Lana Del Rey: the woman, the myth, the ... well, The Spin won’t go there just yet, though something about the 27-year-old singer-songwriter had teen females flocking to the Ryman for her sold-out show Friday night, her first in Nashville. And they came in droves — the “angel-headed hipsters,” the floral head-banded youth, that guy in slightly racist Native American garb that included fringe and an excessive feathered veil trailing down his back.
Del Rey has always been, how do we say this nicely ... enigmatic. Before the release of her second studio album Born to Die in 2012, she brought her low, throaty vocals to the SNL stage, a rough appearance that made her something of a punchline in American music and forced her to tour mainly in Europe. Despite her physical distance from American culture, however, New York-native Del Rey has found her niche in American mythology, from Ginsberg and Whitman to John Wayne and JFK. These not-so-subtle references lend her airy vocals a pretentious air. Walking into the Ryman and seeing the uncomfortably young, Coachella-esque audience Del Rey garnered, this effect was immediate. We at The Spin had to ask ourselves, “Do we look like that?”
After seeing opener and OURS frontman Jimmy Gnecco perform his melodramatic rock in leather bell-bottom pants, our answer was a resounding “Hell no.” Gnecco was the sort of opener you might expect Del Rey to have — sad and slow, with the obvious goal of promoting the mythic image of Del Rey as a trapped heroine (as underscored by his cringe-inducing song about Del Rey entitled “Fall Into My Hands," which includes the lyrics “If you think you were born to die, and that makes you not want to try”). Gnecco’s performance came off as insincere and unimpressive, compounded by the hokey palm trees and candles that were already set up for Del Rey’s set. And though the audience cheered whenever Gnecco mentioned Del Rey, they were noticeably disinterested the rest of the time.
The self-aware Del Rey fan would have reason to be a little nervous, yet when she took the stage at 9 p.m. in a white dress, the candles lit up the West Coast-themed stage, and suddenly everything fit. She crooned her first line, “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola,” and the effect was breathlessly cinematic. Gone was the golden-red-haired girl from that disastrous SNL performance who seemed to be trying too hard. In her place was the raven-haired, ethereally beautiful singer who fit perfectly on the Ryman stage — in character and yet utterly approachable.
Del Rey's voice affected an almost girlish tone both while speaking to the crowd and singing hits like “Summertime Sadness” and “Young and Beautiful,” straying from her much-parodied low husk. Del Rey devotes special attention to her music videos — often drawing on film noir and American symbolism to bring her unique vision of herself and pop culture to life — and it came as no surprise that this was heavily incorporated into her live show. Clips from her music videos flashed across the screen, morphing into one giant, hour-long montage.
For every song that immersed the audience in Del Rey’s beat gen, West Coast world, however, there were five minutes after nearly every song wherein Del Rey signed autographs and took selfies with her devoted fans. After the fourth or fifth time, these moments stopped being quirky and relatable and became distracting interruptions, as we watched Del Rey get a faceful of iPhones again and again and again. Sonically, though, she was surprisingly on point; all of the songs sounded similar to if not better than they did on the record. Del Rey performed her new single “West Coast” while sauntering across the stage barefoot — it was a fitting rendition that hinted at the good things possibly to come with her forthcoming album, scheduled for release in June. That album, her third, was recorded here in Nashville with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at his studio, Easy Eye Sound. Del Rey also paid homage to the Ryman — she said the Mother Church's stage is one on which she's always wanted to perform, and her "Body Electric" name-drops the Grand Ole Opry.
Del Rey’s music can inspire both nostalgia and cynicism, the latter of which isn't too tough to squash when you're playing her music in the car, alone, late at night. Her live show pulls the listener into her affected dream world, populated by the likes of Elvis and Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. When plunged back into real life, it's easy to get a bit of whiplash — but maybe, considering the fact that we allowed ourselves to be lost in it for an evening, we're not so different from those flower-crowned, angel-headed hipsters after all.