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Music

A complete guide to Lana Del Rey's literary references

@notmyyaztattoo

If you’ve been a fan of Lana Del Rey for a while, particularly since her early days, you might already know what a dedicated reader she is. Del Rey has described herself as a writer first and a singer second, and that shows both in her lyricism and her allusions.

Del Rey’s discography is filled with her love of literature, and as she continues to produce more and more music, it’s harder to keep up with each passing year.

However, it seems that with the passage of time, her references have gone a bit more pop-culture centric and historical, leaving a lot to be discovered in her early albums when it comes to books. Regardless, she has plenty to dig into.

Here is your (nearly) complete guide to Lana Del Rey’s literary references, as she continues to grow her catalogue and add more to her library.

Books and authors Lana Del Rey has referenced:

Lolita

Lolita is perhaps the easiest literary reference to point to within her work, because there are nods to it everywhere, especially within her first album. She has a song titled ‘Lolita’, in addition to the song ‘Off to the Races’ where she utilises the opening line of the book, “Light of my life, fire of my loins.”

Additionally, Del Rey has a few unreleased tracks that nod to Nabokov’s work, like ‘Queen of the Gas Station’ and ‘Mermaid Motel’.

Walt Witman

Yet another Born to Die marvel, though this one comes off the Paradise Edition version of the album, her song ‘Body Electric’ is a clear reference to Walt Witman’s I Sing the Body Electric from the book Leaves of Grass.

Not only does the title reference his work and repeat it within the song, but she even references him by name in one of the verses, “Witman is my daddy…”

Oscar Wilde

Not many people catch this one right away, but Lana Del Rey’s song ‘Gods & Monsters’ has a direct Oscar Wilde reference in the lyrics. When she croons, “Life imitates art,” that’s a reference to Wilde’s The Decay of Lying.

Some people also claim that her song ‘Young and Beautiful’ might be a reference to The Picture of Dorian Gray, but as the song was written for the movie version of The Great Gatsby, that one is probably doubtful.

A Clockwork Orange

This one is a real horrorshow. Seriously, her album and its titular song Ultraviolence are clear references to Anthony Burgess’ classic novel, A Clockwork Orange, which has been adapted for film as well.

Oddly, the song also has plenty of references to other cultural cornerstones, mainly cult leader Jim Jones, who doesn’t have all that much to do with the book in question.

Allen Ginsberg

This reference isn’t exactly a song or a lyric, but it might be going above and beyond even that. In the short film associated with Born to Die: Paradise Edition, titled Tropico, she performs a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl.

Lana Del Rey has expressed her fondness for beat poetry before, like in her song ‘Brooklyn Baby’, so it’s no surprise that she’s taken a liking to incorporate Ginsberg’s work into her own.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m going to say it: this one is a little bit questionable. But I’ll tease it out here and explain more subsequently. In her song ‘Gods & Monsters’, Del Rey clearly says the line “God is dead,” which is a Nietzsche quote.

However, based on the context, that may not be the reference she was going for. Of course, she’s been known to mix references before, so nobody can truly know for sure. However, there is another place this reference might stem from.

The Crucible

Nietzsche isn’t the only one who shouted that God is dead. In fact, the line also appears in The Crucible, the play about the Salem witch trials written by Arthur Miller. 

The only reason I champion this reference over Nietzsche is that within the lyrics of ‘Gods & Monsters’, it might make a bit more sense. “No one’s gonna take my soul away,” and “innocence lost,” point to themes from the play. 

A Streetcar Named Desire

Lana Del Rey specifically mentions references to Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, with a line that she uses across her discography. She mentions “relying on the kindness of strangers” or “giving in to the kindness of strangers” all the time.

In the monologue for the music video of the song ‘Ride’ Del Rey references the play, and uses the line about the kindness of strangers in her unreleased song ‘Kinda Outta Luck’, and her song ‘Carmen’, which appeared on her first album. She uses the line in some capacity often, so much so that there might be additional instances I didn’t catch. 

Of course, there are probably plenty of other references I simply didn’t catch, but Lana Del Rey already seems to have a long reading list.

If you want to listen to more of her music – or read her own original poetry – you can check it out below.