The Americana icon Lana Del Rey released her ninth studio album, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” in March 2023 – her first album since the release of “Blue Banister,” released in 2021.
Del Rey has an impressive discography that blends both contemporary and vintage influences, making her one of the most influential artists of the 21st century. Arguably one of her most risky albums, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” takes listeners on a journey, navigating themes of grief, death, sex and identity. Del Rey has matured both personally and musically over the years, which becomes clear in her lyricism within the album.
When thinking of Del Rey, you think of this specific “American Beauty” aesthetic, something the artist has maintained for over a decade now. Even as she enters full adulthood, there’s an impactful image of the Lana Del Rey aesthetic that begs to stay in the mind, even when listening to her newer albums.
Earlier albums like “Born to Die” fully take on an aesthetic that is bound to the world of cinema. It is nearly impossible to listen to an earlier Del Rey album without feeling like you are being transported to the golden age of Hollywood. One of her most cinematic songs to date, “Young and Beautiful,” uses an entire orchestra behind Del Rey, relying on influences of cinematic and Art Deco impressionism, making this the perfect track to be used in the soundtrack of the iconic 1920s-based film, “The Great Gatsby.”
Del Rey stands by her style and has never been afraid to express new and sometimes jarring themes in her music. This album includes some of her riskier and darker music to date, with intense themes that dive into personal family issues, loss and the navigation of romantic relationships.
She draws back the curtains with the opening, “The Grants,” a nod to her real last name, referencing a memory shared with her family who enjoyed singing John Denver songs. In the chorus, Del Rey chants “Like Rocky Mountain High” with a chilling, haunting melody that sounds like death is right around the corner. This brings listeners back to this reminiscent, mourning period she is going through with the recent deaths of her uncle and grandfather.
Skip a couple of tracks to “A&W,” Del Rey takes a contrasting turn in her lyrics with a much darker comparison, starting with the torn relationship with her mother, to then segue to the topic of oversexualization, addressing rape culture and acknowledging the sadness felt through romantic relationships.
She sings almost in a light whisper, “I mean, look at my hair/Look at the length of it and the shape of my body/If I told you that I was raped/ Do you really think that anybody would think I didn’t ask for it?”
To get another opinion about the new studio album, who better to ask than a Del Rey fan who has followed her discography from start to finish?
Nicasio Shiels, a student at Hawaii Pacific University, has been a Del Rey “stan” since he first listened to “Summertime Sadness” in the car at summer camp, one of her first releases to hit the radio in 2012. Shiels says he stayed loyal to the artist from the early years because of his pure interest in her “unique and genuine persona.”
Shiels said Del Rey’s musical progression shows how she has matured in her relationships over the years.
“I think it’s her culmination of her being a woman. It’s her true entrance into womanhood. That was about more than just finding love, which has been a really big part of her past albums. I think it’s more about her finally having a true partnership in love and finding happiness,” Sheils said.
One of the other songs nearing the end of the album, “Let the Light In,” featuring Father John Misty, resembles the allowance for love to be let into one’s life. Even if the song does make a reference to an apparent affair between the two lovers, the motif in the song encourages listeners to follow happiness even in the worst conditions.
“Ooh, let the light in/At your backdoor yelling ‘cause I wanna come in/Ooh, turn your light on/Look at us, you and I, back at it again.”
Sheils’ favorite song off the album is “Kintsugi,” a reference to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery or ceramics by filling in the cracks with gold or silver. The song is a reference to her mourning process of the death of her relatives with the idea that sometimes something has to break in order for it to be made more valuable and to cherish that time you had with those you love.
“It’s really a beautiful song. I don’t think any of the other songs or at least that I know of are really, truly autobiographical down to each line,” he said.
DePaul sophomore Brigid O’Brien listens to “Let the Light In” almost every morning before class as it is her favorite from the album. “The way she sings such simple lyrics with such fervor. It’s like I love to love to love to love. I hate to hate to hate you. And it just, it seems so simplistic with the way she sings it,” O’Brien said. “That’s my favorite. Hands down.”
O’Brien is also a Lana Del Rey superfan, though she first started listening to the artist around 2016.
Overall, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” is an album that culminates Del Rey’s growth, as she navigates the uncertain territory between adulthood and beyond.
“There’s this nostalgia for, like, who you were, but now you have your shit together,” O’Brien said. “I get the vibe that she’s content with where she is right now.”
And that seems to be exactly what Del Rey is doing. Since the album’s release, these past seven months have been filled with a menagerie of unchartered territory for Del Rey. Her most recent—and shocking—endeavor was her decision to take up waitressing at a Waffle House location in Florence, Alabama. As she mingles with patrons of all backgrounds, along with dazzling customers with impromptu songs, it seems Del Rey is pretty content with where she’s at.
Header by MJ White