Review: The unwavering honesty of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’

Del Rey’s ninth studio album may be her most authentic to date.


Aaliya Luthra

(Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Ana Marks, Contributing Writer

Since 2019’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell!,” Lana Del Rey and Jack Antonoff have proven to be an unstoppable pop duo. In December of last year, Del Rey announced that the two had joined forces once again to create her ninth studio album, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd?”

For the past decade, Del Rey has exploited the romantic lens of Americana to create a sound and an aesthetic that cuts against popular pop trends. In her latest album, however, she takes her lyricism in a new direction. 

In an interview with W Magazine, Del Rey describes “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd?” as “wordy.” She said lyrics often come to her in a stream of consciousness, and she writes them as such. In an interview with Rolling Stone UK, she also mentioned feeling bored with her own music over the past decade; thus, it is her unbridled self that shines in her latest record. Although her authenticity has always been contested by critics and fans, this new record is the most honest we have ever heard her.

The album begins with the track “The Grants,” which is Del Rey’s family name. The opener is soulful and introspective, delving into Del Rey’s thoughts on death: Do you think about Heaven? / Oh-oh, do you think about me? / My pastor told me when you leave, all you take / Oh-oh, is your memory.”

As is evident in the title track, Del Rey’s take on Americana has evolved. “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd?” explores Del Rey’s feelings of loneliness, in conjunction with descriptions of her home state, California, as a somber rather than heavenly setting. The influence of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” is strong in the track, from its piano ballad sound to the repeated lyrics of “Don’t forget me.” Del Rey is asking those around her to not let her be hidden, much like the beautiful tunnel that hides under the coast of Long Beach on Ocean Boulevard.

The theme of loss as means to contemplate her future as a woman remains prevalent in the first three songs on the record. Del Rey investigates loss in the track “Sweet,” which references the fact that she is now almost 40 years old. She questions what she truly wants out of life. In the bridge, we see a spiral of curiosity with the lyrics, “What you doin’ with your lifе? / Do you think about it? Do you contemplate where we came from? / Lately, we’ve been makin’ out a lot / Not talkin’ ‘bout the stuff that’s at the very heart of things / Do you want children? Do you wanna marry me?” 

In the fourth track, titled “A&W,” Del Rey delves into her sexuality. The seven-minute track begins as a ballad, but for the final two minutes, a heavy 808 bass kicks in along with the repeated lyrics, “Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff, Jimmy, Jimmy, ride / Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff, Jimmy, get me high (Oh my god) / Love me if you love or not, you can be my light / Jimmy only love me when he wanna get high.” The start of the song begins as an anecdote of childhood and innocence, then evolving into a tale of Del Rey becoming what she calls an “American whore.” 

The repeated chorus is a direct reference to Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop.” This reference, along with others to American artists such as John Denver and Leonard Cohen, embraces Americana, alluding to the crestfallen crooners of the genre. 

In a slight tone shift, Del Rey has two interludes on the album: one is a spoken excerpt from collaborator Jon Batiste, and the other is a recorded sermon from Churchome’s lead communicator, Judah Smith. The four-minute-long excerpt details Smith’s thoughts on the differentiation between love and lust. At first, the interludes feel out of place in the album, both being recorded memos that lack refined production. But, as the album continues, it becomes clear that the placement of an interlude between “A&W” and “Candy Necklaces” is a thematic decision.

“Fingertips” is the most honest and heartbreaking track on the album. Another ballad that contemplates the meaning of death, Del Rey shares her struggles with mental health, referencing her use of psychiatric drugs and a past suicide attempt. The use of strings in conjunction with a piano adds a delicate and tragic weight to the song. It’s a tale of the consistent pain that she has pushed through for the sake of those around her, so as not to overwhelm her loved ones as she drowns in her sorrow.

Del Rey acknowledges the present while reminiscing on the past in this album. She is her most unapologetic self in the track “Taco Truck x VB,” in which she references her appreciation for Latin culture while simultaneously poking fun at herself with lyrics such as, “Oh, that’s why they call me Lanita / When I get down, I’m bonita / Don’t come find me in Reseda  / I’ll go crazy  / Read my gold chain, says ‘Lanita’ / When I’m violent, it’s Carlito’s Way.”  

Del Rey’s appropriation of Latin Californian culture has been called out, amid a growing list of problematic behavior. “I’m folk, I’m jazz, I’m blue, I’m green / Regrettably, also a white woman / But I have good intentions even if I’m one of the last ones” she sings in the bridge of the eleventh track. “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing.” She allows herself to just be herself, Lana Del Rey — no fabricated mysterious personality, just the version of herself that she allows her friends and family to see.

Throughout the record, there is an intimate energy that Del Rey has been cultivating since the release of “Chemtrails over the Country Club.” She sticks to mall clothing over glamor while maintaining a low-key profile on her pseudo-private social media with pictures of family and friends, as if her fans are supposed to be in her inner circle. The production of the album allows the lyrics to shine, as they stream straight out of Del Rey’s mind and soul on to pen and paper. 

Contact Ana Marks at [email protected].