It seems that one of the most, or rather only positive thing the Italian government did for the country’s youth in the last few years was giving us all a grant of 500 euros to spend on cultural events upon turning eighteen. I received mine in December 2017 and proceeded to buy a VIP ticket to Lana Del Rey’s concert in Milan. Do I regret spending 205,83 euros for what turned out to be one of the worst concerts I’ve been to? No, not really, and I have two main reasons.
First, most of my friends back home are either pretentious indieheads or pretentious metalheads who strongly maintain that Lana Del Rey’s music is rubbish, but have never listened to one of her albums. As an opinionated indiehead myself – who all the same chose to give her music a try – I felt a desperate need to prove them wrong. I still remember the first time I listened to Kill Kill, her first EP, right before seeing her trying (yes, trying, because I’ve never seen anyone so high on national television) to introduce the 2012 MTV EMA’s Best Female Artist: she wasn’t the typical copy-pasted alt-pop musician. Instead, she was what I still believe to be a fully respectable, talented songwriter and deserved, as Italians would say, “un giudizio rotondo e completo” – basically, a decent review. Second, I had never seen a concert from what my dear friend Lorenzo would consider a “bourgeois viewpoint”, and the seat I bought made the experience feel all the more like an assignment than anything else.
Her audience is 15 to 20-year-old intellectual-chic girls, loud boys, childish parents and an old man in flamboyant dress
So, on the April 11th I took a train to the very cold Milan, then jumped on a metro for which I had paid the wrong amount, only to find myself six hours early at the Assago Forum. Queueing under persistent and merciless showers far from mere British drizzle just to discover that I had to wait until 6pm to redeem my ticket, I finally managed to make it to the venue, trembling, two hours later. I soon realised not only that what I thought would be an excellent spot was hardly as comfortable as I envisioned, but also that attending concerts unaccompanied can feel lonely. I looked around to get an idea of her audience: 15 to 20-year-old intellectual-chic girls, loud boys, childish parents and one old man, in flamboyant dress.
A fairly nervous Cat Power began the concert, but remained largely ignored by the crowd, who were expecting Kali Uchis as the opening act but instead received the everlasting erotic dream of most ex-grungers. Upon her exit, backstage staff hoisted up a black curtain masking the main stage to reveal what could be defined as a kitsch of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western movie sets. It took me a while to figure out where the ominous figure stood: Lana Del Rey (real name Elizabeth Grant) in all her glory, dressed in black from head to toe like a fourteen-year-old teenager trying much too hard and flanked by her band, as well as two teetering dancers.
As conceited as she may seem (or the media has often portrayed her to be) she acted with incredible respect and humility towards her fans, engaging with them enthusiastically in a way that appeared genuine. Del Rey agreed to perform ‘Salvatore’, a song from Honeymoon which she hadn’t rehearsed in months, and gave the audience an acoustic rendition of ‘Yayo’ on the guitar. Taking time to explain the narratives behind some of her works, she later took out a quarter of an hour to speak to those who camped for two days outside the stadium with the hope of meeting their heroine.
Lana Del Rey is a multifaceted vocalist whose concerts are memorable because of an impressive artistry in storytelling
The original setlist included the tracks we all know – ‘Born to Die’, ‘Video Games’, ‘Blue Jeans’ – and then a few songs from her more recent albums Ultraviolence, Honeymoon and Lust for Life. She’s a great singer, and not even the evident playback nor the technical problems managed to persuade me of the contrary. But Lana Del Rey just wasn’t born to be an entertainer, and that this is the case is no issue – but it is something to come to terms with. We don’t need another one-dimensional Taylor Swift or Katy Perry; we need a multifaceted vocalist whose concerts are memorable because of their work and an impressive artistry in storytelling, not because of their abilities as a skilled entertainer. The only thing Del Rey might need is a screening of music video clips during her performance, or a more discreet band, or in an exceptional case, an orchestra. What I witnessed, though, was something close to chaos and I left with this rather than the virtues of her show in mind.
Still, why did I care so much about undertaking this mission? What is it that compelled a black indie kid who grew up listening to old-school hip-hop, grunge and lo-fi to present herself at a Lana Del Rey concert? Each time I try to answer this question I am caught up in a flood of reasons which would take at least three additional pages to be adequately addressed. Pretentiousness aside, I’ll sum up succinctly by mimicking Montaigne: “because it was her music, because it was I”. Falling for Lana Del Rey’s music was a purely contingent occurrence, the birth of a love-hate relationship which, just like friendship, goes beyond rational account. Should I surrender to the idea that being compatible with the music of a controversial artist, and controversial human being, was probably just a miserable crusade of a sensitive individual? Perhaps.