Pop’s most prolific princess returns with another sprawling collection of confessional songs ruminating on life, death, love and loss. Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is Lana Del Rey’s ninth album in her 14-year career, and her fourth since 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell. Since the first moment she stepped on the scene, Del Rey has been a subject of scrutiny from the media and music industry alike, from her looks, to her lyrics, to her live performances (all of which are completely unwarranted).
The road she’s paved for an entire subgenre of female indie artists has been full of roadblocks, bumps and bruises, but she’s stayed true to herself, nonetheless. Clocking in at an hour and 17 minutes and with no songs shorter than three-and-half minutes, Did you know is easily the most cerebral work in Del Rey’s catalogue. There’s hardly any guitar or drums, most of the songs are piano ballads, and the lyrics have almost no structure. If she was any other artist, this approach simply would not work. But because of her crooning voice and unrelenting earnestness, this record is one of her most remarkable.
From the get-go, we’re brought into a new sonic and thematic landscape in the opening track, “The Grants,” with a gospel chorus singing the song’s refrain. Lana Del Rey has made her career in romanticizing death and romantic devastation, but this time, she’s trading that sentiment for greater consideration of what happens in the afterlife. Collaborating closely alongside producer-to-the-stars Jack Antonoff, it seems Del Rey has found faith in her family, as well as a deeper tie to religion itself. Tangible, geographic references still carry through in this record, most obviously on the album’s title track and lead single, which references the now-closed Jergins Tunnel in Long Beach, Calif. Even still, her tongue-in-cheek approach is utilized less in the front half of the album, instead admitting to low self-esteem and loneliness.
“A&W” is the longest song on Did you know at 7 minutes and 13 seconds. It’s an honestly heart-breaking portrait of a woman who oftentimes finds herself giving more love than she’s receiving, succinctly summed up in the chorus, “It’s not about havin’ someone to love me anymore/No, this is the experience of bein’ an American whore.” The second half of the song features a trap-adjacent beat that references a seemingly abusive relationship with a man she also wrote about in her 2014 album, Ultraviolence. “Judah Smith Interlude” immediately follows and offers a stark tone shift: the spoken-word song is an iPhone recording of her pastor delivering a sermon against an almost Reznor-like piano backdrop. Lana Del Rey can be heard chuckling in agreement, and the sermon concludes with “And you’re not gonna like this, but I’m gonna to tell you the truth/I’ve discovered my preaching is mostly about me.”
Did you know also sports the most collaborations since 2017’s Lust for Life. Jon Batiste’s nimble digits are featured on “Candy Necklace” and then takes center stage in “Jon Batiste Interlude,” which vacillates between quiet studio moments and loud interruptions. “Paris, Texas” samples SYML’s song, “Where’s My Love,” throughout which Lana Del Rey paints a lilting lullaby that pays tribute to often-forgotten American towns named for more iconic (and frankly more popular) European cities, as she ruminates on a relationship that no longer serves her. “Let the Light In” is her latest collaboration with fellow crooner Father John Misty that acts as a vignette of a secret relationship between two singers. “Margaret,” a duet with Bleachers (a.k.a. Jack Antonoff) is probably the most uplifting song on the record; the title refers to Antonoff’s fiancée actress Margaret Qualley, and the song tells their story as a sweet and sappy rom-com that I don’t doubt will be their first dance.
The final two songs on Did you know harken back to a more “classic” Lana Del Rey approach, complete with hip-hop trap beats and the DGAF writing audiences and fans love her for. “Peppers” is the final collab of the record and samples rapper Tommy Genesis’ 2015 song, “Angelina.” Del Rey really throws caution to the wind, detailing how she dances naked to the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the windows open and her disregard for when her boyfriend tested positive for COVID, singing, “We’ve been kissing, so whatever he has, I have.” Del Rey has the ability to make all of this sound wildly romantic, aspirational and profound, a skill she’s honed in the course of her 14-year career. “Taco Truck x VB” is a direct hit at the media scrutiny she’s received, particularly in response to her “Lolita” aesthetic and some ruminations on culture she made in 2021 that were taken out of context. Following a spoken outro from Margaret Qualley, the second part of the song is largely a sample of “Venice Bitch” from Norman Fucking Rockwell.
After a philosophical, stream-of-consciousness study on her life, family and relationship with herself, it could be said that at the end of Did you know, Lana Del Rey declares confidently, “You know what? I am who I am, and I’m happy with that.” The devil has always been in the details with Del Rey’s music, and it’s fun to see her sampling herself now that she has a massive catalogue to call back on. Is this a particularly easy listen? Definitely not. But is the payoff worth it? Absolutely. Did you know is at times meandering and hard to follow, but it demonstrates that perfection isn’t the goal with art: self-expression is the true motivation behind it all. To be candid, we wouldn’t have half the female artists we revere today, like Billie Eilish, Gracie Abrams, Lizzy McAlpine, or even Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo, without Lana Del Rey, and she knows it. I hope this record has opened a floodgate for her to keep on experimenting and disregard anyone in the media who has the gall to criticize her.