Lana Del Rey returned to the BB&T Center on her LA to the Moon Tour Thursday night. A grateful mob of mostly women fawned over her every move. At the outset, it was a challenge to comprehend this fanaticism, but by evening’s end, it was plain to see what fuels her lust for life and fans' lust for her.
The set was adorned with palm trees, grassy boulders, and the blue glow of faux moonlight. A black-and-white video looped waves crashing against cliffs and the shoreline. It seemed the perfect setting for a pair of doomed teenage lovers necking in a 1952 Bel Air or a murder in a Raymond Chandler novel. When Del Rey emerged, garbed in a plunging yet simple black top, black leather miniskirt, and thigh-high black vinyl boots, she appeared the sort of beautiful that never felt too unattainable or detached from her fans.
Del Rey won over her crowd again and again (not that it was needed). Every breath, every turn, every utterance elicited the kind of ear-shattering, piercing shrieks that are usually reserved for boy bands. Just when you allowed yourself to be taken over by the smoky and somber atmospherics, the shrill cries of a sorority girl screaming the name of a completely different song yanked you right out of it.
During “Pretty When You Cry,” Del Rey and her back-up singers became land-based mermaids swaying on the ground in the imaginary blackness and depths of that same ocean, the monochrome grays of the overhead screens completing the desired effect. For the duration of the concert, she drowned her audience in melancholy, and they smiled in return, the bubbles escaping from their lips as they mouthed all the lyrics.
From “Blue Jeans” to “Born to Die,” the song structures and tones didn’t vary wildly, so for the casual, outside observer, it could be difficult to determine the difference between one song and the next. This is bedroom music, lounge music, music to fuck to or music for when you’ve been fucked over. In fact, at one point she asked, “Can you believe we’re playing such a big stage?” incredulous herself. At first, an arena seems like the worst place for a Lana Del Rey show, like it might rob her of some of her aura.
Then began a slow realization.
Her song “God Bless America — and All the Beautiful Women In It” is not the patriotic lullaby it appears to be. It’s a celebration of her and all the women like her — i.e., all the women in attendance. The dance routine for “Off to the Races” was a combination of sexy doo-wop girl-group moves and cheerleader-turned-exotic-dancer, incorporating any number of identities.
“Music to Watch Boys To,” ironically, perfectly sums up her fandom. “I live to love you, and I love to love you,” she crooned. She was speaking not to a boy, but to the fans.
There’s something about Lana Del Rey, in her body language, that hints at a sort of shyness, that perhaps she’s more reserved than half the women in the audience. This is a reluctant pop star who wants and has it all but is also burdened with all of the hangups and insecurities of any number of her fans.
Apologies for the psychoanalysis, but it’s almost necessary when attempting to understand her appeal. Lana Del Rey is the Everywoman; she’s fragile and occasionally broken yet strong and talented enough to become everything she is today. Perhaps more impressive is she can sing about sadness in a way that makes people cheer rather than shrink and weep.
Perhaps what’s most striking is how normal she comes across. Beyoncé is not a human being, and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is a whirlwind maniac. Del Rey is easy to relate to not only because of her dark, damaged lyrics, but also for her affability and vulnerability.
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Her Betty Boop with a drug habit and penchant for bikers is less a mask and more a manifestation of a collective group of fantasies and timidities. She’s the pretty waitress humming to herself at the diner one minute and escaping her trappings the next. She’s the shining example of what’s possible for mortals.
The culminating moment, the one that brought everything full circle, was the full five minutes she spent chatting, hugging, kissing, and taking selfies with fans in the front row. She was sweet and laughed sincerely. All of a sudden, it made complete sense.
There might be a day when Lana Del Rey is not a star, and if that day comes, she’s the sort of person who will both miss the limelight and be simultaneously thankful for what she has achieved.
Flower crowns and floral print dresses aren’t for everyone, but it is easy to be sucked into this cult, easy to ascribe all of these positive characteristics to Del Rey.