Lana Del Rey hasn’t even released her debut album yet, but she’s already a hot-button issue among indie music fans on the internet. Which is funny, because there isn’t much “indie” about her – she looks like Ann Margret crossed with a porn star and sounds like a loungy cabaret act with just a touch of hip-hop attitude. She zoomed straight to major label stardom on the strength of a YouTube hit, and is only just now getting around to honing her live show on the road.
Del Rey’s detractors recoil at her sexed-up image and shrug off her music, which sometimes sounds a lot like Dido’s inoffensive coffee shop pop littered with f-bombs. Others are more cynical, harping on rumors that she’s the invention of her managers, and that her good looks have been augmented by plastic surgery. And maybe that is all true, and she’s an artificial fantasy figure comprised of carefully curated retro references. Nonetheless, there’s still something incredibly resonant about this image she has concocted, and her focus on singing about glamor indicates that this act is a lot more thoughtful than mere dress-up.
And so it’s too bad that Del Rey was shaky and inconsistent at her show last night at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom. She sang her tunes with accompaniment from a competent but anonymous band of session musicians, and stood in front of a backdrop of large white balloons with projected images of stock footage, recalling the DIY found-image aesthetic of her “Video Games” clip. She only played nine songs, but managed to apologize for nearly all of them. “You’re gonna fucking like it when it’s on the record,” she said following “Summertime Sadness,” a number that basically sounded like a polished studio recording. In spite of this obvious insecurity on stage, Del Rey sang with considerable confidence, though her transitions from husky, come-hither sexuality to bratty, girlish petulance could be rather jarring. Even still, in those gawky moments, the singer’s mask slips just a bit, revealing a glimpse of a young artist wrestling with potent ideas and anxieties but isn’t fully comfortable in her own skin.
Many of Del Rey’s songs express a powerful desire to be submissive to powerful men. In most cases, it’s framed as fantasy, but in the case of her internet hit “Video Games,” she’s singing about feeling disappointed by a guy who’s too distracted, lazy and passive to give her the drama and intensity she’s craving. It’s easy to see why a lot of people, particularly young women, are relating to this music – she’s clearly not the only lady out there wondering why they’re among a generation of dudes who have more in common with shlubby, sensitive characters from Judd Apatow movies than brooding alpha males like Don Draper. At her best, Del Rey spins this frustration into sexy pop that practically dares her male listeners to man up and meet her halfway in living out a vintage Hollywood dream.
You can watch Del Rey and her band perform their opening number, “Without You,” at last night’s show in the clip below.
“Born to Die”
“Million Dollar Man”
“You Can Be the Boss”
“Off to the Races”