Remember Lana Del Rey? Back in early January, she seemed poised to dominate the music headlines this year; thanks to the strength of her singles “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans,” the anticipation for her second full-length LP, Born To Die, was at a fever pitch. Then, of course, she appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, turning in a performance that ended up being so controversial and maligned that it will likely follow her for the rest of her career. In a matter of hours, she went from being the Next Big Thing to having bloodthirsty music bloggers gleefully penning her career obituary. In fact, the pendulum of hype swung at such a rapid rate that her concerned management team felt that the best course of action to save Lana’s promising career was to pull her out of the spotlight altogether here in the United States, canceling high-profile bookings at SXSW in favor of focusing on the international market. This effectively stalled the prospects for Born To Die to latch on with Stateside audiences — the album has yet to go gold — but turned out to have worked quite well worldwide, as her record has sold over 1.5 million copies to date.
Aside from a pre-taped performance on American Idol back in March and a rumored fling with Axl Rose, it’s been pretty much radio silence from Team LDR here in the U.S. for the last few months. Last week, she performed a three-night residency at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, but tonight at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza, she made her first live appearance in the city since a low-key, one-song performance on the Late Show With David Letterman in early February. She had every right to be nervous performing for the sold-out crowd, especially considering that it was her first full show in town since her Bowery Ballroom performance in December, a show that was plagued with technical issues and one that she confessed to us that she wished “had gone a little differently.” However, the vibe in the room this evening — her first of three shows here over the next few days — was palpably different from the outset, as eager fans were anxious to show their support for Lana and convince her that her career had now entered the “Backlash To The Backlash” stage on New York Magazine‘s Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations. As she strode out on a stage filled with lush greenery, she was bathed in a warm round of applause and cheers, which prompted her to gleefully stick her tongue out before launching into “Blue Jeans.”
That said, it wasn’t until Lana completed “Born To Die,” her third song of the night, that she truly felt relaxed. The affectionate crowd sang along with every word of the song, and as soon as she completed it, she allowed herself to audibly (albeit off-mic) to say “Yes!” as a statement of self-congratulation, much like an athlete does after they make a great play. In that moment, you could see the stress wash from her face almost entirely, and she delivered the rest of her set in a relaxed and confident manner. Not once the entire night did her nerves or her vocals betray her, and in numbers like “Million Dollar Man” (see above) and “Carmen,” she was able to elevate the quality of her songs above their studio incarnations and truly connect with the audience.
In a lot of ways, Lana Del Rey’s demeanor tonight reminded us of the scene in the 1999 rom-com Notting Hill when Julia Roberts confesses to Hugh Grant that she’s “just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Anyone who has followed LDR recognizes that she has been forced to deal with a tremendous amount of criticism year, and that she’s also a bit emotionally wounded, but if she is able to count on her fans for love and support, she’s going to come out on the other side a stronger person. And if tonight is any indication as to how the rest of her Irving Plaza residency is going to go, Lana Del Rey will soon be good and ready to put the past in the rearview mirror once and for all.
SET LIST: “Blue Jeans” / “Body Electric” / “Born To Die” / “Hey Lolita Hey” / “Summertime Sadness” / “Without You” / “Million Dollar Man” / “Carmen” / “Video Games” / “National Anthem”