After the single release of ‘A&W’, we could tell Lana Del Rey’s world had changed. The full-length album Did You Know That There Are Tunnels Under Ocean Blvd reminds us that her stunning poetry is a truly vital force.
In 2011, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ shifted the music industry’s focus, and thus our sad girl era began. Her debut album, Born to Die, generated conversations and instantly made her a figure of curiosity; a Tumblr it-girl (when that was a thing), with red lipstick, cigarettes, heart-shaped sunglasses and her old-Hollywood vibe, which became a trend many wanted to embody.
Lana has lived through many eras of her music, and with that, her outlook has shifted on several occasions. The glamorisation of death and subjects such as domestic violence and substance abuse were at the core of Del Rey’s beautiful and aching songwriting during her Born to Die era, which often meant she was likened to troubled, tortured artists of the past. Years later, Lana’s act of self-discovery altered: she re-routed her perspective on life, exploring America more broadly and the distance between herself and her mother, closer to home.
Her ninth album, Did You Know That There Are Tunnels Under Ocean Blvd, opens with a family affair in ‘The Grants’. With delivery from the help of backup singers Melody Perry, Pattie Howard and Shikena Jones, this begins the album’s gospel edge, presenting an early theme of grief and loss. The closing line “It’s a beautiful life / Remember that too for me”, sounds like a nod to ‘Cruel World’, the opening track on 2014’s Ultraviolence.
Yet Did You Know… is even more profound in its expression compared to earlier albums such as Ultraviolence and 2015’s Honeymoon, as well as more recent records such as 2021’s Chemtrails over the Country Club.
For instance, ‘Kintsugi’ and ‘Fingertips’ are slower-paced, peaceful offerings, with Lana reflecting on personal loss and the concept of death. “Will I die? Or will I get to that ten-year mark? /… And if do, will you be there with me, Father, Sister, Brother?,” she questions on ‘Fingertips’. The days of lyrics such as “my pussy tastes like Pepsi cola” from 2012’s Paradise track ‘Cola’ and “I’m crying while I’m cumin” from 2017’s ‘In My Feelings’ from Lust for Life are gone – and that’s no bad thing.
That said, this record still preserves some of the best of Lana’s sass and devilish wordplay. ‘A&W’ is unlike anything she’s ever delivered; Honeymoon’s psychedelic daydream mixed with Ultraviolence’s flamboyant bitterness incorporates her explicit no-filter thoughts.
Despite protesting against continuous criticism of her writing about toxic relationships, this track sees her carrying on doing what she does best, and discussing the realities of being a woman in the industry, as she asks, “If I told you I was raped / Do you really think that anybody would think I didn’t ask for it? / I didn’t ask for it”.
This track highlights the entire record, beginning with a folk-like tune with a piano backing before things switch up mid-way and the bass kicks in. Within the second half, she lyrically samples ‘Shimmy, Shimmy KO KO Bop’ by Little Anthony and the Imperials in a moment of pure pop power. (Jimmy is also a name that’s been dropped repeatedly in Del Rey’s work, with whoever it refers to evidently holding some sway over her – one that few truly know the exact details of).
Up there with ‘A&W’ is ‘Peppers’ featuring rapper Tommy Genesis and ‘Taco x VB’, creating a holy trinity of pop perfection. ‘Taco x VB’, the final track, with its cool-girl notion, emphasises Lana’s angelic voice but truly comes alive when she samples her own track ‘Venice Bitch’ taken from her acclaimed 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell. You can almost hear the gasps from die-hard fans at this self-referential moment, as ‘Venice Bitch’ is transformed from a breezy tune that felt like an L.A. road trip dream into a hip-hop freak out.
Lana’s world has settled, and her focus on her latest album is happiness. She’s no longer interested in time-wasting relationships, which she would sing about in her Born to Die era. “I’m a different kind of woman / If you want some basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center and find her,” she sings in harmonious-sounding ‘Sweet’, for instance.
Whilst several tracks are produced by Mike Hermosa (an ex-boyfriend of Lana’s), the album’s main creative talking point is that it sees Lana continue her collaborative work with producer-of-the-moment Jack Antonoff. ‘Margaret’, featuring The Bleachers, of which Antonoff is the lead singer, is a love song written in recollection of how Antonoff met his now fiancée, actress Margaret Qualley. “When you know, you know,” Lana sings softly and with hope.
This moment is bittersweet due to the album’s themes, mainly because you can so palpably feel Lana’s longing for family. The sentiment is additionally felt in ‘Fingertips’ through the lyric, “Charlie stop smoking / Caroline, will you be with me?/ Will the baby be alright?/ Will I have one of mine?”. On the album’s self-titled track, too, she asks, “When is it going to be my turn?”
Noticeably, compared to Del Rey’s previous work, this album works on a less calculated verse and sounds more like a form of self-expressionism. Lana’s poetry has been felt by many for a decade, and with that, we’ve seen every version of what that looks like the difficult, the sour, and the happy.
Unlike many artists, Lana keeps it honest, and there have been many Lana-ism that we’ve held dear over the years, such as ‘Ride’s’ “I’m tired of feeling fucking crazy / I’m tired of driving till I see stars in my eyes”. Did you know… provides more such moments that will undoubtedly be added to the Lana lexicon for years to come. ‘Fishtail’s’ “Slip softly in terrain / Not that smart, but I’ve got things to say” is one new iconic addition.
Every musician takes risks in making their art. On Did You Know… Lana Del Rey proves you don’t need to have it figured out. Her sublime, generous and often misunderstood poetry again hits the mark, generating a freshness to her already-acclaimed body of work. She is the queen of honest brutality and realism.