Exploring Eastern Europe’s obsession with Lana Del Rey

There was a time when being a “true fan” of an artist meant buying their music and maybe seeing them on tour (maybe even getting some nice merch at the show?). But now, the most dedicated stans have an encyclopedic knowledge of rankings, records and streaming stats, which they debate (or battle) on social media until their favorite comes out on top. It has become a numbers game.

Earlier this summer, Swedish bop generator Zara Larsson sparked a debate on Stan Twitter when she shared a map of the most listened to “pop girls” on Spotify. The map was made by About music charts, an account that shares music stats and charts, with a focus on female artists. The global map, based on available Spotify weekly streaming data, has shaded countries in different colors to represent Taylor Swift, Shakira, Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish and Larsson. Most parts of the card were expected: Taylor Swift dominated America, the UK and other countries where English is the first language. Larsson was the queen of her native Sweden. Shakira reigned supreme in South America, except in Brazil, where Beyoncé did her hair. (In fact, Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, and Dua Lipa enjoyed consistent popularity around the world. Eilish has a lot Kazakh-stans – who knew?)

But there was one popularity band that stood out: Lana Del Rey’s dominance in Eastern Europe.

Yes, America’s Main Sad Girl has taken hold in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. This begs the question: why? We know that Del Rey is the queen of waiting for dad in a little vintage dress and red lipstick. She sings about love and heartbreak, being a little Venice bitch, drinking and getting high, blue jeans, and having her cuteness taken out of context in Mariner’s apartment complex. His music conjures up images of a dreamlike America, which probably only exists in movies. So why is it so popular in Eastern Europe?

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Although this viral graphic is accurate, it does not say the entire Story: Del Rey may be the most listened to international “pop girl” in Eastern Europe, but she’s not the most popular artist overall. If we look at Poland, for example, for the past four weeks Del Rey has been floating around number 30 on Spotify’s weekly streaming charts. The artists above her are either male, other genders or local pop artists – a pattern that is repeated in neighboring countries.

But even though she’s not the most streamed artist in Eastern Europe overall, it’s worth noting that Del Rey still ranks higher than her “pop girl” contemporaries, like Taylor Swift and Dua. Lipa. And even looking at physical album sales, she’s clearly popular in the region. In Poland, for example, there were three of her albums in the top 50 last week – more than any other artist, despite the fact that she hasn’t released any new music this year.

The social media reaction to this card focused on the melancholic side of Del Rey’s songs. After all, her discography includes ‘Summertime Sadness’ and ‘Sad Girl’. BuzzFeed even compiled a list of 86 of his lyrics that make him the perfect Instagram caption. “The Eastern Bloc has known pain”, writer Kate Demolder tweeted quote. “All of Eastern Europe is depressed” joked another user. The “depressed Eastern European” stereotype is a pretty awkward trope that a global study finds isn’t true. But going back to the original viral chart, it’s worth noting that in most countries where Del Rey came out on top, Billie Eilish – whose music is also described as “sad girl pop” – was the second “pop most listened to. girl.” And according to local cultural journalists, the idea that Eastern Europeans have a particular penchant for sad, romantic music is more than just a lazy stereotype.

It seems that, in this part of the world, sadness really sells. “Romanticism is probably the most important era in Poland,” said Polish writer Artur Wojtczak. Rolling Stone UK. “Poles identify a lot with romantic heroes and that’s been our nature for centuries.” He believes Del Rey’s success in Eastern Europe is due to the region’s love of vocalists who are expressive, emotionally intense and distinctive. “We love the cinematic music videos and the romance at the heart of Lana’s songs.”

“We love the cinematic clips and the romance at the heart of Lana’s songs”

Bartek Chacinski, cultural editor at Polityka, a Polish weekly news magazine, believes Del Rey’s songs are similar to the European “golden oldies” format, which has “shaped the taste” of the region for decades. “This continental tradition was founded on French song and the winners of Sanremo in Italy,” he says. Rolling Stone UK. (A song is a lyrically-driven French song, and the Sanremo Music Festival is the world’s oldest televised competition, which inspired the Eurovision Song Contest).

Lukasz Warna-Wiesławski, head of Polish label Tańce, agrees that Del Rey’s popularity in Eastern Europe may be driven by his music being similar to currently popular local artists. Polish singer sanah, for example, is one of the region’s most listened-to artists. She is often described as the “Polish Lana Del Rey” and one of her songs, “kolońska i szlugi”, even mentions her by name. “I dreamed that you were listening to Lana Del Rey, talking until morning” she sings, which in itself is a reminder that Del Rey frequently name-checks other artists in his own songs.

“There’s this movement going on right now called ‘męskie granie’, which would roughly translate to ‘manly music’ or ‘manly play’ in English,” Warna-Wiesławski told Rolling Stone UK. “It was an alternative rock campaign by a huge beer company (Żywiec Brewery) that started about a decade ago. Now it’s a festival and concert tour that showcases top Polish artists who are more alternative in their sound.

Open’er Festival, founded in 2002, is Poland’s largest music festival. In recent years, Warna-Wiesławski tells me that its headliners have become more alternative, and it’s increasingly seen as a “hipster” festival. Del Rey made headlines in 2019, suggesting she’s found a point of mass attraction and credibility. It also implies that her record label, Universal Music Group, is actively looking for ways to promote her in the region. “Lana Del Rey could certainly sound more believable here,” says Warna-Wiesławski. “We like sad songs and ballads, whereas pop diva music and dance music are often seen in a bad light.”

Del Rey’s popularity in Eastern Europe, like other more alternative-sounding artists, is likely a result of his music sounding current and upscale in the region. But it’s not just a passing trend: it’s driven by decades-old political and cultural shifts. “In communist times, we had journalists importing western rock records to play on the radio,” explains Warna-Wiesławski. “When the 1990s came and communism fell, the same radio stations were considered must-listen for anyone who considered themselves educated.”

Wojtczak also cites the political undercurrents behind Del Rey’s popularity. He believes she is the “personification of the American dream”, which has been present as a “myth” in Polish culture since the imposition of communism after World War II. “The United States was the epitome of luxury, of unparalleled wealth, of access to consumer goods such as cars, sweets, alcohol, cuisines of the world,” he explains.

Poland hasn’t been communist for 30 years and the standard of living is much higher now, but Wojtczak thinks American culture is still placed on a special pedestal. So it’s easy to see why an artist like Del Rey – who is seen waving an American flag and evokes a nostalgic, airbrushed vision of the United States, often directly referencing American icons like Norman Rockwell and James Dean in his work – would look attractive. (She even spends her free time “talking shit at Starbucks,” like an all-American girl).

“In the communist era, we had journalists importing western rock records to play on the radio. When the 1990s came and communism fell, the same radio stations were considered go-to for anyone who considered themselves educated.

write for Vice, Emma Garland has argued that Del Rey has always been “difficult to pin down” as a narrator because she often plays inside a “vortex” of reference points. “The identity of each of his albums is created by selecting material elements (beaches, fisheries, cars, guns, wine) and cultural icons (James Dean, Vladimir Nabokov, Sylvia Plath, Iggy Pop) and organizing them in a mood board,” she wrote. It’s true that Del Rey (née Lizzy Grant, the name she started performing under) has been a shape-shifter in her life and work. But even as its aesthetic, subject matter, and sound change, there’s a vibe that makes it particularly stannable for some people.

Reflecting on the popularity of the viral chart – and the very memorable reaction to Del Rey’s popularity in Eastern Europe, which started this deep dive – the About Music Charts creator tells Rolling Stone UK that their images are designed to be visual. captivating and shareable. “People really feel like when we visualize stats it’s something easy to read and full of color,” they wrote in an Instagram DM. “When people see familiar faces and colors, it inspires them to engage with the post.”

But social media engagement aside, it seems there are deeper cultural reasons why Eastern Europe might place a premium on Del Rey’s music right now, some of which go back to to decades. It’s no surprise that a region that has seen such political upheaval – including war again this year – can gravitate towards music that is inherently elusive, combining sadness and cinematic whimsy with a sense of hope. Like her stans elsewhere, Lana Del Rey’s Eastern European fans know that hope is a dangerous thing to have, but they have it.