Opening tracks are always a statement: how do you want to introduce your listener to the world you’re building with your album? Lana Del Rey’s choice, for Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, is to open with an ode. “The Grants,” the first song on the tracklisting of Del Rey’s upcoming ninth album, is an ode to family, music, community, and the preciousness of memories.
“The Grants” can at first be read as a direct reference to Del Rey’s family, with their surname serving as the song title and nods to members of her family peppered through the lyrics. But to keep us on our toes like she does so masterfully, “The Grants” begins with the voices of three women who aren’t a part of the Grant family.
Melodye Perry, Pattie Howard, and Shikena Jones are the three women who open “The Grants” and Del Rey’s new album. Perry, Howard, and Jones are three celebrated background singers who were featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. As they sing the words we’ll later find out are the chorus, the unity in their voices takes the song to the holy ground before it even officially starts.
Del Rey’s characteristic melancholic and descriptive lyricism is perfect to paint pictures of moments lived and cherished. Over a piano melody, Del Rey tells us her pastor said “when you leave, all you take are your memories” and her velvet voice sings and vows to hold on to them. In a transparent declaration of love, Del Rey shows she’s willing to do anything for the Grants: “Doin’ the hard stuff / I’m doin’ my time / I’m doin’ it for us / for our family line.”
“The Grants” could be a flip through a photo album, but instead of photographs, the pages are filled with memories. Del Rey reminisces with an out worldly affection over what she refuses to let go of. Her sister’s firstborn child and her grandmother’s last smile are among the moments and people she hopes to have beside her forever. As Perry, Howard, and Jones return to sing the last chorus with Del Rey, “The Grants” swells in a wave of emotion and affection. Del Rey sings about her family, but the presence and strength of Perry, Howard, and Jones remind you of the other definitions of family and how strong those bonds can be.
For Del Rey, “The Grants” is a love letter to her family and bloodline, but the feeling of care and dedication throughout the song’s five minutes is so overwhelming that the definition of “The Grants” becomes beautifully open-ended. As most del Rey songs go, “The Grants” is a masterclass in songwriting and flooding the listener with feeling. It is almost inevitable, as you listen to “The Grants,” to not dive through your own supercut of memories and wonder what and whom you’d take with you and sing for forever.