Lana Del Rey review, Glastonbury 2023: A promising performance with a devastating end

What would have been a triumphant, career-spanning set for the US artist is cut all too short

Ben Bryant
Sunday 25 June 2023 09:21 BST
Fans serenade Lana Del Rey with 'Video Games' after Glastonbury set cut short

The power has been cut. Lana Del Rey stares helplessly out over the crowd and drops to her knees. It’s midnight, and she has 30 minutes’ worth of songs left in her set. She hasn’t even played her biggest hit, “Video Games”. It’s a disaster. Surely they’ll let her play one more song?

This is the chaos the US artist and her fans find themselves in, just 14 songs into her show on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival. But it’s fair to say the omens were never good.

In the months leading up to Del Rey’s performance, Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis apologised for this year’s all-male headline acts: Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses, and Elton John. The controversy snowballed when Del Rey herself waded into the fray, apparently slighted by her closing slot on the Other Stage – and the festival’s failure to put her near the top of its poster (with the exception of the headliners, they were billed in alphabetical order).

“Well, I’m actually headlining the second stage,” the 38-year-old wrote on Instagram. “But since there was no consideration for announcing that, we’ll see.”

Tonight, Del Rey chooses not to address the controversy – but neither is she clear about what has delayed her by 30 minutes, throwing the concert in jeopardy. So was it worth the wait?

Del Rey is known for the tenderness and vulnerability of her music, but she is also possessed with a remarkable resilience and resolve, and her set showcases this determination with a drive to break past the curfew and play some of the darker cuts from her repertoire.

She opens with the achingly cool “A&W”, which glimmers and throbs with mystery and malice. It’s taken from her most recent album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard, another well-received collection of songs written largely with Bleachers frontman and regular Taylor Swift collaborator, Jack Antonoff.

In a black trench coat and long train set with gems that gleam like the night sky, a jewelled tiara on her head, Del Rey shimmers across a stage set with candles and billowing with dry ice. There is a touch of Phantom of the Opera to the setting, but the camp is dissipated by the tenderness of Del Rey’s elegiac songs.

Her voice sounds gentle on “Young and Beautiful”. Having swapped her trademark stage cigarette for a red vape pen, she changes her outfit to white for “Bartender”, from her acclaimed sixth studio album Norman F***ing Rockwell! This is a career-spanning set, featuring the welcome inclusion of “Cherry” from 2017’s Lust for Life.

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Lana Del Rey went down to the barriers to apologise to her fans after her set was cut short by Glastonbury organisers
Lana Del Rey went down to the barriers to apologise to her fans after her set was cut short by Glastonbury organisers (BBC)

“Pretty When You Cry” is a surprise choice from 2014’s Ultraviolence, but one that is made memorable for its Virgin Suicides-style shot of Del Rey and her backing dancers draped over each other on the floor. The loudest cheers from the audience are reserved for the tracks from her second studio album, 2012’s Born To Die. The soaring title track is followed by “Blue Jeans”, which thunders out over the Other stage so loudly that Del Rey appears to shed a tear afterwards. “Thank you so much,” she says softly.

Blowing a kiss to the crowd, she announces that she has no plans to go quietly. “I’m so f***ing annoyed that we have to rush this set,” she says. “If they cut power they cut power. Let’s keep this set as it’s supposed to go.”

With that she launches into “Candy Necklace”, a pretty ballad from Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard, while standing barefoot at the piano. The highlight of the evening comes next as, as she surprises fans with “Ultraviolence” played in its entirety. This appears to include the controversial line, “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”, despite earlier rumours that she planned on cutting it from live shows.

A false start on “White Mustang” – another unusual choice from Lust For Life – leads to a fresh start. But it’s over soon after it restarts thanks to the unforgiving power cut. Del Rey – clearly annoyed and upset – leads the crowd in an a capella rendition of “Video Games” that is as good as she can hope for – but it is still a shadow of the original.

It seems she can’t catch a break, and there’s no escaping the reality that this is a disappointing end to a promising performance. There appears to be little leeway for artists who want to play on past curfew at the Other Stage. Had she been headlining the Pyramid stage – well, who knows what would have happened...

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