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10 years of Ultraviolence: An excerpt from one of Lana Del Rey’s most popular works

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Today, one of the most iconic albums in the pop industry celebrates its 10th anniversary: Ultraviolence by singer Lana Del Rey. Considered a favorite among the artist’s fanbase, the album received positive critical acclaim and achieved strong commercial performance. But what exactly grants such enduring stability to a decade-old work?

Lana Del Rey emerged in the industry eliciting extreme reactions from the public: devoted fans who eagerly consumed her work and listeners who couldn’t quite grasp this strangely melancholic woman. And this is the role she assumes: to be a singular artist. In a landscape dominated by mainstream and dreamy pop, she timidly appears as a touchpoint for alternative pop, with themes that are starkly real.

After the release of the album that crowned her success, Born To Die, the singer revealed to Vogue Magazine that she did not intend to record new albums, as she was more interested in telling her story than producing music for money. To the delight of her fans, the singer still had great stories to tell.

In a very “Del Rey” manner, in February 2013, Lana confirmed to the media that she was completing her third studio album. At the time, the singer also mentioned that she was working together with Dan Heath and Barrie-James O’Neill, her ex-boyfriend, on a more laid-back project that would still be somewhat dark and cinematic. After some demos were leaked online, Lana became discouraged with the new album, and in 2014, she completely revamped it with Dan Auerbach, vocalist of The Black Keys.

In February 2014, the artist posted a photo with her new producer on X (formerly known as Twitter) with the caption: “Me and Dan Auerbach are excited to present you Ultraviolence.” The album was released on June 13 of that year.

Ultra + violence

The album’s name references Anthony Burgess‘s book A Clockwork Orange, in which one of the characters uses the term ultraviolence to describe extremely violent acts, which ties into the narrative created in the album.

The album features songs with very strong and visceral lyrics, and Lana’s interpretation certainly enhances the feelings conveyed by her writing. The themes of the songs give the audience the sensation of watching an abusive relationship unfold on the big screen in 1950s cinema.

Very powerful scenes are presented, addressing topics such as toxic and aggressive passions, drugs, betrayals, and everything in a state of complete self-decadence. The opening track of the album, Cruel World, talks about the moment the character breaks free from an oppressive man: 

“Got your bible and your gun

You like your women and you like fun

I like my candy and your heroin

And I’m so happy, so happy now you’re gone

Put my little red party dress on

Everybody knows that I’m a mess”

The title track is probably one of the most shocking songs on the album. The narrator has a completely distorted view of the relationship she is in with Jim, where she is subjected to violence, but to her, it is a demonstration of love. It’s a powerful song for a listener to experience, in such a raw way, the perspective of a person who elevates physical and emotional pain to an act of affection. In the lyrics, she references the term ultraviolence from Burgess’s book.

“Jim told me that

He hit me and it felt like a kiss

Jim brought me back

Reminded me of when we were kids

With his ultraviolence

Jim raised me up

He hurt me, but it felt like true love”

Many tracks from the album continue to captivate audiences even a decade after its release. On TikTok, songs like West Coast, Sad Girl, Shades Of Cool, and especially Brooklyn Baby, the album’s biggest hit, stand out among young people, who are expanding the reach of these songs beyond the platform.

Pretty When You Cry is also a song that stands out today. In one of the best-interpreted songs in her discography, the songwriter speaks about the feeling of frustration over someone who left her, truly diving into the fragility and pain of rejection.

“Don’t say you need me when

You leave and you leave again

I’m stronger than all my men

Except for you

You know that you’re leaving, I can’t do it

I can’t do it, but you do it well

I’m pretty when I cry”

The compositions intertwine with the production by Auerbach, who creates a dark atmosphere filled with different elements from the predecessor of this album, incorporating influences from psychedelic rock, soft rock, dream pop, and even paying homage to one of his jazz idols, Nina Simone, with the cover of the song The Other Woman.

In addition to Nina, Lana also captures the essence of Leonard Cohen, Billie Holiday, and Lou Reed. The latter is even mentioned in Brooklyn Baby, a song that he would have sung in collaboration with Del Rey, but he died on the day they were supposed to record the track.

Commercially speaking, Lana debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 182,000 copies in the album’s debut week, also topping the charts in more than 15 countries and selling 1 million copies worldwide a few weeks after its release.

Amid shades of gray, marked by sixteenth-century ballads and melancholy, Ultraviolence remains one of Lana Del Rey’s best works for all the eccentricity she conveyed in her songs. A deep interpretation that flows with guitar solos and simple production, yet precisely conveys the emotional state of the narrator of this story. The experience of listening to this album can be violent, leaving you vulnerable, but in a good way, it will completely immerse you in this story.

If at any point Lana believed she had no more good stories to tell, Ultraviolence completely refuted that notion.

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The article above was edited by Duda Kabzas.


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