Forget what you've heard and listen to the music. Lana Del Rey is a sweet girl with a radiant voice and maybe a demon or two. Her debut album is called Born to Die, but Lana’s just trying to live. Haters, fall back.
This feature appears in Complex's February/March 2012 issue.
Hers was a dramatic setup.
White balloons flashing corroded cartoon clips and ghostly images of President John F. Kennedy—all set to the creepy strains of Bernard Herrmann’s Pyscho theme. The fans kept coming through the door, filling New York’s Bowery Ballroom to capacity. The band stood at attention, poised for action as Lana Del Rey strolled on stage to squeals and whistles. Dressed in a summery white dress, gold belt, and low white Chuck Taylors, the tall red-haired singer looked more like she was ready to grab an ice-cream sandwich from Mr. Softee than perform her first proper concert in NYC.
And then the trouble began.
The microphone worked, but the band’s sound failed. So she stood and waited.
“Where’s the music?” an impatient fan blurted out.
“It’s coming, bitch,” Lana snapped in a playfully bratty way. “Fucking technical difficulties up here.”
Moments later she launched into “Without You,” a wrenching, never-before-heard album cut from Born to Die, her highly anticipated major-label debut, due to be released on Interscope Records January 31. Rising to the occasion, she sounded ever more radiant as she ran through the spellbinding web hits “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans.”
As strong as her videos may be, with Lana it’s mostly the voice. Her haunting tones and evocative lyrics strike some powerful chords, but she doesn’t do much on stage besides sing. “My real fans know I’m not a showstopper on stage,” she’ll explain later. “I don’t have fucking circus lights. I just don’t care. My fans are there because they want to hear the record live. Everyone else is just there to see what happens.”
That “everyone else” would be Lana's infamous Internet audience—the folks who watch her clips over and over and then fill comment sections with snarky remarks about her lips, her hair, and all the personal business she puts into her music.
You keep telling me you love me and you don't even know me.
The press jumped on the bandwagon, dogging Lana even as they rode the wave of her rapid rise to stardom. Most reviews of her Bowery Ballroom show mistook her sarcastic banter for shrill scolding. Between songs Lana seemed emotionally naked, somewhere between self-effacing and insecure. Her nerves never showed during a song, but when the music stopped it was another story. Critics focused on that uneasiness.
“Shut up, shut up,” she said when the crowd’s applause seemed to last too long, as if unwilling to let the cheers wash over her.
“Lana, I love you,” screamed a fan, pronouncing her name wrong. “It’s Lon-ah,” she corrected, sounding like a girl telling a guy to slow down on the first date. “You keep telling me you love me and you don’t even know me.”
After the show, while she was greeting Interscope execs and staff, Lana was asked whether her “Aw shucks” persona was tongue in cheek. Did she really feel like the performance wasn’t worthy of all the love she got? “If I was dope I wouldn’t have said, ‘Shut up,’” she answered flatly. Of all the critics the singer has to please, none is tougher than she is on herself.