The “Summertime Sadness” of Lana Del Rey

9 Jun

Concertpalooza 2015 got off to a terrific start on May 31, thanks to the generosity of our friends who had tickets to Lana Del Rey they couldn’t use. Off to the rain-sodden DTE Energy Music Theater we went, my younger daughter and I, thrilled to see one of our favorites from the fourth row.

Lana Del Rey - 2

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

Lana Del Rey used to perform under her given name, Lizzie Grant, but changed it to be more in line with the noirish Hollywood image she cultivates. Her look is very feminine: chiffon, liquid eyeliner, long hair and nails. Her multi-octave voice juices her ethereal, whiskey sour sound. In most of her work, she chronicles a doomed combination of attraction and danger when it comes to men. “Off to the Races” is a love song sung from a jail cell to a seedy older guy with a gambling habit and a “cocaine heart.” She excerpts The Crystals’ “He hit me and it felt like a kiss” in her lyrics for “Ultraviolence.” She even gives over to her boyfriend’s passion for Springsteen and video games.

It’s as if Carole King scored David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

The staging for her Endless Summer tour amplifies this, with the singer framed by two listing skyscrapers towering over a sign spelling her name in high-watt bulbs. The video footage on screens around the stage – of flowers, a car wreck, even Del Rey herself – shifted between black and white and the burnt rust and ocher of the cover of a pulp novel. Smoke furling around them, she and her four-piece band were mesmerizing.

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

I appreciate her daring disregard for what a modern woman is supposed to express. Her persona survives more than lives, loving whatever her boyfriend loves without question, molding herself to whatever shape her lover demands. She also appreciates her fans a great deal, to the point of stopping the show twice to go into the general admission area to pose for selfies and sign autographs. This struck my daughter as sweet, although it made me wonder why she couldn’t have just sung a couple extra numbers and stuck around after the show instead.

However, Del Rey’s obsession with death and “Summertime Sadness” raises concern and criticism in the press. (This is someone whose two big albums are Born to Die and Ultraviolence, after all.) When she capped her admiration for Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain to a British interviewer last summer by saying, “I wish I was dead already,” Frances Bean Cobain challenged her, saying “the death of young musicians isn’t something to romanticize.” It doesn’t help that Del Rey comes off as a bit flippant, making me shake my head as she considers feminism as merely being able to do what you want to do as a woman and otherwise “not an interesting concept.”

Clearly I don’t know her personally, so I don’t know whether she’s dealing with personal demons or shrugging off philosophical discussions to focus on her music. I also have to ask myself if quotes like this get hyped in the press because she’s a female singer who doesn’t do shiny, wildly costumed and choreographed pop.

Setting aside what may or may not be her personal foibles, Lana Del Rey is uniquely engaging because she isn’t out to be a role model, or empowering, or even fun, which isn’t what many would expect of a young female singer.  That’s what makes her appeal equally to jaded concert-goers like me and upbeat, well-adjusted young fans in flower crowns like my daughter:

See you on the flip side …

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4 Responses to “The “Summertime Sadness” of Lana Del Rey”

  1. Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews) June 9, 2015 at 8:19 am #

    I do enjoy her music, but I feel there’s a superficiality there that she passes off as profound philosophy. Like a junior high theater kid who discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for the first time.

    >

    • lpon45 June 9, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      I wouldn’t disagree. She’s more about creating a mood than making a statement. And she comes off as very young – I was surprised that she’s 29.

    • Jason Wolpertinger Wendleton June 12, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

      Oh, man you nailed it. She’s like that kid who READ THE BACK of “Philosophy and The Matrix” and now feels super-deep.

  2. Jason Wolpertinger Wendleton June 12, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    I really want to love her…but her whole persona is so off-putting. Surely she is trolling us, right? Still, I’ve nearly purchased tickets to see her twice. That coca-cola song is a classic “WTF” kind of song I can really get behind.

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