Love, the law, and Lana Del Rey – Lana Del Rey has been praised, sued and vilified – all before her album hits the shelves. But the US star says she’s more concerned by the global financial crisis than her critics.

Last year, with almost no fanfare, a song called Video Games popped up on YouTube.

An achingly beautiful piano ballad by an unknown singer, it had been rejected by almost every record company that heard it.

The song was too long, they said, too melancholy. And it needed drums if it was to get any radio play.

Lana Del Rey didn’t believe any of them. She persuaded a tiny independent label to release the song, and created the promo clip at home on her MacBook.

Twenty-two million views later, she’s got a major label deal, a contract with Next Model management, and is about to release one of the most-anticipated albums of 2012.

So who is Lana Del Rey?

She was born Elizabeth Grant in New York City 25 years ago. Raised in the Winter Olympics venue of Lake Placid, she was surrounded by a “really big family” and had started studying philosophy when, aged 18, her uncle taught her “six basic chords” on the guitar.

“It was G, C, A,” she recalls, absent-mindedly stretching her fingers into the chord formations. “It was D minor, A minor and some diminished chord as well. Some trick, some shortcut.

“I realised I could probably write a million songs with those six chords – so I moved to New York and I took a couple of years to just write whatever I wanted.”

She had an early stab at recording an album – 2008’s Lizzy Grant aka Lana Del Ray – which was made for $10,000 (£6,000) with Paul McCartney and Regina Spektor’s producer David Kahne.

But it was never formally released, popping up on iTunes for two months in 2010 before quietly disappearing.

“I had signed to an independent label but they couldn’t fund the release of it,” says Del Rey.

“People act like it’s so shrouded in mystery, the ‘forgotten terrible album’.

“But if you look on YouTube, all 13 tracks are available with millions of views, so it’s not like no-one’s heard them.

“We were all proud of it. It’s pretty good.”

The singer recently bought back the rights to the record, and says: “I’m re-releasing it, maybe in late summer.”

Her major label debut, Born To Die, refines the formula set out on that early material.

A sweeping epic of doomed love affairs and bruised glamour, it could be the lost soundtrack to a film noir.

Del Rey’s vocals have a cinematic quality, too. One minute, she’s a breathy femme fatale; the next, a languorous, sultry diva: Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich competing for control of the microphone.

In person, however, the singer is more down-to-earth.

Softly-spoken and doe-eyed, she comes from a close-knit family. Her left hand is tattooed with a capital letter “M” for her grandmother, Madeleine.

And while her lyrics revel in seedy romance (“he loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart”) they were largely inspired by a single, happy relationship.

“I never thought I’d have the luxury of loving someone and being loved,” says Del Rey. “But when it happened, it really was what they talked about in the movies.”

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