Over the last decade, Lana Del Rey has meticulously conceived and crafted her own pop universe – one that’s equal parts stark reality and pure escapism. “I’m writing my own story. And no one can tell it but me,” she tweeted with a video clip for the title track from Blue Banisters, coming sometime in 2021.
Most of the world was introduced to Del Rey with 2011’s independently released “Video Games” and then “Blue Jeans,” both of which were accompanied by scrappy, self-directed videos that seemed to half-celebrate and half-satirize American iconography. In those early videos, Del Rey portrayed herself as a vamp from another era, obsessed with love and the American dream, themes that have dominated her work over the past 10 years.
The images Del Rey has created are inextricably bound to her music; in many ways, she is first and foremost a visual artist. “She’s the most involved artist I’ve ever worked with,” Kinga Burza, director of Del Rey’s “Music to Watch Boys To” video, told Billboard in 2015.
We took a look back at her videography and picked out 10 of her absolute best videos.
10. “Music to Watch Boys To”
The video for the second single from Del Rey’s 2015 album Honeymoon is as lush and leisurely as the song itself. The clip cuts fluidly between crisp black-and-white shots of Del Rey surrounded by spinning gramophones — only barely glancing at the shirtless boys playing basketball nearby — and blue-tinted visions of the artist and her friends floating angelically through water. It’s narratively more straightforward than many of the singer’s visuals, but it’s this unexpected simplicity that makes “Music to Watch Boys To” so hypnotic.
Directed by Del Rey, the nearly 11-minute video for “Freak,” a promotional single from Honeymoon, moves at a deliberately narcotic pace. Singer-songwriter Father John Misty stars as a Jim Morrison-style figure who presides over a hippie cabal while Del Rey portrays his alternately despondent and love-struck bride. When she delicately drops a tab of acid on Misty’s tongue, he’s instantly surrounded by a harem of adoring, flaxen-haired women (there’s more than a whiff of the Manson Family throughout). Set to Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” the second half of the video is an extended underwater scene, nearly identical to the one in “Music to Watch Boys To,” evoking a watercolor painting come to life.
The dreamy, sun-kissed video for “Love,” the lead single from 2017’s Lust for Life, follows a group of suburban teens, including one dressed like Rose McGowan’s character from the ’90s cult film The Doom Generation, as they gather at a planetarium, where they’re transported into space and marvel at a solar eclipse while they bathe in celestial waters. Director Rich Lee’s video – not to mention Lana’s lilting performance – perfectly captures the wonder of teenage love.
7. “Lust for Life”
Hollywood is a recurring theme in Del Rey’s music and visuals, and the video for “Lust for Life,” a duet with fellow pop visionary The Weeknd, takes place almost entirely atop Tinseltown’s most iconic symbol. Del Rey plays the lovesick lead singer of a girl group who climbs the Hollywood sign to rendezvous with her lover, who may or may not actually be there. She peers longingly over the side of the giant letters – which director Clark Jackson created in his garage with papier-mâché and chicken wire – and takes the plunge, landing alongside The Weeknd in a field of poppies (a symbol of remembrance). Whether her death is literal or symbolic, the point remains: Like the promises of the Dream Factory, life and love are just illusions.
6. “Chemtrails Over the Country Club”
The Wizard of Oz meets An American Werewolf in London in this peculiar, thoroughly captivating video for the title track from Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. A fever dream in which the titular vapor trails conjure tornadoes, shifting aspect ratios, and, apparently, a hunger for fresh lemons from the local farm stand, the video expands on the fiery, hallucinatory spell hinted at in her visual for 2014’s “West Coast.” By the end, Del Rey doffs her sparkly mesh face mask and prowls around the forest (hunting for birds, diamonds, and, presumably, men to devour) before crawling back to her bed. Carnivorous conspiracy theories never looked so glamorously decadent.
“Ride,” from 2012’s Paradise EP, marked a shift in musical style and visual aesthetic for Del Rey. Unlike the trip-hop-infused pop and noir-inspired visuals of Born to Die, “Ride” telegraphed the more rootsy direction the artist would take on her follow-up, Ultraviolence. Directed by Anthony Mandler, who also helmed Del Rey’s Tropico short film, “Ride” is a vision of Americana steeped in totems of masculinity. Del Rey plays a dark-haired, “not very popular” singer who takes up with a nomadic motorcycle gang and becomes their lover. The video is a wistful depiction of what America “used to be,” the kind of idealistic imagery that has raised eyebrows among the artist’s critics over the years. But “Ride” is at turns sad, unsettling and beautiful.
4. “Video Games”
It’s no coincidence that this was the song and video that introduced “Lana Del Rey” to the world. Within the hazy, vintage images of Los Angeles that Del Rey personally assembled, “Video Games” is a cautionary tale about Hollywood’s exploitation of young women, a theme that runs through the artist’s body of work. If the song itself is about the lengths a girl will go to for love, the video makes you wonder what she’d do for fame.
3. “Doin’ Time”
The video for Del Rey’s pitch-perfect cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock & Alternative Airplay chart in 2019, is a playful tribute to both her adopted home of southern California and the 1958 B-movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Directed by Rich Lee, this movie-within-a-mini-movie thrillingly morphs into a feminist statement when a giant version of Del Rey steps out of a drive-in movie screen in order to exact revenge on the two-timing boyfriend of a young woman (also played by Del Rey). It’s indicative of the singer’s commitment to bridging the divide between nostalgia for the past and an acknowledgement of its, well, shortcomings.
2. “High by the Beach”
The video for “High by the Beach,” directed by Jake Nava, plays like a deceptively tranquil opening scene to an action thriller. Del Rey listlessly wanders barefoot through an empty Malibu rental, dressed in a nightgown and robe, evading the prying eyes of a black helicopter circling above. When the chopper is out of sight, she slips down to the rocky beach below and retrieves a hidden guitar case, pulls a grenade launcher from it and blows the helicopter out of the sky. The burnt pages of a supermarket tabloid float through the air, revealing the voyeuristic intruder to be a reporter looking for a scoop — and Del Rey as a contender for the next Bond girl.
1. “National Anthem”
The cinematic video for “National Anthem,” a standout song from the aptly titled Born to Die, reimagines John F. Kennedy as a cigar-puffing playboy (portrayed by A$AP Rocky) and Del Rey as a Jackie O/Marilyn Monroe hybrid for the 21st century. In the video – which is shot in a grainy, Super-8 style – she watches in horror as both her star-crossed romance and the American Dream come to an expected but nevertheless devastating conclusion. Inserting herself into the tragic tale of Camelot was a bold move, but we’d expect nothing less from pop’s queen of nostalgia.