At an intimate concert in Minsk, Belarus on June 12, 2013 at Minsk Arena, Lana Del Rey was extra demure and understated in a retro long-sleeved dress the color of flesh and minimal makeup, except for the famous liner and nude lip. Her dark shiny hair was done in soft curls around her face and running down her neck. She looked as pretty as a doll and sounded just as perfect. She spent ample time taking pictures with fans on their phones, patiently asking which button to press, signing autographs, and collecting drawings and flowers from them throughout the whole night. Del Rey, indeed, was a pleasant surprise.
A lot has been written about Lana Del Rey, about her Lizzy Grant past, and her reinvention as a mysterious alter ego female singer who became a YouTube sensation in 2011. A lot of the stuff that has been written had little to do with the music. I don’t know a single song Justin Bieber has sung, but I totally agree with what he said while being booed at the 2013 Billboard Awards. It should really be about “the music… the craft”, and not about “all this other bull”. “Preach, Justin, preach”, I want to shout at the top of my lungs. Does anyone listen?
From that perspective I would like to conclude that Lana Del Rey live is an accomplished, well-rounded unique-sounding musician with a distinct style one can hear from miles away. She may not boast the genre variety or the vocal pyrotechnics other pop divas are known for, but she holds her own. Also, with her throwback beauty, it is absolutely impossible to look away from her. (And it has absolutely nothing to do with how rich her father is or how natural her pretty lips are.)
Her Paradise tour stop in Minsk was a pleasant, somewhat quiet evening of Del Rey’s music, strange yet engaging, like the singer herself. On a stage styled with plastic lions and palm trees, the American flag, and full of female violin players with colorful flowers in their hair, she looked happy, relaxed, girly, pretty, and graceful.
She sang confidently to slightly rockier, groovier arrangements of her hits, with harder beats. She did “Cola” and “Body Electric”, during which her face was rendered black-and-white on the screen, going in and out of focus, while photos of Elvis and Jesus were projected onto the stage curtains.
She looked at the crowd, cupping her hand over her eyebrows to see her fans better, and kept repeating how happy she was to be there. Before she performed another hit, she asked quietly, “Should we do ‘Blue Jeans’?” and the crowd went wild. It was cute.
Del Rey said she was recovering from an illness and that she missed the shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg (on doctor’s orders), so she was excited to play in Minsk. She asked her fans to sing along and help her. She coughed a few times in between notes and kept drinking throughout the show. Only fellow vocalists can understand what singing with a cold is like, and Del Rey did a great job. It looked a few times like she was experiencing discomfort because of the remains of the cold, but she sounded magnificent vocally throughout, with rich low notes and a breathier high register.
Then she performed “Carmen”, “Blue Velvet”, “Young and Beautiful”, as well as a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”. A video interlude followed that featured shots of Del Rey, dark ringlets flying in the wind, swinging on a tire in the middle of the desert, then working as a hooker, looking very much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. “I was always an unusual girl”, she cooed in her gentle voice over the video. And she truly is. If there is a performer that is difficult to define, it’s her.
After “Summertime Sadness”, “Burning Desire”, and her breakout hit “Video Games”, Del Rey sang the last song, “National Anthem”, while signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. Then very quietly she gathered all the fan gifts she got that night and simply left the stage. I have never seen anything like that in my entire life. No ovations, no long goodbyes, no gimmicks, nothing.
If concerts are supposed to be about music, Lana Del Rey’s show in Minsk was all about music. For a performer who is supposedly so fake, both her entrance and exit were so low-key it was eerie, almost ghostly. She may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but no one can argue that Lana Del Rey has a voice of her own in music. Good for her.