Seemingly every time anyone discusses Lana Del Rey, questions about her quote-unquote “authenticity” are evoked. This sentiment was, above all else, dominating the pre- and post-show conversation at tonight’s sold-out show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom (including the two dudes we overheard huddled up, sniffing something in a comically loud fashion, in a men’s bathroom stall after the concert had wrapped).
If you’re not already familiar with the artist known as Lana Del Rey, you soon will be. This 25-year-old siren exploded into the public consciousness this summer when she self-released her debut single, “Video Games,” to YouTube (garnering some 9 million views along the way). Cooler-than-thou hipster blogs initially praised her work, but quickly turned their backs on the self-described “gangster Nancy Sinatra” when it was discovered that she initially released an album under her real name, Lizzy Grant, before fully formulating the Lana Del Rey character. It’s not as if Grant/Del Rey’s calculated transition was unprecedented; everyone from Robert Zimmerman (better known as Bob Dylan) to Stefani Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga) has done something similar in the name of “art.” However, in this age of information overload, the rabid, scoop-hungry blogosphere has recognized that they can rack up more page views by deriding this young singer’s work than they can by taking a wait and see approach.
After months worth of fervent Internet discourse and a hype-generating European tour, Lana Del Rey finally took the stage in her self-appointed hometown of New York City earlier this evening in what she clearly felt was a put-up or shut-up performance. “It’s good to be home,” she told the Bowery Ballroom audience as she strode on stage to the bold entrance music of Bernard Herrmann‘s iconic score from Psycho. After a couple uncomfortable moments of “f***in technical difficulties” (her words), she quickly launched into “Without You,” a song which contains lyrics that arguably define her ethos: “I think I found God in the flashbulbs of your pretty cameras.”
Del Rey is an artist with undeniable vocal chops, but one that is also clearly a character through and through; this, however, is not a bad thing! Throughout the course of tonight’s 40-minute(ish) set, her voice alternated between that of a baby-voiced vixen and a husky, world weary veteran, often pitching up and down between these vocal registers within the same verse of a single song. The visual imagery projected onto a series of four white balloons behind her on stage during her gig included a well-curated mix of Highbrow Brilliant and Lowbrow Despicable video clips, as if she were proudly flaunting her four-quadrant appeal on New York Magazine‘s Approval Matrix: these included footage of a bloated, coked-up 70s Elvis, Jessica Rabbit, Stanley Kubrick‘s Lolita, the MGM Lion and tabloid sensation du jour Paz de la Huerta.
It was incredibly fascinating watching Grant work through her act and her Del Rey character tonight, and it was also pretty clear from the get-go that she’s actively in the midst of dealing with the both immense amounts of pressure and the destructive nature of Internet hype. She cried at two separate occasions during her show—both times, it should be noted, from happiness—yet she also lashed out at the crowd when their attention wandered. During her performance of “Summertime Sadness,” a track that has not yet been released, she derided the people whose attention wandered during the song by saying “I know you don’t care, [but] you’re gonna f***ing like it when it’s on the record.”
Her skills as a performer will continue to improve as she gets more live shows under her belt, but regardless of her current on-stage acumen, she’s got at least one weapon besides her voice in her arsenal that she can rely on for the forseeable future: She’s definitely got some killer songs in her repertoire. During the performances of her three “big” songs—“Video Games,” “Blue Jeans,” and “Born To Die”—she held the entire crowd, even the haters, in rapt attention. Sure, she utilized defiance as her primary defense mechanism during her show tonight, but fortunately for her as she makes her way across the country in support of her upcoming album Born To Die, she’s not going to face many rooms filled with as many judgmental folks as she did this evening. Lizzy Grant will continue to grow confidence the longer she spends occupying the character of Lana Del Rey, and who knows, if she ever reaches the point where her confidence level reaches that of her fellow character actor Stefani Germanotta, she might just look back at tonight’s show at the Bowery Ballroom as being instrumental in helping transform her from being an Internet sensation into a real, live performer.
SETLIST: “Without You” / “Born To Die” / “Blue Jeans” / “Radio” / “Million Dollar Man” / “Video Games” / “Summertime Sadness” / “You Can Be the Boss” / “Off to the Races”