The problem with auteurs isn’t that they leave a lot of good stuff on the cutting-room floor in pursuit of a singular vision. It’s that once they’ve pursued that vision, they don’t typically go back and make something of the scraps. So thank the YouTube gods that Lana Del Rey, who’s arguably the premier cult artist of the 2010s, has a foaming-mad fan stronghold who’ll find and leak everything they can that didn’t make it onto her pristinely curated official works.
For one thing, many of them are faster-paced and more darkly funny than the officially marketed material; they’re not all torch ballads. Many also precede the Del Rey guise as a whole, marking the fascinating stops along the way as the former Lizzy Grant crafted her public persona. Here are 11 of the best.
“Do I make you feel like Christmastime?” is a hell of an opening gambit from a then-unknown singer-songwriter as she jumps up and down on your bed like an Evan Rachel Wood protagonist and plies you with god-knows-what drugs. In this Lana Del Ray a.k.a. Lizzy Grant [sic] banger, she sing-raps convincingly and turns Steely Dan’s lecherous underage narrative “Janie Runaway” (“Let’s plan a weekend alone together / Out to Binky’s place / The sugar shack in Pennsylvania / Or would that be a federal case?”) inside-out. That is, she hilariously coos and condescends throughout the chorus to a nerd of the sort who’d go on to neg her about her lips in reviews: “Who has a face like Smarty does? Who has a voice like Smarty does?” All it’s missing is a third act where Smarty wakes up alone and handcuffed to a bed.
“Queen of the Gas Station”
Despite Ultraviolence’s mesmerizing slo-mo Pink-Floyd-in-the-distance backdrops, Del Rey decided once and for all with her new nom de plume that one thing she was not was a rock ‘n’ roller. But per usual with her discard pile, “Queen of the Gas Station” is a nice postcard from an alternate reality where she nailed an atmospheric Midwestern rock thing à la Wussy (or if you want to get technical, Maren Morris run through a Quentin Tarantino vegetable spiralizer) for more of the usual fun games of making up new names for herself to tell strangers. The hook’s an unusual request (“Love casinos, Indian reservations / But baby if you love me, take me to the gas station”) that evokes bathroom sex but speaks to her trailer-park solidarity. If nothing else, she wanted her glamorously depressed chanteuse to bloom from the dirtiest middle of nowhere she could find.
Her exceedingly young-sounding inflection on this rapped-accordion-reggae joint (!) to her grandma is a good framing for her Liz Phair-echoing boast that she’s been “crazy-ass since I was 3” and we wish those who mocked her studied self-seriousness in early media appearances could hear her hiccupping “I wanna be the whole world’s girl, grandma!” in a post-Lily Allen bit of amateur MySpace mic-rocking. It’s one of her catchiest songs, not that Lana Del Rey ever had much interest in being radio-friendly. But her unchallenging tunes deserve a reputation as remarkable as the headline-grabbing stuff.
“Put Me in a Movie”
This is the tune that revealed Lizzy Grant was truly something else, a soft-voiced subversive imp who wanted to appear in thrall to the canonical male gaze only to stab it in the throat once it convinced her to split a motel bed. In “Put Me in a Movie,” she bends rock’s romanticized-jailbait tropes until they break, purring “You can be my daddy” (okay, sure) but also “Come on, you know you like, little girls” (uh, is this still age play?), and then inhabits the daddy role herself: “You’re my little sparkle jump-rope queen.” It’s also the birth of her “lights, camera, ack-see-on” catchphrase, deployed to exponentially more disturbing effect here than on “High by the Beach.” Whether she’s actually double-daring a pedophile or merely engaging in elaborate roleplay of taboos previously unexplored from the woman’s side in popular music, Del Rey created a piece as disturbing and worthy of analysis as any Eminem track with “Put Me in a Movie.”
With a “y” so as not to be confused with “Lolita,” the trap-slow, orchestra-and-samples version appended to the deluxe edition of 2011’s polarizing Born to Die, the tune’s superior original arrangement didn’t kowtow to the more limited spectrum of the finalized Lana brand. Rather, it’s a sinister spy-rocker that recalls Britney Spears’ “Toxic” with its snake-charming bass line, cheerleader chanting (“kiss me in the D-A-R-K dark tonight”) and soupcon of castanets to nail that B-movie vibe. Like the underrated squeakfest “Off to the Races,” it would’ve been a crucial uptempo addition to the album proper, before we knew she was only going to embrace more and more narcoleptic speeds from there.
“Kinda Outta Luck”
Even though “Kinda Outta Luck” was never officially released, it was a dry run for the Lana persona proper, posted to YouTube with a video and everything. With the song’s drumless “Bang Bang” intro and the most mountainous hairstyle she’s ever displayed publicly, this was her “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” hypothesis out in the field study for the first time. Singing about the pleasures of killing someone with the butt of a gun and the daddy of “Put Me in a Movie” now properly disposed of in the trunk of his brand-new truck, this cheesy piece of April March/Holly Golightly-style double-feature rock is the most fun Del Rey’s had on record thus far, and it’s her fastest song to boot. Her career admittedly might not have taken off the way she’d planned if she pursued the garage-twang direction, but that’s no reason to not mourn the possibilities if she had.
A clicky-boomy miniature house track with dubby, haunting atmospherics and a refreshingly dissonant hook says nothing new, really (“give me the bright lights, give me the bright lights” ad infinitum) but her facility for tossed-off non-sequiturs is as grabbing as ever, like when she intones “I’m waving on the silver screen” twice before it morphs into “I’m waving on the trampoline,” in what has to be the most ominous name-drop of the childhood toy in all of music history.
“Driving in Cars With Boys”
It’s amazing that Del Rey hasn’t used the “Be My Baby” beat more often, but when she finally does, it rips full albums by The Raveonettes a new one, with swaggering, huge chord changes and one of her most lyrical choruses ever: “I’ve spent my whole life driving in cars with boys / Riding downtown drinking in all the white noise” is a hell of an opening image and “We used to talk about where we’d be and where we’d go / Now we know, baby now we know” snaps it shut on the perfect bite. The usual name-checks of lipstick, “Miss America,” and the never-better coupling of “diamonds and guns / girls just wanna have fun” ensure that this is classic Lana to slot between “Video Games” and “Honeymoon.”
Please let Del Rey release her unreleased fast-rock album someday, even if the title American Honey is already taken, if only to give a proper home to her repurposing of the goddamn “Star-Spangled Banner” as a drum’n’bass late-‘90s action-thriller soundtrack bait cut.
“Queen of Disaster”
Since Del Rey uses chamber orchestras so much, why not make some chamber-pop out of them? On this glockenspiel-flecked, one-woman girl-group jam she fancies herself a ballerina over a Motown chord progression, with backing soulettes echoing the phrase “so far gone” and bragging how she celebrates “by twisting fate.” Her ability to turn a phrase, melodically or lexically, is often overshadowed by her auteur’s mask, but as a bandleader she certainly sounds a lot more disciplined than, say, Kanye West these days.
Because Del Rey’s dozens of bootlegs trickle out to the public at no predictable pace, a completely unprecedented synth-pop gem like this one can fall from the heavens in summer 2016 name-dropping completely outmoded technology in its metaphorical devices. “BBM Baby” is an A+ pop song, maybe the fluffiest thing she’s ever done, and it’s an ode to sexting on a Blackberry (“text me, chase me”), which somehow fits deliciously with her discography’s vast wealth of anachronisms. Even her haters can’t possibly be able to keep a straight face at “I know it’s true love ‘cause my heart goes ‘yay’.” Carly Rae Jepsen might not be the jealous type, but you just know she at least flinched.