It would seem Lana Del Rey has learned her lesson. Almost. Instead of being late for half an hour, as she was at her now infamous Glastonbury show which saw her set cut short, fans at last night’s BST Hyde Park headline gig were kept waiting for just 17 minutes. Yes, I timed it – my knees have only just recovered from the Worthy Farm debacle.
The last time Del Rey played in London was 10 years ago, to a crowd of 5,000 at the Hammersmith Apollo. Her lyrics about death, love and rock’n’roll mixed with a meticulously formulated aesthetic evoking 60s Americana, all star-spangled banners and mustangs, won her a loyal following of Tumblr addicts and over-emotional teens. Seven albums later, her star has risen to stratospheric heights, as evidenced by the 65,000-strong crowd of flower-crowned fans who lapped up every lick of her sugary sweet falsetto. Even her vape, which she puffed during an extended intro to “Bartender”, was celebrated with a cacophony of screams.
The stage was set up with glided mirrors, candlelit tables and flower-adorned swings – messy and unnecessary, but deliberately. Following an alluringly creepy version of David Bowie’s “Nature Boy” from the movie version of Moulin Rouge, Del Rey, wearing a floral dress, her hair done up “real big, beauty queen style”, coolly entered to the hip-hop inspired beat drop of “A&W” from her latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. It was an upbeat start to what would otherwise be a gloomy, melancholic setlist. Only at a Lana Del Rey gig would that be a compliment – her best songs are her most despondent.
When Del Rey first performed her debut single, the mega-hit “Video Games”, on SNL in 2012, audiences questioned her voice, her nerves causing an off-kilter vocal. That uncertain star was forgotten last night. Ballads “Arcadia”, a love song to LA, and “Candy Necklaces”, sung from atop a golden grand piano, proved beyond doubt that Del Rey has a vocal range to envy; both Disney princess high notes and low, brooding laments hit with effortless precision.
But it was when she was joined by her three backing singers – Melodye Perry, Pattie Howard and Shikena Jones – that Del Rey went at full pelt. The bare, choral opening of “The Grants”, a pensive but hopeful song about remembering her family after death, shimmered, and the title track of her new album (the best song of the night) saw the foursome riff off one another in a spectacular gospel showcase. “I don’t care if they cut power,” she crooned in just one of many references to her Glastonbury show. “It’s worth it.” I have to admire the gall and humour with which she tackled the fiasco – she has always been a master of cheeky self-awareness.
Thankfully for more casual fans, the setlist was mostly a hit parade. “Young and Beautiful”, which started life on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, was a huge singalong moment, the crowd sometimes drowning out quieter parts of the song. Often, Del Rey offered the mic to the audience, acting as choirmaster for a crowd who knew every word of her Ivor Novello-winning songwriting.
However, while undeniable crowd-pleasers, her biggest hits – “Summertime Sadness”, “Born to Die”, “Blue Jeans”, all from the 2012 album that made her famous, Born to Die – felt somewhat juvenile and tired in comparison to her newer more sophisticated material. Her best work, 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, was given oddly little attention, the title track of which was truncated. As someone who has played her newer, more intricate record to death it was disappointing – she is perhaps the only artist I don’t want to “play the hits”.
It’s easy to not like Del Rey – she’s late, she wastes valuable singing time getting her hair done onstage, she purposely glamourises domestic violence (in “Ultraviolence”, a sexy slow jam about an abusive lover she sings “it hit me, and it felt like a kiss” causing quite the scandal on its release in 2014). To enjoy her show, you need to have an intimate understanding of both her performative celebrity schtick and her poignant music; without it she may be deemed dull. But those with a profound emotional connection were rewarded with a cleverly crafted, confidently performed show.
“Thank you for making me the woman I am today,” one fan told the singer when she paused the concert to spend time taking selfies with the front row. Few of Del Rey’s peers have had the longevity that allows such a deep relationship; I saw more fans crying than I could count. It’s this inexplicable ability to communicate with her listeners, no matter how elusive she is, that makes Del Rey such a unique star.