Rookie of the Year
Lana Del Rey perches atop a piano, microphone in hand. A man in a baby blue suit tickles the ivories.

Lana Del(’s) Rey

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #170. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath and David Shimomura, who add any typos or factual errors that might appear within.


It’s Sunday morning at the 2023 Newport Folk Festival and something isn’t right.

The early birds are perched from the merch tents to the far end of the Museum. It’s well past time for the gates to open, as they always do precisely at 10, each day, each year, so the diehard folkies can flock to the Quad or the Fort to secure their best blanket positions. But this morning, the gates and the guards aren’t budging, and the rumors on the merch side is that it’s all Lana Del Rey’s fault. On the Museum side, those rumors are confirmed as her voice carries over on the bay breeze from the Fort Stage.

The diva, it appears, has the nerve to be sound-checking. 

It’s unprecedented. For folkies already perplexed or even peeved by her place in the weekend’s lineup, the delay – which someone squished nearby in the crowd tells us is kind of a trademark of hers – is further proof she has no place here. The spirit of the Folk Fest is all about the music, from the morning sets to the closers, not all about Lana.

Eventually, Lana Del Rey is ready, and, because she says it can, Day 3 begins.

* * *

Seven hours later, I have had at least five servings of Del’s Lemonade, not exactly the official drink of the Newport Folk Festival but close enough.

So, when Lana Del Rey finally takes the stage – after another delay, and to the sounds of screaming fangirls somehow piped through the speakers – I’m sugared up and ready for anything.

I liked “Video Games” well enough when it first came out, and I’ve been digging her new record, in anticipation of this set. I can’t legitimately call myself a fan. But this evening, I am up for grabs. 

Later I’d hear some folkies actually complain about this, but she’s brought a fairly elaborate stage setup – and dancers! This kind of choreography at the Fort is basically unheard of, but it doesn’t feel out of place 24 hours after Jon Batiste barbecued on the same stage. And while it’s not exactly Bob Dylan plugging in his electric guitar, it’s refreshing: Lana sprawled out on a piano; Lana reflected in a mirror as she combs her hair; Lana dragged off the stage at the end by the male members of her dance troupe.

It’s no wonder David Lynch is a fan: Her songs find space to be both artificial and heartfelt. I can’t tell how much of a diva the diva really is. And I love it. 

I know they think that it took somebody else

To make me beautiful, beautiful

As they intended me to be

But they’re wrong

I know they think that it took thousands of people

To put me together again like an experiment

Some big men behind the scenes

Sewing Frankenstein black dreams into my songs

But they’re wrong

* * *

The album cover for Lana Del Rey's Did You Know that there’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, featuring a moody grayscale photo of the singer leaning her face upon her hand.

That night I drive back from Rhode Island, along back roads that twist and turn in the darkness, roads that are almost pitch black when my brights aren’t on. My wife sleeps next to me in the passenger seat. Lana’s record, Did You Know that there’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – my 2023 Album of the Year, beating out boygenius and Sufjan Stevens – keeps me company, providing the lovely and sometimes surreal soundtrack for the journey.

It might be the perfect way to listen to this record: wired, thrilled by the past three days, running on adrenaline and Del’s, every once in a while taking a sharp turn a little sharper than I’d have liked, imagining the car careening off the guardrail into the woods. Not long after Lana pleads, “fuck me to death, love me until I love myself” and asserts “it’s not about having someone to love me anymore,” there’s her preacher, sounding like he’s being surreptitiously recorded by Lana’s iPhone, imploring us not to live a life of lust, to appreciate the love and the family that we have. Later, she is taken in by candy necklaces even though she knows they’re superficial. And then Lana leaves everything behind because “when you know, you know” – then sings a love song she wrote for her boy Jack Antonoff’s wedding with the same lyric. 

You know, twists and turns. 

Eventually we get to my parents’ house, turn off the car and quietly walk inside and upstairs to not wake up the kids. There’s always at least one thing – usually many things – that keeps me coming back to Newport Folk every year. This year there was Lana Del Rey, who for a time seemed determined to keep it from starting. Only to say later playing the Fest was a lifelong dream – and then blowing it up.


Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.


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