Look up iconoclast in your preferred dictionary of choice and you’ll be met by an image of Joni Mitchell in the Laurel Canyon with a cigarette hanging from her mouth. Mitchell showed a different kind of female artist could thrive and that the possibilities were endless, laying down a fresh blueprint which Lana Del Rey has followed meticulously throughout her career.
Mitchell’s hauntingly beautiful voice set her apart from her contemporaries. While she may have made her name initially as a searing songwriter, it didn’t take long for her voice to become her star quality and the enchanting lyrics that were brought to life angelically. Mitchell’s singing could unveil the dark truths that were hidden words in a way that has never been done before.
Her incomparable career has been a source of inspiration for countless artists. However, few musicians have succinctly managed to delicately balance artistic integrity and success in the same way as Mitchell. Her career is an artist’s dream and her legacy is one that Lana Del Rey has not-so-discreetly attempted to replicate.
Del Rey’s chart-topping 2021 album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, closes with a delightful take on Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free’. The singer informer MOJO that the track means “everything” to her, and it connects with her on a profound level.
“The way things started off for me in the way I was portrayed was that I was feigning emotional sensitivity. I really didn’t like that,” she told the publication. “Because I didn’t even get famous ’til I was, like, 27 and until then, I sang for less than free. And I loved it. I really was that girl who was pure of soul. I didn’t give a fuck.”
This cover was her most explicit show of adoration for Joni, yet, Del Rey has been delivering little nuggets for years. Once these priceless gems are pieced together, they create a jigsaw that fully expresses the love Del Rey holds for the First Lady of the Canyon.
One thing that ties the two together is they both have tracks titled ‘California’, but that’s just the start of the similarities between the pair. It would be remiss of Del Rey if she didn’t sneak a reference to Mitchell’s version into her own effort, and she even managed to squeeze in two for good measure.
“Went to a party down a red dirt road, There were lots of pretty people there, Reading Rolling Stone reading Vogue,” Mitchell sings on the track. Meanwhile, Del Rey sings, “We’ll have a party, we’ll dance ’til dawn, I’ll pick up all of your Vogues and all of your Rolling Stones.”
Uncoincidentally, the two tracks also contain references to John Lennon with Mitchell’s bemoaning how “they won’t give peace a chance,” and Del Rey croons, “I’ve heard the war was over if you really choose.”
Mitchell’s timeless breakup album, Blue, has subconsciously soaked into Del Rey’s mind, and on ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’, she sings: “Your head in your hands, as you colour me blue blue, blue, you make me blue.”
Elsewhere on the same 2019 album, Del Rey gloriously sings on ‘Venice Bitch’: “One dream, one life, one lover, paint me happy and blue.”
Although it’ll remain unknown whether this lyric directly references Mitchell or is just a happy coincidence, with Del Rey’s track record on the matter, nothing can be ruled out.
One indisputable final reference to Joni Mitchell by Lana Del Rey features on ‘Bartender’. The record also appeared on Norman Fucking Rockwell, which is littered with nods to Mitchell and this time receiving the love, it is the 1970 effort Ladies Of The Canyon. Lana softly sings on the track, “All the ladies of the canyon, wearing black to their house parties.”
Life will always be sweet if you have someone in your life who cradles you with as much love and appreciation as Lana Del Rey holds in her heart for Queen Joni.