There hasn’t been a more divisive popstar to emerge this year than Lana Del Rey. As soon as the buzz around her debut single ‘Video Games’ began, so did the complaints from every naysayer on the internet: she’s not authentic (whatever that means); she’s a corporate puppet; she’s had surgery on her lips; she changed her name from the less glamorous Lizzy Grant, etc. But for all the talk, there’s one thing that’s impossible to argue with – the twenty-five year old New Yorker has that indefinable quality that transforms a good singer into a genuine star. Of course, it helps that her songs are often very beautiful, showcasing her extraordinarily deep, rich and expressive voice, and her image, whether it be manufactured or otherwise, perfectly captures the zeitgeist: retro, cool, and a little bit heartbroken.
Tonight’s UK live debut at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge has been sold out for weeks, which is pretty astonishing when you consider that Del Rey has just one single to her name. Yet the atmosphere is fervent, with one man at the bar overheard telling his friend: “I can’t remember being so excited for a gig, ever”. The stage setup is certainly eye-catching, with vintage video footage (of the sort beloved by the likes of SUmmer Camp) projected onto a giant white globe at the side of the stage and another near the back of the room). And when Del Rey finally appears, clad all in white, smiling shyly and blowing kisses, the reception which greets her can only be described as ecstatic.
It doesn’t really seem to matter that Del Rey doesn’t seem to do much on stage – simply swaying a bit and glancing at the audience is enough to produce whistles and cheers (and those much-remarked upon lips look a lot less prominent up close). Considering she hasn’t played many shows, the band are impressively tight and Del Rey’s voice, in spite of worrying rumours of laryngitis before the gig, proves mightily impressive. Despite her nerves and for all the internet’s carping, it’s immediately apparent that the woman has genuine talent.
It’s a short set with only eight songs, with the standouts undoubtedly the familiar ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Video Games’. The former in particular sounds absolutely stunning, a lovelorn anthem straight out of a lost David Lynch film that could well end up being one of the best songs of the year (and one we should make the most of while we can, as we’ll be sick to death of it next year when it’s being covered by every ‘X Factor’ hopeful going). ‘Video Games’ is the one that everybody’s been waiting for though, and Del Rey bravely decides not to leave it ’til the end of the set. Naturally, it’s sung along to word-for-word by the audience, with what seems like a million smartphones all held up to record the moment. Del Rey seems a bit taken aback by the reaction, grinning shyly and saying (not for the first time), “You guys are so sweet.”
Of the rest of her songs none are quite as memorable as those two, although ‘You Can Be The Boss’ shuffles along nicely and set closer ‘Off To The Races’ boasts a half-spoken verse and a chorus that hints her upcoming debut album may be a bit more upbeat than the collection of lovelorn ballads that most seem to be be expecting. There’s no encore, and after just forty-five minutes the house lights are up. Perhaps a calculated move to leave us wanting more, or perhaps she simply doesn’t have the material; either way, it’s a tantalisingly brief suggestion Lana Del Rey might just live up to the hype after all.