If Lana Del Rey is feeling the pressure of her seemingly overnight but carefully constructed You Tube-built success, she doesn’t show it on stage.
Or it could just have been the perfectly-timed shout of “On yersel’ Lana” from the audience that helped dispel any nerves.
Video Games, her ode to being ignored and the exquisite pain of clutching at an illusion of happiness, and the equally plaintive B-side Blue Jeans, a love letter to a departed gangster, have clocked up over 6.5 million Youtube views in under two months. Expectations of her live performances, not tempered by rife internet discussion questioning her authenticity, are high.
So it is deeply satisfying that her voice sounded exactly as it does on record, with the same gut-wrenching catches and soaring pleas, alternating between deep and powerful, and raspy and fragile, the perfect embodiment of her defiantly heartbroken lyrics. On Radio, a rare moment of happiness, she sings about days that are ‘sweet like cinnamon’ and the description fits her voice too, which veers between syrupy and steely, languorous and raw. She describes her music as ‘Hollywood pop/sadcore’ and it melts seamlessly between hip hop beats, 90s pop and 60s girl group.
Much has been made of her glamorous looks and chola-meets-Brigitte Bardot styling, but the most striking aspect of her glamour is her use of it in the old sense, as a mask for sadness, an enchantment intended to conceal and deceive. The bulk of her lyrics speak of a damaged person in the soul-destroying act of trying to convince themselves they are happy, accepting love that is essentially meaningless however alluring - all melancholy and mascara running, fast cars and bad boys and the bittersweetness of the American Dream.
Her home-made videos of grainy Super 8 footage spliced with evocative Youtube footage of skateboarders, drunk Hollywood starlets, teenage pool parties and fluttering Star Spangled Banners induce nostalgia for something that was never yours, and are as much a part of her image as her songs, to which, given her provenance as a Youtube sensation, they are inextricably linked. They were present here too, projected on to giant white spheres hovering by the stage, but the lyrics stand as snapshots of the world she sings about on their own.
Del Rey was at her most Dusty Springfield on You Can Be The Boss, channelling glamorous 60s jazz club singer down-on-her-luck, and doing an admirable job of it. The image is a huge part of her act, but it doesn’t grate; whatever has been said in the blogosphere, her influences ring true as being personal. However, as beautifully executed and entertaining as her embodiment of the winsome, whisky-soaked, mistreated Lolita character she has created is, she is at her best when she ceases to play her and surrenders to the lip-tremblingly raw emotion of her own lyrics. As such, the plaintive and heart-breakingly controlled wails of ‘promise you’ll remember that you’re mine’ on Blue Jeans and ‘it’s all for you, everything I do’ on Video Games are her finest moments.
Her decision to finish her set with new song Off To The Races, a rousing surrender to getting in over your head that builds to a crescendo of impending heartbreak, rather than save Video Games or Blue Jeans till last, was a smart move, ensuring the lasting impression wasn’t of a two-hit-wonder. There should be little danger of that.
The most interesting aspect of the discussion over whether Del Rey’s persona is a manufactured illusion is its duality with the desperate illusion about which she sings, and the sense that she is playing a game with us. Her lyrics about the games we play with ourselves in our attempts to maintain dignity in spite of a broken heart and a lost soul are as real as it gets.
Rating: **** (4)