Lana Del Rey at Coachella review – a disappointingly lifeless start to the festival

<span>Lana Del Rey performing in 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Samir Hussein/WireImage</span>
Lana Del Rey performing in 2023.Photograph: Samir Hussein/WireImage

The cliche image of Lana Del Rey – flower crown, heart-shaped sunglasses, Lolita pout – matches the cliche of a Coachella girl. Both Del Rey and the festival saw a peak in the mid-2010s, during the early years of influencer culture excess. So it makes sense that Coachella’s golden girl would headline … even though, in 2024, Del Rey doing so feels about a decade too late.

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Indeed, Del Rey first played Coachella exactly 10 years to the day before Friday’s opening night performance, as she proudly told the crowd. This time, she rode in on a biker motorcade, clad in a baby blue sequin dress, smiling and waving like the beauty queens she’s prone to singing about. It was ambitious, lively crowd work – literal momentum to started the show off right. But then she opened her mouth.

Del Rey has become an icon for the dour and terminally online, in no small part to her well-known shtick: being too cool and half there. Unfortunately, her signature laconic delivery just didn’t work for such a big stage, and came off as unprepared rather than unbothered.

Ongoing mic problems plagued her set the whole way through, causing awkward stops, starts and moments where she just motioned for the singing crowd to pick up the slack for her.

Her pitchy, faltering vocals were reminiscent of her disastrous 2012 Saturday Night Live performance, sometimes dubbed the worst in the show’s history. (Whether or not that dubious distinction is fair or not is an argument for another day.) Back then, critics tore her vacant, yet somehow also trying-too-hard, turn to shreds. Del Rey has redeemed herself in the years since via some very good music, and enough time has passed that she can joke about the fiasco.

While driving into town, I noticed that Del Rey poked fun at the SNL mishap on a billboard that referenced its airdate. I assume it was supposed to be a joke intended to show how far she’s come. Instead, I fear it served as an omen.

Was this a headline act, or a hostage-proof-of-life video? A woman standing next to me and I burst out laughing at Del Rey’s lifeless delivery of the Summertime Sadness opening line “I’m feeling electric tonight” because, well, clearly she was not. Background dancers gave their all behind her, landing balletic, lyrical moves. At one point, when she attempted to artfully drape herself over one, it looked as if she might fall asleep right there.

Del Rey maintained her capacity to surprise, though. Just when it felt as if she hit peak indifference watching, stalking around the stage and mumbling lyrics as if she had nothing better to do with her time, she transitioned into a segment where she lay on the stage and sang, straight up bed-rotting her way though Coachella.

It’s bad luck Del Rey had so many issues with her mic. But she can’t blame the lackluster scene on technical difficulties alone. When she brought out guest stars Jon Batiste and Billie Eilish, or even duetted with her background singers, their voices sounded rich and full, while hers sounded like what you hear at sorority karaoke night. The audience stayed polite, and diehard fans were going to have a good time anyway. About 20 minutes into the show, however, attendees started to leave early, and this stream of quitters did not end.

Much of the audience hemorrhaged by the time that Eilish, Del Rey’s rumored and hotly anticipated main special guest, came out. That’s a shame, because their performance of Video Games proved to be the highlight. Del Rey gushed over Eilish, calling her “the voice of a generation”. And Eilish gave us the line of the day when she pointed to Del Rey, the OG flower crown influencer, and said: “This is the reason for half of you bitches’ existence.”