Lana Del Rey’s remarkably dismal music doesn’t always translate to stellar live performances. When singing live, LDR often carries the air of a girl who reluctantly agreed to perform at the school recital after much encouragement from her teachers. That infamous SNL performance from 2012 confirmed that Lana is as moody on stage as she sounds on her records, and the truth is, listening to “Summertime Sadness” alone on the floor of your room might make for a more enjoyable experience than watching her perform it live. Simply put, LDR just isn’t one to put on a show.
Lana’s not the only one who isn’t cramming to learn a dance routine or rushing to hire a crew of interpretive dancers to aid her stage presence, though. Ashlee Simpson used to take the stage by stumbling across it and holding her body in strange ways. She also would lip sync so obviously, it was painful to watch. Lip syncing isn’t always a hindrance to a great performance. Britney Spears is a pro at it, and she still delivers.
And yet, singing live doesn’t guarantee you a shining review, either. Iggy Azalea is better off lip syncing in order to save us all the effort of deciphering what the hell she’s rapping about. Not everyone can be as entertaining live as Beyonce, Chris Brown, Madonna, or Taylor Swift — even if she does have the help of a thousand famous friends. But there is something to be said for talented artists who aren’t strong performers in the showy sense of the word.
Take John Mayer, for example. His concerts generally have some sort of cool, earthy graphic or visual effect, but let’s be real. You don’t go to a John Mayer concert for that. You go for the insane guitar improvisation. You don’t go to a Nicki Minaj concert to watch her dance. You go for the ridiculously entertaining night o’ fun that is Nicki performing live. You can’t go into an Adele concert thinking she’ll get up from her royal chair and bust a move. If you’re lucky, she’ll stand for a song or two — and it will be fabulous.
Live performances are as vital to an artist’s career as putting out new music. If you don’t perform live, your expiration date as an artist might be sooner than you thought. Instrumental ability is at the core of live performing, and visual effects, dancers, lights, etc. are all just distractions — though some artists make use of these distractions in more meaningful ways than others.
Lana Del Rey isn’t going to wow you with riffs, contort her body in eye-popping ways à la FKA twigs, or prove to you that she’s #AlwaysOnBeat. Honestly, how weird would it be if she did, considering the tone of her music. Perhaps it’s the fascinating dichotomy of her old Hollywood glamour side and her breezy, beachy one that keeps people coming back for more. Maybe it’s her overall mystique. Maybe, for some, it really is just her voice. Whatever it is, it’s probably not her live performances.
Performing live is an art, and LDR is proof that you don’t have to master it to make people love you. You do have to master something, though, and that something can be simply singing sulky love songs that speak our truths.