Lana del Rey’s Melancholy Empire


One thing is clear about Lana del Rey: the fans who love her, really love her. Last Wednesday, 22,000 of them packed into Shoreline Amphitheater to watch their idol drift around on stage and listen to her hypnotic, sultry voice. Teenage girls wearing flower crowns shrieked the second they could make out her figure on stage: “She’s so stunning!” “Queen!” Two giant screens projected black-and-white close ups of her face, and the crowd squealed every time she smiled or bat her eyes. At one point, when she stopped singing for a few measures just to laugh, the whole amphitheater momentarily seemed to lose its mind.

The fans at the concert were a varied bunch, though the average age of the concertgoers I saw hovered somewhere around mine. Sitting in my sneakers, jeans, and sweaters, I watched girls flit by me in chunky black heels and high-waisted shorts. A duo with matching yoga pant bellbottoms and flowy white blouses stood in front of me, and a girl to my left with perfectly curled blonde hair pursed scarlet-tinted lips around a blunt and laughed in a way that has been captured “candidly” in many a profile picture. What brought us all together was an excitement to hear Lana sing.

For the last few years I have listened to – and thoroughly enjoyed – Lana’s music. It’s what I used to play in my freshman dorm room as I wallowed in the misery of being new at Stanford and missing my then-boyfriend, and what my friends and I played driving down the Southern California coast during our freshmen spring break as we reflected on our rapidly changing lives. Now, listening to the same songs gives me a nostalgic taste of that time and those people.

For all of her adoring fans, there are plenty of people who don’t love Lana. Many have accused her of being anti-feminist, and lyrics from the title track of her new album, Ultraviolence, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss,” had critics saying that she condoned domestic violence. She has also received criticism from Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Kurt Cobain and the opener of this particular show, Courtney Love, for glorifying the death of young artists. It’s hard to tell if her fanbase has internalized these ideas, ignored them, or forgiven her for them because they like everything else about her enough.

Personally, I find Lana’s songs – even the most melancholy, desperate ones – oddly empowering. I get that, “I’m nothing without you,” is probably not a great message to send about relationships. And yet, have I felt exactly that? Yes. And when I did, did listening to “Without You” make me feel a little better? Absolutely. Maybe it’s the sensuality in her voice that grants a certain confidence to even the most feeble pleas, maybe it’s the unapologetic way she sings, “Fuck yeah, give it to me, this is heaven, what I truly want, this innocence lost,” or maybe it’s just the unashamed vulnerability of telling the world about her love and her heartbreak. Whatever it is, it’s magnetic – and despite any problems I might have with some of her messages, I haven’t been able to pull myself away from it yet.

Her live performance was better than her ill-fated Saturday Night Live appearance a few years ago had led me to expect. She made the crowd want to move their hips or – in the case of the couple in front of me – lie down on the grass and makeout. And yet, I yearned for the haunting quality of her recordings that I have come to rely on to replace pictures that I’ve long since deleted. She sang nonchalantly, meandering around the stage and pausing to let the music play while her fans crooned the lyrics for her. Breezing through songs that I have listened to on repeat over the last few years, she left no time to process my feelings or revel in my favorite lines.

It might be my fault that I was underwhelmed by the concert. I hadn’t come to see my queen. I had come to tap into my own vulnerability and nostalgia, which, it turns out, is not super easy to do in a sea of strangers. Though she sang well and performed a lot of her biggest hits,  I accepted that in that setting, I wasn’t going to be moved in any real way. Instead, sitting in the dark car on the way home, looking out the window, I turned on Born to Die.

Photo courtesy of here.

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