Back in 2012 on a rather dismal day, I was flicking through channels, eventually having my sights fixated on an encapsulating music video titled, Born to Die by Lana Del Rey. Her voice was an instant fascination with something I had never heard or experienced before. At the time, I was unable to form an opinion on whether I had liked what I had heard or whether it was too peculiar from my regular taste. But there was something so enticing and bittersweet about her reflection of inner depression; illustrating such formidable lyricism and cinematography that connected with my own emotions. There was absolutely no doubt but to follow up online.
From the captivating readings, I discovered her Lizzy Grant era, her stunning collection of homemade music videos, and her story of her transformation into becoming Lana Del Rey. At the time, her masterpiece Video Games had attracted hundreds and thousands of views and it was quite evident why this was the case. The idyllic vocals, aesthetic vintage film, and a wide-eyed Lana gazing into the camera so seamlessly blended to form a music video that gave her name recognition and a persona that would solidify her revolutionary streak in the music industry.
Growing up I strived to discover my individual musical identity but often was influenced by family and friends whose recommendations I adapted to adhere to fit in. During this time, I had experienced a culture shock, as someone who has ancestral roots in India, was born in Germany, and then moved to the UK at an early age, I had never had a stable influence on music. So I had no reason but to conform to the environment around me to prevent feeling either isolated or teased. Secondary school was by far my most challenging experience and although I felt like an outsider for the longest time, I managed to find a group of people who accepted me into their haven.
This is a period in my life I refer to as ‘The Dark Abyss’. A time where I was introduced to rock, indie, and alternative music that began to slowly mirror how I was beginning to feel on the inside about life itself. At school, there was a Mean Girls style division where we had the popular groups, emos, nerds, outsiders; I had somehow managed to find a place in between the emo and outsider ensembles. Then came the elongated dark-winged eyeliner, pale foundation, leather jacket, and Vans Old Skool phase. In retrospect, I now laugh at my fashionable attempts and can hardly recognise myself in old photos, but I guess that is a good thing because I had effectively adapted to the image that was accepting of the time.
The musical identity I had obeyed to, were bands such as Linkin Park, Bring Me the Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Nirvana, Panic! At the Disco, Green Day; and although they weren’t exactly enlightening my depressive state at the time, I don’t regret that musical era in my life because the exposure I received introduced me to industry legends, such as, Kurt Cobain, Billie Joe Armstrong, Brendon Urie, Dave Grohl and Chester Bennington who opened such a vast catalogue of music I still admire to this day. Although I had found an escape from the ruthless expectancy of school that wasn’t kind to my individuality, there was a relief that existed every time I could relate to a song, band, or a release that was electrifying to those around me at the time and in return provided me with a sense of belonging.
However, although there were times of genuine excitement, I could feel myself plummeting into a dark abyss that consumed my identity yet again causing me to drift from a dynamic group of people I had once called friends. School is an establishment that requires you to mature sooner than you wish to, especially those who have faced continuous mistreatment which forces you to confront the harsh sentiments, unlike a child who fits society’s conventional image and therefore would not be exhibited to such a turbulent reality.
At that vulnerable age and atmosphere, there is a toxic pressure that is present to act a certain way to avoid judgement and passing comments. To be so young and subjected to temperaments of cruelty when the school gates would close was quite like a vicious scar that never healed. Those memories live on and so does the infliction of anxiety, trauma, and need for acceptance many years later.
In 2015, I was reaching the end of my secondary school education and having crossed paths with Lana’s remarkable records, I finally for the first time found confidence in my self which gave me the drive to remove the layers of discomfort I had been buried under for so long. I remember receiving the Born to Die album as a teen and not realising the impact one woman would continue to have subconsciously in my life for many years to come.
Although many of her songs are based on depression, violence, and substance abuse, there was always a follow-up track that reflected an optimistic outlook on life, aspiration, and the beauty that exists amongst us. The juxtaposition which lives in Lana’s music is a balance of retribution and justice that is abbreviated to form melodies ignited from real emotion and life experiences. Her art is empowering and relatable because you don’t just feel the music you hear each word and its heartfelt narrative behind it.
I spent countless years finding a source to relieve my pain and I found that escape through Lana’s music, especially the track, Ride. The lyrics: ‘I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy, I’m tired of driving till I see stars in my eyes – all I got to keep myself sane baby – so I just ride, I just ride…’ resonated with my soul, as it conveyed her attempts of escaping a volatile situation and her relief in seeing ahead and moving forward even when she was on the verge of giving up. There is no limit to interpretation with her music, it can be moulded into one’s own situation, and for that, it is truly a special gift I will continue to cherish.
I found my musical identity through Lana Del Rey and her music averted my depression and saved my life that was on the brink of collapsing due to waves of callousness that I thought would dictate the rest of my life. But in reality, I grew a thicker skin, I started writing again to cope with the pain of my past and fell in love with a new genre of music that encouraged self-confidence and determination to succeed. In the inspirational words of Lana, ‘Doing what you love is freedom. Loving what you do is happiness’, so never fail to comprehend what makes you smile beyond the heartache because those precious moments are the reason to keep living and to take back control of your life.