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Need A Sign? Lana Del Rey’s Coachella Billboard Sends Message To Critics

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 Ohio U chapter.

On April 14, Lana Del Rey headlined the 2024 Coachella music festival — her first Coachella performance since 2014. Just days before the first Coachella weekend kicked off, a billboard sprung up in Indio, CA near an exit that leads to the festival grounds.

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This is one of several billboards promoting artists performing at Coachella this year. The story behind Del Rey’s striking advertisement began twelve years ago when she performed as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live (SNL).

Del Rey’s SNL performance was quite early in her career, and naturally, an opportunity to grow her presence in the music industry. As referenced in her billboard above, she performed on Jan. 14, 2012, the same year she released her debut album. Her performance attracted so much attention that it became a defining moment in her career — but not in a good way.

Del Rey was heavily criticized for sounding nervous and appearing awkward on stage. Many were unimpressed by her sad-girl, melancholy persona. Some critics used the performance to label her an in-genuine, stuck-up, unserious artist, which had a lasting impact on the public perception of the singer.

SNL even responded to the public outrage in a following episode by featuring Del Rey in a Weekly Update sketch, designed to satirize current events. In the sketch, the actor playing Del Rey told host Seth Meyers, “No Seth, these critics are absolutely right. The music stage on Saturday Night Live is hallowed ground, and I failed to reach the high bar set by past guests like Bubba Sparxxx, Baha Men and Shaggy.” Though the sketch pokes fun at the outrage against Del Rey, it made little progress (if any) in redeeming her from the SNL scrutiny.

In September 2023, Del Rey was asked about the SNL performance by The Hollywood Reporter. She said, “I didn’t know if it would be received well. But there’s a lot of weirdos out there now, so, we’re fine. We’re in good company. I started at a time when things were very much one way. Little by little, there’s a lot more room for storytelling and saying different stuff. You’re seeing a lot more good girl songwriters, too.”

It has been over twelve years since Del Rey appeared on SNL, yet fans, critics and the media still talk about it. Why? In the quote above, Del Rey seems to understand the criticism she faced as a sign of the times. In 2012, women songwriters and sullen-pop performers were not as staple in the music scene as they are today. Thus, some fans argue that Del Rey paved the way for pop artists today to reach high levels of success and adoration. The domination of “good girl songwriters” in music today is undeniable, but it had to start somewhere.

It’s time that we recognize Del Rey’s role in shaping music today. Looking at her promotional Coachella billboard, it seems that Del Rey agrees.

The billboard boldly references crucifixion and ominously asks, “Has Anyone Else Died For You?” In the bottom-right corner, “Lana Del Rey SNL Jan 14, 2012” is written in smaller letters. Like Del Rey’s music, her advertisement has an edge; it draws inspiration from religious billboards that appear across American roads and highways. Del Rey has been in the music industry for over ten years, and I would argue she is still over-criticized, not taken seriously, and her impact is undermined. Her fan base, discography and artistry have wildly grown throughout her career. Her music is also deeply ingrained in 2010s pop and alternative genres. Rightfully so, this leaves Del Rey asking critics the question, “Has Anyone Else Died For You?”

Some fans believe Del Rey does not receive mainstream or award-winning recognition because she was not taken seriously at the start of her career, and hasn’t been since. For instance, Del Rey has not won a Grammy despite receiving eleven nominations throughout her career. This year, she received five nominations, including Album of the Year, for her recent album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd; she did not win any of them.

After the 2024 Grammy Awards, an alleged blind item began circulating online and went viral on TikTok. The blind item was allegedly anonymously submitted by a Grammy Awards voter to the Hollywood predictions website, Gold Derby. The alleged Grammy voter’s only acknowledgment of Del Rey, who was nominated for five Grammys, states: “I haven’t taken Lana Del Rey seriously as an artist since her infamous SNL performance and never will.” The blind item, authentic or not, sparked online discussion of how the music industry neglects Del Rey’s impact while celebrating other artists. Months later, Del Rey would reference the performance on her Coachella billboard advertisement. It seems time and time again, she can’t escape public scrutiny and debate over her career.

Aside from critics and awards, Del Rey’s success can certainly be measured on the charts. The singer’s 2012 debut album Born To Die has comfortably spent over a decade on the Billboard 200 chart (it was ranked #82 when this article was written). According to Forbes, “Born To Die joins Adele’s 21 as the only two albums by women working on their own to spend at least 500 weeks on the Billboard 200.” It is also the first major-label debut by a woman artist to achieve this.

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The success of Born to Die is even more notable considering that it was not well-received upon its initial release. Pitchfork gave the record a score of 5.5, stating, “Our heroine has all the love, diamonds, and Diet Mountain Dew she could ask for, yet still sings, ‘I wish I was dead,’ sounding utterly incapable of joy.” Ten years and nine albums later, Born to Die is still making history. Pitchfork gave Del Rey’s most recent record a score of 8.3.

Many fans believe Del Rey’s pop/alternative career has paved the way for today’s generation of pop singers. Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish have publicly cited the singer/songwriter as an inspiration for their music and the trailblazer for their success. On March 1, Del Rey earned the Visionary Award at the 2023 Billboard Women in Music award ceremony. Rodrigo introduced Del Rey and presented the award, saying, “[Del Rey] never sacrificed her unique voice and perspective on a world and an industry that constantly tries to put people in a box. And if that doesn’t make you a visionary, I truly don’t know what does.

Eilish has also been outspoken about Del Rey’s influence on the music industry — most recently when she joined Del Rey on stage during her headlining Coachella set. They sang Del Rey’s “Video Games” and Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes” together, and shared their admiration and appreciation for each other as artists.

Del Rey and Eilish during Del Rey’s 2024 Coachella performance.
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According to Rolling Stone, “Del Rey commanded her set with a soft power, swanning among the ballerinas and aerial dancers as she sang ballads dating back to her earliest days.” Del Rey’s performance as a Coachella headliner testifies to how far she has come. She has made an immeasurable impact in the music industry while being chronically undermined and unnecessarily criticized. Through it all, she creates interesting, vulnerable and vibrant work that intimately reaches her listeners. It’s time for critics to recognize her level of artistry and influence in modern pop music, “Has anyone else died for you?”

Lizzi is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. She is from Pittsburgh, PA and enjoys listening to music, thrifting, exercising, collecting vinyl, playing guitar and learning new instruments.