My culturally enlightened friend loves to tease me, while my other underground-music-obsessed friends just look at my Lana Del Rey adoration with confusion – “Lana Del Rey is shit.” And I get it; the weird post-punk fan in me feels their disdain and confusion too. Even after purchasing (handsomely priced) tickets well in advance to see America’s sweetheart songbird in action, I caught myself tutting and feeling uncomfortable at the displays of acute fandom that I saw occurring in the crowd. With their Lana themed outfits these highly excitable fans exclaimed, squealed and waited for over an hour to hold down a prime spot to watch the international sensation who hasn’t graced our antipodean soil in over six years. I felt out of place with a false sense of experienced coolness while simultaneously feeling like a pretentious loser; after all the only thing that separates me from the rest of the crowd was years of rockist conditioning…because like them, I too love Lana Del Rey.
It is my belief you cannot take any type of music away from someone. Meaning, no one should ever put down a genre or a band just because they don’t like it. Music, although often intellectualised and rationalised to oblivion, is a fundamentally phenomenological and emotional thing. Enjoyment of it can often defy rationale, taste or education – clinging to our experiences, emotions and lives in ways that we might not expect. I could and would argue, to great lengths, the musical merits of the level of lyricism, production and musical prowess that the team of Lana Del Rey possesses, but this is not the what made Del Rey’s rapturous performance at the Myer Music Bowl. What truly lifted this ‘LA to the Moon‘ performance was the intricate interplay between the song’s emotions, the audience’s experiences and Del Rey’s starlike humility, leading to one of the highlights of my live music spectating career.
It is a difficult task for anyone to warm the stage for such an anticipated act as this but BØRNS did the best that he could. Gracing the stage with palm trees, lounge chairs and a swing, the evidence of Del Rey’s aesthetic was clear and set the expectation for what was to be a large scale production. Gerratt Born’s band were clearly talented performers and he received muted squeals from the crowd, despite a relatively flat performance. ‘God Save Our Young Blood’ which features Del Rey’s vocals and a particularly upbeat cover of ‘Holiday’ by Madonna were brief highlights amongst a set that failed to exhibit the nuance of BØRNS recorded material.
As the stage went dim and the crowd gravitated eagerly downhill, being drawn towards the stage, the atmosphere was palpable as one crowd member near me sings “I’m feelin’ electric tonight” (‘Summertime Sadness’), the first of several moments that show the accessibility of Lana Del Rey’s many anthems. As the huge screen on the stage flickers into life, we are shown a black and white bird’s eye view of Melbourne displayed as though through Venetian blinds, a place-specific touch which does not go under appreciated. Two dancers dressed in old Hollywood glamour take place on the lounges and the band take their place behind their instruments, quickly joined by the main event Elizabeth Grant in understated ’70’s style, dripping with effortless cool. This iteration of Lana Del Rey is her at her most comfortable. The Lana that was so nervous and hid behind such a constructed persona throughout her career seems long gone, replaced by a something that feels more real or dare I say, authentic.
A non-single for the most recent album Lust For Life, ‘Cherry’ opens the set, leading a setlist for true believers and for the downhearted optimists. Unlike many of her early hits, the bulk of Del Rey’s last three albums, have been a subtle exploration into a complexity of emotions; a mixture of hope and melancholia, beauty and destruction which is hard to find in popular music. With the heart-wrenching delivery of the line “darlin’—I fall to pieces,” Del Rey dispels any doubts about her vocal ability with enchanting a skilful performance, despite the necessity of performing to an accompanying track of her own vocal lines. At times, such as during ‘High By The Beach’ she moves out of sync or embellishes over the top of tracks which shows not only that we are experiencing a unique performance but allows her to show her musical flexibility.
She has become an enchanting stage performer who moves effortlessly through shifting personas that accompany each song. At times, she is daring and confident as she flounces herself down on a step on stage and slides her skirt to expose her underwear daringly during ‘White Mustang’. Or sassy and dismissive in ‘National Anthem’ as she pointedly says that it’s about the president…’JFK of course.’ She is powerful and pensive during ‘Born To Die’ and she is a vision of nostalgic melancholy as she swings onstage and sings ‘Video Games.’
The cinematic elements of Lana Del Rey’s creative output seeps into every part of this performance with seamless transitions between a naturalistic performance and one which is highly stylised. Parallels are drawn between her celebrated music videos not only being edited into the visual displays but also through creative lighting as a swimming pool appears onto the floor of the stage during ‘Blue Jeans’ through projection. Other parts of the performance become like a live music video in action, as Lana and her dancers lie down during ‘Pretty When I Cry’ they are videoed from above and projected onto the back screen. The choreography is seamless and reminiscent of the Busby Berkeley style of mass choreography in films of the 1930s and 1940s. The sensual execution emphasised the stylised nature of the performance.
Del Rey often changes gears at intervals throughout the set, moving into the crowd to greet fans, receiving gifts from the crowd while playfully trying on their hats and taking selfies. She listens to requests from the crowd and I am excited as she asks her band whether they know the Paradise EP’s ‘Gods and Monsters’ through the mic and adds casually “if I don’t remember and you don’t remember then we’re fucked.” Del Rey goes to great lengths to show care and respect to her fans, even when cheers and yells interrupt her attempt to perform a delicate rendition of ‘Yayo‘ with only her flying V guitar for accompaniment, she laughs and moves on with grace, hiding well any discontent.
The parade of hits, ‘West Coast’ and ‘Lust For Life,’ may have kept the bulk of the audience happy but its an incredible melody which is the real stand out of this set. Lana Del Rey is just one of many previously silent figures who has started commenting on the political climate in the United States. Not only does the 2017 Lust For Life have tracks that explicitly reference elements of the turmoil but she explains that ‘Change’ is her explicitly attempting to have hope for the future in a tumultuous present. Not many eyes stayed dry as this song moves into ‘Black Beauty’ and then ‘Young & Beautiful’ from The Great Gatsby soundtrack. At no point in the performance was the power of Lana Del Rey more evident; each song, thought and lyric was touching listeners in different ways while making each person feel more connected.
Alexandre O. Philippe says there are so many things in the world which divides but pop culture is one that unites. As a tear rolled from my eye as she finished the medley with my personal favourite, ‘Ride’ it wasn’t the memory of the intense grief I was experiencing when I first watched that music video on my bedroom floor or the tiny tragedy of an unrequited crush that was experiencing in the present, that mattered. Different personal reasons for the emotion, the smiles and the tears of each audience member became secondary as the crowd collectively felt that Lana was singing for us and to us at the same time; a womblike comfort in the warm crush of bodies bound by the music.
“Thank you, for coming,” Elizabeth/Lana says, “I love seeing music live, I try to do it as much as I can. I just think its a magical thing.” While a seemingly simple comment, there was something truly powerful for someone so internationally recognised who had sold out a 10,000 capacity venue who admit that they felt the same electricity of experience that much of the crowd was experiencing. The transcendence of popular music, lifting people out of their lives if only for a moment, can be rare and is often be dismissed in comparison to more intellectually elevated genres of music.
The final tune rang out across the crowd, the most high energy ‘Off To The Races’ was spun out into a dark electronic track giving Lana Del Rey time greet the crowd one last time, collecting as humbly as she could flowers, gifts and even a crown. “She looks like she has just won Miss America” my friend notes as she turns one last time to wave to the crowd. Yet an icon of celebrating aesthetic beauty seems an unbefitting comparison for a person who has touched and moved a huge crowd that night, leaving something kinda like magic in her wake.