Lana Del Rey photographed on Dec. 2, 2017 at Malibu Canyon Ranch in Calabasas, Calif.
Lana Del Rey photographed on Dec. 2, 2017 at Malibu Canyon Ranch in Calabasas, Calif.
Austin Hargrave

2017 No. 1s: How Lana Del Rey Wrote Her Most Politically-Engaged Album Yet

by Meaghan Garvey
December 21, 2017, 10:30am EST

LUST FOR LIFE
Billboard 200 and Alternative Albums (one week each)

'LOVE'
Rock Digital Song Sales (two weeks),
Alternative Digital Song Sales (one week)

When mysterious, melancholy Lana Del Rey announced her fifth album with a beaming smile and a lead single simply called 'Love,' it seemed change was in the wind. Coming on the heels of 2015's darkly introspective Honeymoon, a Billboard 200 No. 2 album, fans theorized that this would be Del Rey's 'happy album.' Instead, as the 2016 election worked its way into her writing process, Del Rey, 32, metabolized the surrounding chaos into a work both engaged and transportive. "I like the Leonard Cohen quote: 'There's a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in,'" Del Rey says. "I feel like this is the year where we're seeing a lot of cracks -- the cracks that have been there forever. But the blessing in [that] is that we get to shine light on the problems that have been in society for a long time, and hopefully fix them. That makes me feel excited, actually." Along with her longtime collaborator, producer Rick Nowels, Del Rey wove '60s folk with stripped-down hip-hop percussion and, for the first time in her career, welcomed a thoughtfully eclectic guest roster (including Stevie Nicks, The Weeknd and Playboi Carti). For Del Rey, one of few album-oriented pop artists these days, tapping into the mood of the moment paid off: Lead single 'Love' spent two weeks atop the Rock Digital Song Sales chart, and Lust for Life became Del Rey's second Billboard 200 No. 1.

Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon was like a vanity project, just for me. With this one, I was thinking about things broader than just my relationships, which was nice for me, and probably nice for my fans, too — a bit of a reprieve. John [Janick] and the guys I work with loved 'Love' and 'Lust for Life,' so those were really the only two singles we thought about. I'm saying 'singles' with air quotes -- for us, that just means the song's going to get a video.

John Janick (chairman/CEO, Interscope Geffen A&M): Any project I've ever been involved in with her, she knows where she's going with everything: the idea, the look, the feel. And she had this far in advance [for Lust for Life].

Del Rey: I think a good word [to describe Lust for Life's shift in mood] would be present -- less from the outside looking in, and a more integrated perspective lyrically. I started writing the darker songs first: 'Heroine,' 'Get Free,' '13 Beaches.' So I had to get through all my complaining [laughs]. Then, once I got to be cathartic in that way, I thought, 'All right, now I want to invite my friends in." Obviously, the election was happening halfway through my writing process, and I ended up writing "When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing" and "God Bless America --And All the Beautiful Women in It." All these little things culminated in a body of work.

Janick: I remember going in the studio one day and her playing probably half of what's on the album now. Hearing 'Love' for the first time -- it was one of those goose-bump moments.

Del Rey: It started as 'Young and in Love,' but I didn't really like that title; that wasn't the point of the song. Then I worked with Sean Lennon. The Lennon legacy is so tied in to that one word. So I thought, 'You know what? I just want to go for it.' The whole record is pointing its little nose in that direction. And I liked that it was pretty literal -- it felt nice and comfortable to not necessarily have layers to all of the singles. That one and "Lust for Life" were kind of just about having fun.

Ben Mawson (manager): Most important to Lana is that her albums are a cohesive body of work. Her writing process is very natural, without directly thinking about radio or singles.

Del Rey: I wanted to see if [Lust for Life] would be heard for what it was really saying. Overall, from what I read, it was interpreted correctly. Which is a good sign for me: It means I'm not seeing things one way and the culture is seeing things the other way. That means you need to check yourself, and I don't want to check myself. I want to stay in the flow. Maybe I needed a lot of time to be me, all to myself, and just be weird. Who knows why timing works out the way it does? But I really like this record. I think if this was the first record some people heard from me, I'd be really proud of that.

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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 30 issue of Billboard.