Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Lana Del Rey – The Scala, London, 16/11/11

17 November 2011, 11:11 | Written by Josh Hall

Lana Del Rey has proved to be a useful divining rod for searching out idiots. Her ascendance has helped to identify those who believe that women’s position in the creative industries should be contingent on their appearance; clearly a prejudice as old as the hills themselves in this most sexist of fields, but one which guilty men (and, in fact, women) have become gradually better at concealing under layer upon layer of flimsy irony.

But it has also helped to identify those who are incapable of understanding that some people simply don’t like Lana Del Rey – not because she may or may not have had plastic surgery, but because they just don’t like the music. The shrillness with which these people have conducted themselves has made it virtually impossible to have a reasoned conversation about the singer.

As it happens I’m of the oh-so-radical view that we should all maintain bodily autonomy. If you want to stick needles in your lips, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too. But it is impossible to deny that Del Rey’s act hinges in great part on appearance and façade – as did that of Elvis and the rest of the canon of stars that feature in the Tumblr-indebted visuals playing throughout tonight’s set.

The importance of appearance is clear from the moment she shuffles onstage, unassumingly, clad in a sparkling top and white Onassis trousers – an outfit that comes in somewhere between Valley Of The Dolls and Dolly Parton. There is no question that she is visually striking – crimped to perfection, and made up to such a degree that she actually appears made up; as if she’s been plucked from a plastic mould designed to produce Perfect Latter Day ‘50s-Inspired Pinups. Dressed to play a part.

Within the first twenty seconds of opener ‘Without You’ it is clear that all is not well musically in the Del Rey camp. The band sounds nothingy, like they’re missing a key member but trying to soldier on regardless. Lana, meanwhile, languishes in her lower register, each syllable laboured, each ghastly warble seemingly inserted on instruction. She jabs wildly at the higher notes, often falling some distance short.

But in fact the music is something of a sideshow. The issue here isn’t a questionable vocal talent, or the series of insipid arrangements. Rather, the problem is the inherent unpleasantness of watching someone try so desperately to fulfil an image of themselves – an image which they (or their label; it really doesn’t matter) have so laboriously constructed but with which they end up seeming so uncomfortable.

Because Lana Del Rey consists entirely of artifice. Everything about her appears meticulously pieced together from a scrapbook of already uninspiring source material. She is picking through the detritus left in a chronically over-mined seam, grasping at things like ‘smalltown frustration’, ‘angsty teenage sexuality’, ‘self-conscious outsiderness’. She is shooting for a persona that says something like ‘furtive chanteuse out of time’ – but the character fits so poorly that she freezes, like the girl in the teen movie who finds themselves thrust onstage, getting the thing they’ve always wished for only to find themselves fundamentally unequipped for it. She ends up bluffing, but even the bluffs are written into the script. Each song is preceded by, “Oh, let’s do Radio” or some such mumble, despite the fact that everybody in the room knows full well there is a printed setlist on stage. It’s designed to give the impression of control – but it ends up simply throwing the charade into starker relief. Del Rey thinks she should be holding an audience enraptured, with husky-voiced timelessness and coy charisma. In reality she appears fundamentally out of her depth, struggling even to affirm her own character, let alone encourage the audience to suspend their collective disbelief.

The horrible tragedy here is that Lizzy Grant is far more interesting than Lana Del Rey could ever be. ‘Video Games’ is good exactly because it gives a sense of Grant, below the bluster and construction; a sense of bitterness, and of unhappiness, and of casual emotional abuse.

But it is forthcoming single ‘Born To Die’ that contains the most horribly illuminating moment of the evening. When Del Rey sings about wanting to “fuck you hard in the pouring rain” she sounds not like the troubled seductress character that she is desperately trying to inhabit, but instead like a fragile, uncomfortable girl trying to paper over her own emotional cracks in just about the most counter-productive manner imaginable.

I hope very much that Grant gives up on Lana. The quiet desperation of this set suggests that the act is making her fundamentally unhappy. Acutely uncomfortable viewing.

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