things dark and beautiful and understood my passion and reverie for the country that America used to be.”

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“Video Games” (Born To Die)

Director: Lana Del Rey

Del Rey is said to look back on the visual storyline for “Video Games” with some regret, remarking that, “Had I known so many people were going to watch the video, I’d have put some more effort into it.” It’s a concentrated, four-minute synopsis of the retro, film-noir aesthetic the singer would go on to explore more fully in subsequent projects. The video stitches together a variety of clips -- kids on skateboards, old cartoons, and paparazzi footage of actress-model Paz de la Huerta falling down while intoxicated -- with hypnotic webcam shots of Del Rey singing alone in some unknown location. “I was trying to look smart and well turned-out, rather than ‘sexy,’" the singer has said of the way she chose to style herself. “Of course I wanted to look good, but ‘smart’ was the primary focus."

“High By The Beach” (Honeymoon)

Director: Jake Nava

Jake Nava wanted Del Rey to channel “a château marmot chic” for “High By The Beach,” an aesthetic he says they established when working together on “Shades of Cool.” “Lana always weighs in, and she’s got a really good sense of her own identity,” Nava tells Billboard. “That’s not always a good thing, but it’s a good thing with her because she’s also got cool taste.” The ambiguous nature of the most compelling images in “High By The Beach” are meant to reflect “the mixture that can sometimes happen inside a dream or when you are high,” Nava explains. He especially wanted the scene where Lana guns down a paparazzo in a helicopter to take on a playful nature: “There’s meant to be an irony and a humor, along with these very sincere and passionate feelings about being intruded on,” Nava says. “Lana doesn’t really want to shoot the tabloids. But sometimes, she might feel a bit like it.”

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