Nélida Nassar 07.14.2013
At Byblos International Festival, Lana Del Rey appeared in a gauzy, angelic, sleeveless white dress with a back cut out panel. Sporting a tiara, a matching necklace and bracelet, she looked like a Phoenician goddess emerging from the waters of this ancestral city. Del Rey’s auburn was coiffed and curled into soft waves, with minimal make-up completing her smart look. The Video Games singer also displayed a delicate tattoo on her left hand, a curled script of the word ‘paradise’ – the title of her latest album. Del Ray’s performance did not focus solely on her singing talents but offered a full package of sumptuous music, evocative images and great poise.
The stage was highly poetic nothing to do with the elaborate stage set of her European tour, an art deco reconstitution of The Great Gatsby. At Byblos all coalesced around her, the musicians of her minimal and closely knit band, consisting of three violinists, a cellist – all women, with flowers behind their ears – a guitarist and two keyboardists were elegantly placed, and performing superbly. The most striking element was the transformative video screen. Surely, I cannot call it a piece of art per se but it was almost one! It consisted of a transparent rectangular mesh field that morphed into a highly lyrical landscape close-up, where one could discern the Byblos citadel in the background. The millennium rocks surrounding the citadel were in the middle ground, and a tree coming out of the rocks splitting in third the screen in the foreground. These three tableaux could be seen as one or as three distinct experiences, highlighted by ingenious lighting. The image of the landscape dissipated when the expertly staged You-Tube videos, evocative images accompanying her songs were projected, or when various fluorescent kaleidoscopic and LED lights by multi-color smokes illuminated the stage.
Del Rey’s first breakthrough is as recent as 2011. Formerly known as Lizzie Grant, she was transformed from an aspirant singer-songwriter that embellished her songs into a glitzy retro-fitted sixties-revisited performer, turned from sweet and airy into sultry and dark, named Lana del Rey, by none other than the record industry. However, Del Rey’s debut, Born to Die, has sold over 3.5m albums.
A lover of Nabokov’s Lolita, of extracts from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Esther and Jerry Hicks’ Ask and it is Given, the singer claims that after reading them, they just changed everything for her. Her artistic influences include Allen Ginsberg, Elvis Presley, Britney Spears, Nina Simone, Nirvana, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan. Yet, the 26-year-old music is noted for cinematic sound. Del Rey shines in her latest movie hit Young and Beautiful for Baz Lurhrmann’s soundtrack of The Great Gatsby, and it is not surprising. The film is an adaptation of a classic American novel about excess, glamour and reinvention – including images of surfing, Coney Island, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe – not unlike Del Rey’s many personas.
She began her 50 minutes show saying that she perceived her Byblos fans’ energy as metaphysical, to follow immediately with her already famous lyrics of Cola, a track the audience had memorized, singing along with her. Del Rey, continued with some of her greatest hits like Ride and Blue Jeans, and excerpts from her latest album Paradise. She would sing with a so-called sad core soul, paired with mournful, poignant lyrics, then switch gutturally to singing several octaves lower, and adopts characters, also throwing in some Spanish. At a certain point, she disappeared behind the stage to reappear smoking a cigarette – seemingly casual, every frame of eerily nostalgic vibe projected onto the giant screens was staged with precision. Lana remained poised; the performance was remarkably controlled while her fans’ camera phones kept recording high in the air. From time to time, she would step down from the stage getting close to them, signing autographs for the ones on the first rows, the lucky few.
Summertime Sadness followed her sullen rendition of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Del Rey paused to express her emotions on how special it was to sing Summertime Sadness overlooking the sea in Byblos. After an enthusiastic reaction to Video Games, her overwhelming finale consisting of her contribution to the Gatsby soundtrack Young and Beautiful sounded glorious. But then Del Rey hastily abandoned the stage, without performing an encore despite cheers for more, ushered out into a convoy of three black security cars, away from her adoring dozens of admirers. The concert was far from perfect; there are missteps, missed notes, moments of nonchalance, unfulfilled expectations. But, it evidently is an impact show.
Who is Lana del Rey really? She dredges up those age-old questions surrounding authenticity in art: Can she really sing? Is she a true artist with a real vision? Or is she just a puppet of the record label? Is she a brilliantly marketed product? Does she write her own lyrics? Is she inspired by the blissful consumerism of the 1960s? Whatever the case may be and against all odds, “the torch singer of the Internet” has the power to assert her character and to metamorphose herself several times over, drawing millions in record sales achieving an iconic pop culture status for the idealistic, romantic and narcissistic Millennial/Y generation.