It’s no secret that most contemporary singers have a little help these days in the songwriting department from an elite group of people who have managed to turn out hit after hit.

One such writer-for-hire, Max Martin, has penned no less than 10 number-one hits in the last few years including ‘So What’ for Pink, and ‘I Kissed A Girl’ for Katy Perry.

But it was a relatively unknown songwriter got the break of his career when record producers at Interscope went looking for a writer to pair up with their new talent Lana Del Rey, aka Elizabeth Grant.

Justin Parker, a former professional football player whose career hit the rocks after a knee injury, was paired up with the aspiring singer by his publishers, Sony/ATV Music.

He was put into a London studio with New York-based Del Rey, and Parker instantly penned Del Rey’s breakthrough hit ‘Video Games’. “I wrote the chord sequence for the verse at home in Lincoln and thought ‘that sounds like a Lana song to me’,” said Parker to The Independent.

“She was amazing, she followed every chord. She wrote the lyrics and it was all written in three hours. There’s a melancholic side to her and we’ve both had dark times so it was a natural progression for the song to feel that way.”

But Del Rey’s record company Interscope wasn’t buying it. “No one liked it,” said Parker. “We thought it was really special but they didn’t think it was a single.” Del Rey fashioned her own video, featuring old movie clips, which she uploaded to YouTube. “It just took off. Then they had to release it then, they had no choice.”

The haunting lyrics and melody of ‘Video Games’ proved to be an international smash hit, and propelled the 25-year-old singer into the spotlight – quicker than the team around her had hoped.

Pressured to back up the runaway success of ‘Video Games’ that went viral overnight, Interscope rushed out the singer’s debut album and thrust her onto television screens across the world with her performance on Saturday Night Live, a train wreck that has threatened to derail her career ever since.

The fall out following that infamous performance was one of the reasons Del Rey’s team promptly cancelled all her North American tour dates, and shelved plans for a promo tour here in Australia.

Of course it didn’t stop her most die-hard fans, who helped propel the singer who was unknown just a few months prior to the top of the charts in over 11 countries on iTunes, including here in Australia.

But despite Parker also co-writing Del Rey’s official single ‘Born To Die’, he remains level-headed. “It’s probably downhill from here,” he joked. “I’ve got more options but people aren’t exactly knocking on the door.”

He’s currently working with Bat For Lashes, saying he prefers to work with female musicians because they have ‘less ego’ than their male counterparts. He also rejects the accusation that singers who employ writing collaborators are manufactured.

“She [Lana Del Rey] writes great melodies and lyrics,” says Parker. “We both struggled for years to get people to notice us.”

Parker has received a nomination for The Novellos for his songwriting, a prestigious award handed out in the United Kingdom.

As of Del Rey, she’s stated publicly that she doesn’t think she’ll write another record, admitting the huge backlash over questions of authenticity have taken their toll.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine