Your Guide to the Many Mysterious Reference Points of the Lana Del Rey Universe

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photo by Getty

“Outside of her songs, Del Rey neither offers explanations as to what is real in them, nor explains how her real life birthed the doomed bombshell in her music,” wrote Billboard this week about Lana Del Rey and her new album, Ultraviolence. But if you’re sticking just to the music, there’s actually a lot of overlap between the many songs Del Rey has voluntarily (and involuntarily!) released over the past few years. Tropes repeat themselves, making it fairly easy to become a Del Rey scholar if you’re willing to put the time in. Here’s a cheat sheet, organized alphabetically, of all the important things in the Lanaverse.

A: America
“I fall asleep in an American flag,” Lana sings in “Cola.” She’s a True Patriot, but without all that boring political stuff. In “Radio,” she’s embracing the American Dream by achieving those coveted radio spins:  “American dreams came true somehow / I swore I’d chase ‘em till I was dead.” She’s even got the Bruce Springsteen thing down: “We were two kids just trying to get out / Livin’ on the dark side of the American dream.” (And in “Flipside”: “You got me all dressed up tonight / Springsteen on the radio.”)

B: Beauty queen
Lana’s look? If it’s not edging on L.A. Chola (see: Tropico), it’s channeling 1950s beauty queens: “Done my hair up real big / Beauty-queen style,” says “Summertime Sadness.” Nostalgia for the days of pageants past: “Ribbons in our hair and our eyes gleamed mean / A freshman generation of degenerate beauty queens,” in “That’s What Makes Us Girls.” It’s almost always an imaginary post: “I’m going back to Arbor Dean / Where when I was a beauty queen,” she sings in “Brite Eyes.” As far as we can tell, Arbor Dean does not exist.

(Also: Blue hydrangeas)

C: Coney Island
She’s seaside royalty – in “Off To The Races,” “I’m your little harlot, starlet, Queen of Coney Island / Raising hell all over town” and in “Carmen,” she’s “Eatin’ soft ice cream / Coney Island queen” – who maybe lives on Neptune Avenue in “Mermaid Motel”: “Maybe we could go to Coney Island / Maybe I could sing the National Anthem … Walk back to where we live in my motel on Neptune Avenue.”

(Also: Chateau Marmont)

D: Diamonds
If Lana loves you, she’ll say you have a “mind like a diamond.” She does it in both “Carmen” and “JFK.” Otherwise, she’s referring to her jewels, as in “Raise Me Up: “Putting crystals on my neck / Lifting my feet off the ground”; “Cola”: “Treat me really niceys / Decorate my neck / Diamantes ices”; “Body Electric”: “Whitman is my daddy, Monaco’s my mother / Diamonds are my bestest friend”; and so coyly in “National Anthem”: “Um, do you think you’ll buy me lots of diamonds?”

E: Elvis Presley
Lana might liken herself to Priscilla Presley looks-wise, but is Elvis all the way. He appears as a ghost in Tropico, and in “American,” she sings: “Elvis is the best, hell yes / Honey, put on that party dress.” In an unreleasd song called “Elvis,” she says: “Elvis, where are you when I need you most? / White comp sequin jumpsuit ghost / Pick me up and make a toast.”

F: Friday night
Let’s go out: “We get down every Friday night / Dancing and grinding in the pale moonlight.”
Let’s stay in:
“I feel so alone on a Friday night / Can you make it feel like home, if I tell you you’re mine.”

(Also: Florida, French)

G: God
“In the name of higher consciousness / I let the best man I knew go,” Lana admits in “Pawn Shop Blues,” but she’s not into God, per se: “I don’t really wanna know what’s good for me / ‘God’s dead,’ I said / ‘Baby, that’s alright with me’” (“Gods & Monsters”). Other people’s Gods? “Got your bible, got your gun / And you like to party and have fun” (“Cruel World”). “You talk lots about God / Freedom comes from the call / But that’s not what this bitch wants / Not what I want at all
” (“Money Power Glory”).

(Also: Gangster)

H: Heaven
Dear Lord, when I get to heaven,
Please let me bring my man.
When he comes, tell me that you’ll let him in,
Father, tell me if you can.

–“Young and Beautiful”

(Not to mention “white Pontiac heaven,” “heaven in your eyes,” “heaven’s door,” “a match made in heaven,” “give heaven a try,” “heaven is a place on Earth.”)

I: Inspirations
Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Hunter S. Thompson, Axl Rose, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Walt Whitman, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, etc. etc.

J: Jim, Jimmy, Jim Morrison, James Dean
Lana has a few Jims in her universe. There’s the Jim off “Ultraviolence”: “Jim raised me up / He hurt me but it felt like true love / Jim taught me that / Loving him was never enough.” He also goes by Jimmy, in “Hundred Dollar Bill”: “Jimmy pulls up / In his blue Chevy Nova / I have been dying / For him to come over.” Could it be The Doors’ Jim Morrison? (In “Gods & Monsters”: “No one’s gonna take my soul away / I’m livin’ like Jim Morrison.”) Or James Dean? (In “Blue Jeans”:”It was like James Dean, for sure, You so fresh to death and sick as ca-cancer.”)

(Also: Jesus)

K: K
K is a mystery man whom Lana sometimes refers to in song. He’s “so handsome” in “For K Part 2,” “serving time” in “Drive By,” “fresh to death” in “Blue Jeans,” playing video games in “Video Games,” and dead in “Dark Paradise”: “I’m scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side.”

L: Love
Lana Del Rey is always falling in or out of love. There’s the promises: “I will love you till the end of time” or “Loving you forever can’t be wrong / Even though you’re not here, can’t move on.” There’s the insecurity: “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” and “Do you think we’ll be in love forever?” What it really comes down to is: “This is what makes us girls / We all look for heaven and we put love first.”

M: Metal, heavy
Lana’s into heavy metal, even if her sound doesn’t really reflect it. “Mm, heavy-metal love of mine / I should’ve learned to let you stay,” she sings on “Guns and Roses” – an ode to Axl Rose, someone she’s idolized: “Me, your red, white, and blue girl / Star-spangled danger / You my heavy-metal king, king” (“Axl Rose Husband”). She goes ‘80s too, in “Mermaid Motel”: “Maybe we could go to Suede Tokyo / Or see Van Halen at their reunion show / Heavy-metal hour on T.V. / Diamond Dave and Ray Lee” … “Say I make you feel like / When you were the dirty heavy-metal king” (“Smarty”).

N: Noir
If Lana could be the weepy, lady-in-red who visits a mysterious private eye on a particularly rainy night to ask for a favor? You know she would be: “Let’s get in the back of your / Cop car, officer / You can ask me anything you want” (“Playing Dangerous”). She’s got that sultry, vintage black-and-white thing down: “I’m glamorous famous / Notorious dangerous but you’re crazy” (“Noir”).

O: Older men
Oh God, here we go. Lana Del Rey likes her men … mature, with references to heart-shaped glasses in “Lolita” and her repeated use of the word daddy. (And she’s not talking about her father.) A sampling:

  • “I gots a taste for men who’re older / It’s always been, so it’s no surprise” —“Cola”
  • “Come on, you know you like / (Good)! Little girls / You can be my daddy” —“Put Me in a Movie”
  • “You can be my full-time daddy / White and gold” —“Ride”
  • “They say I’m too young to love you / I don’t know what I need” —“Brooklyn Baby”
  • “Baby, put on heart-shaped sunglasses, / ‘Cause we gonna take a ride” —“Diet Mountain Dew”
  • The entirety of “Lolita”

P: Party dresses
Lana has a uniform: “With my little red party dress on / Everybody knows that I’m the best / I’m crazy” (“Cruel World”), “Elvis is the best, hell yes / Honey, put on that party dress” (“American”), “Money is the anthem of success / So put on mascara / And your party dress” (“National Anthem”).

(Also: Paradise)

Q: Queen
A list of Lana Del Rey’s royalty:

  • Queen of Saigon, “National Anthem”: “Boy, you have landed / Babe in the land of / Sweetness and danger / Queen of Saigon.”
  • Queen of Coney Island, “Off to the Races”: I’m your little harlot, starlet / Queen of Coney Island / Raisin’ hell all over town.” 
  • Queen of New York, “Old Money”: “And so is the girl you used to call / The Queen of New York City.” (Also “Us Against the World”)
  • Queen of the Gas Station, “Queen of the Gas Station”: “And I’m trying to tell you what I dream of / And that’s gas stations / With Slurpee machines and organs playing.”
  • Queen of Disaster, “Queen of Disaster”: “You’re the king, and baby / I’m the queen of disaster, disaster.”
  • Queen of Alchemy, “Heavy Hitter”: “I’m the Queen of Alchemy / I know a way to make gold by mixing our souls to escape reality.”

R: Roller coasters
Emotional? Or a literal amusement-park ride? It’s unclear: “Maybe I like this roller coaster / Maybe it keeps me high,” she sings on “Diet Mountain Dew.” Or “J. is a romantic / Roller coaster” from “Hundred Dollar Bill” (See also: Jim). When she’s the “Last Girl on Earth”? “(I own) all of Mexico / And I got my own roller coaster.

(Also: Red, Roses, Record Executives)

S: Space, outer
Lyrically, Lana loves the stars: “They swing till you’re tired and send you to Mars / Nighttime is almost ours” (“Oh Say Can You See”). How many stars? “It’s the voodoo, Mississippi south / 69 million stars” (“Raise Me Up”). And while it’s out of her lyrical world, Del Rey did also tell The Guardian that she’s more interested in “what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities” than feminism.

T: Tattoos
The kinds of body art that Lana Del Rey likes?

  • Snakes: “I like the snake on your tattoo / I like the Ivy and the / Ink blue” —“Yayo”
  • Glistening: “Tattoos, they were glistening / It’s been so long since / Someone made me different” —“You and Me”
  • Unidentified: “White lines, pretty baby, tattoos / Don’t know what they mean / They’re special, just for you” —“Florida Kilos”

U: Ultraviolence
Not just an album title, Ultraviolence refers to the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange (and the 1962 book it’s based on). In Lana’s Ultraviolence, she makes references to domestic abuse: “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.” (Which is also a nod to the Crystals’$2 1962 hit song written by Carole King.)

V: Velvet
She covered Tony Bennett’s “Blue Velvet,” but she’s also “drinking cherry schnapps in the velvet night” (“This Is What Makes Us Girls”) and preaches in “Velvet Crowbar” that “Life is a velvet crowbar / Hittin’ you over the head / You’re bleeding but you want more.”

W: West Coast
Palm trees (“Palm trees in black and white / Was the last thing I saw before I died”), Santa Monica (“Every Saturday night I seem to come alive for you, baby / Santa Monica, I’m racing in the lights for you, baby”), even the right car: “He lives in California too / He drives a Chevy Malibu.” Lana’s all about Los Angeles living: “Drive fast, I can almost taste it now / L.A., I don’t even have to fake it now.” The lead single on Ultraviolence is called “West Coast”: “Down on the West Coast, they love their movies / Their Golden Gods and rock ‘n’ roll groupies.”

X: Ecstasy
“Beautiful Player”:
L is for your love that you gave and took away
O is for the only want I wanted to stay
V is for my valiant Valium baby
E is for the X that we took with Champagne …

Y: Yayo, or cocaine
White lines,” “violet pills,” “Florida Kilos,” or “Daytona Meth.”

Z: LiZZy Grant
That’s Lana Del Rey’s given name. Other Lizzy monikers:

  • May Jailer
  • Sparkle Jump Rope Queen
  • Lana Rey Del Mar
  • Lana Del Ray
  • Lana Del Far

Your Guide to the Universe of Lana Del Rey