Lana Del Rey under other names

The American art-pop singer Lana Del Rey (real name: Elizabeth Woolridge Grant) has fashioned a form of dream pop that has been described as “beach noir” and “Hollywood sadcore”, painting hazy pictures of a Southern California that is as seamy as it is steamy, backed by mood music that is sometimes orchestral, sometimes languid, always cinematic. She has also crafted an image of herself as a contemporary tragic icon, a sort of modern-day Marilyn Monroe, and uses symbols of Americana in her lyrics and visuals to add flavor to her often sordid tales of troubled young women who seek out relationships with unsavory men. As of this writing, the singer is showing signs of a stylistic shift towards more commercial terrain with her 2017 album Lust For Life, but I’ll leave it to others to discuss that. I’m here to talk about her rare self-titled digital album from 2010, which predated her official 2012 debut album Born To Die. This album, titled Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant, was available digitally from iTunes and Amazon for a matter of weeks in January 2010 before it was pulled from distribution at the request of Del Rey and her management.

In fact, the pre-stardom Lana Del Rey story goes back farther than that. In 2005, when the singer was barely out of her teens, she recorded an EP and an album under the name May Jailer. Neither of these recordings were released, but they eventually leaked online in 2012 after the release of Born To Die. All of the May Jailer songs were acoustic folk songs, containing no traces of the electronic or orchestral sounds of Lana Del Rey’s music. The young singer’s voice sounded higher-pitched on these recordings in comparison to the torchy vocal style she is now known for. On the EP Young Like Me, she sounded very much like a clone of early Jewel, singing medium-fi folk ballads that resembled pieces of Pieces Of You. The lyrics on the EP mostly displayed an uncharacteristic innocence. The best of these songs was titled “Junky Pride” – and in this case, “junky” could have meant “trashy” rather than “druggie”. On the full-length Sirens, her voice was still Jewel-encrusted, but the music was stylistically closer to Joni Mitchell. Musically, this May Jailer person still didn't sound much like Lana Del Rey; but lyrically, she was starting to sound a lot like her, as she was beginning to sing about the perils of becoming romantically involved with unsavory – and sometimes violent – older men. Also, “Out With A Bang” was a precursor to later suicide-themed songs like "Summertime Sadness". The most memorable of the May Jailer songs is “Aviation”, a ditty about planning to pursue a career in the U.S. Navy, presaging the Americana themes of her later work. The May Jailer recordings might have made decent CD’s to sell at club gigs or coffee houses, but they weren’t likely to go far as commercial items.

The singer’s recordings began to see the light of day in 2008, when she opened a MySpace account under the name Sparkle Jump Rope Queen. Uploaded to the page were three songs which had apparently also been recorded when the singer was in her teens. Two of the songs sound like unfinished acoustic demos, with the Jump Rope Queen coming across as a na├»ve young lady fantasizing either about “Elvis” or about having an “Axl Rose Husband”, depending on who she thought of as the King of Rock and Roll on that day. Those two songs do foreshadow her future lyrics about being drawn to tough guys (as well as her occasional odd references to rock bands), but the other song, “Blue Ribbon”, provides the strongest hint of her future persona. Surrounded by electronic hip-hop beats, the young lady tells her grandmother about how she is always looking for trouble – wanting “to be the whole world’s girl” – and refers to America as a “pretty party nation”. Her grandmother reassures her that “somewhere out there there’s a good man waiting” for her – although the chances of her taking any interest in such a man would be slim to none.

That song, retitled “Gramma” and remixed with a more girlish vocal, soon appeared on her debut EP, which was released digitally under the name Lizzy Grant. The other two songs on the 2008 Kill Kill EP brought her even closer to her future self. There’s no apparent violence in the title track, which was originally titled “The Ocean” until producer David Kahne told her that title was “too boring”. Instead, Grant sings about being “in love with a dying man” (presumably in the emotional rather than physical sense of dying) in a not-so-high-pitched voice, awash in Southern California dream-pop melancholia. And you can’t get much more Lana Del Rey-like than “Yayo”, a deliberately paced baroque pop song about eloping (or is it about cocaine?) full of imagery involving black motorcycles, trailer parks, and a “’50’s baby doll dress”. To my ears, this version of “Yayo” is superior to the lavishly re-recorded one that later appeared on the 2012 Paradise EP. A star had arrived, but the world was three years away from noticing.

The 2010 digital album Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant, the one which was digitally available only briefly, contains those same three songs from the Kill Kill EP, and ten more songs also produced by David Kahne. (Notice how the singer's name was spelled “Ray” instead of “Rey”). In the cover image, the singer appeared to be attempting a Marilyn Monroe look, perhaps as an early prototype of the "tragic icon" persona she has cultivated. The sound was more indie rock than dream-pop, as the budding artist continued to sing her sordid tales of younger women taking up with sleazy older men, replete with her trademark Americana imagery (bars, gas stations, pawn shops). On “Mermaid Motel”, she sings of working in a strip club with whispery vocals (and with an inexplicable reference to Van Halen). On “Put Me In A Movie”, a song about making a porno film, we finally get an uncomfortable idea of what “Sparkle Jump Rope Queen” meant. The hip-hop “Smarty” simultaneously recalls that MySpace phase of her career (with a reference to a “dirty heavy metal king”) and looks ahead to her Ultraviolence period (with the unsettling lyric: “Beat me and tell me no one will love me like you do”). On “Pawn Shop Blues”, which sounds something like one of her May Jailer folk songs with strings added, she actually sings about a relationship with a nice man; unfortunately, she’s singing about leaving him, suggesting that her troubled characters only feel a sense of fulfillment when involved with creeps. It’s still unclear if “Yayo” is a drug song, but “Jump” most certainly is, as it uses images of death and palm trees to illustrate cocaine and heroin addiction. The ballad “Oh Say Can You See” very nearly resembles the orchestral pop of Born To Die, but in case you were wondering, the song is not a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, any more than her later song “National Anthem” is. One disappointing song, at least for those of us who dug up the May Jailer recordings, is “For K, Pt. 2”. The May Jailer song “For K” was a potentially powerful song about a lover ending up on death row. That song wanted a better recording, but “For K, Pt. 2” unfortunately isn’t it; in fact, this song doesn’t seem to be about the same subject, or about anything much at all. Talk about a disappointing sequel! Although some of the other songs (“Raise Me Up”, the hip hop “Brite Lites”) also fall short of their potential, Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant is a respectable indie precursor to Lana Del Rey’s major label works.

Note: This album was never officially released in physical format, but a small run of promo CD copies were made by 5 Points Records (UPC # 127035240760). Also, unofficial LP pressings have been made in Europe. Lana Del Rey owns the rights to the album.

Lizzy Grant - Kill Kill

Lizzy Grant “Kill Kill” (digital EP) (5 Points) 2008

Track Listing:

1. Kill Kill
2. Yayo
3. Gramma (Blue Ribbon Sparkler Trailer Heaven)

Lana Del Ray - Lana Del Ray

Lana Del Ray “Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant” (digital download) (5 Points) 2010

Track Listing:

1. Kill Kill
2. Queen of the Gas Station
3. Oh Say Can You See
4. Gramma (Blue Ribbon Sparkler Trailer Heaven)
5. For K, Pt. 2
6. Jump
7. Mermaid Motel
8. Raise Me Up (Mississippi South)
9. Pawn Shop Blues
10. Brite Lites
11. Put Me In A Movie
12. Smarty
13. Yayo