Pop music had never seen anything quite like Lana Del Rey when she materialised in the Instagram-haze of Video Games in 2011. Her references were cinematic rather than from rock ‘n roll, with David Lynch’s vision of small town America as a liminal otherworld looming especially large. She induced goose-bumps but gave you the shivers too.
Initially it seemed to add up to a diverting yet ultimately insubstantial parlour trick. However, Del Rey's inscrutable persona has proved remarkably enduring. She affirms the point at Malahide with a performance by turns intense, playful and quietly riotous.
Just as striking is the fervour of her audience. As she makes her entrance under a hazy summer sun, cooing the opening lines of Born To Die, it is as minor, but beloved, pop royalty. Later, she sets off on a meet-and-greet, posing for selfies with uber-fans up the front and popping on the heart-shaped sunglasses one devotee presents as gift. It’s her birthday, as it happens, and inevitably the crowd belts out its salutations.
I couldn't help but be moved by traditional Irish songs
Del Rey sings like a sad cheerleader and her music can brim with pathos. But she embraces the artifice of pop as well. Huge potted plants line the stage; two backing singers grin cheesily. At one point she conjures – presumably unwittingly – with the still uneasy ghost of Maria Bailey-gate by warbling on a swing (wisely both hands are empty). Her frilly white outfit, for its part, looks as if it has escaped from a walk-in wardrobe at Graceland. Everything is fantastically heightened.
She has never courted the celebrity-sphere and has only given a handful of interviews. Which is probably why those few moments in which she has stepped outside her Jackie Onassis-goes-to-Eurovision image have prompted such hysteria. There was that (now resolved) plagiarism spat with Radiohead over her ballad Get Free.
And she has a surprise cameo in Moby's recently memoir Then It Fell Apart ( the one in which he claimed to have dated Natalie Portman - news to us all, especially Natalie Portman). Moby recalls inviting the then unknown Del Rey back to his wiz-bang apartment to play some of her songs for him. She tells him he is "literally the Man" – the pale, male avatar of the corporate music industry.
The anecdote offered a glimpse of a fiery wit behind the Gothic Prom Queen. There are glimmerings of the artist born Elizabeth Grant and raised in comfortably middle-class upstate New York at Malahide, too.
“I couldn’t help but be moved by traditional Irish songs,” she says, explaining she has brushed up on her folk music that morning. “It makes so much sense . . . that folk storytelling.”
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls artifice, it’s also worth noting, Del Rey is a songwriter of considerable depth (she reveals her sixth album, the wonderfully named Norman F***ing Rockwell, will be released two months hence). Nobody coos as terrifyingly as Del Rey, as she demonstrates on Blue Jeans and National Anthem. A Neverland USA of hot-rods, bad boys and lost girls meanwhile shines through White Mustang. And Video Games, delivered from that swing, is a perfectly realised rush of melancholia and borrowed nostalgia, with Del Rey seeming to pine for a lost America she never experienced first hand.
Darkness is stealing in as she reaches for perhaps her bleakest anthem. Summertime Sadness locates an emotion we all recognise but most of us have never articulated. Del Rey’s paean to feeling moochy on a blazing hot day spirals through the dusk. Here and elsewhere the Lynchian uncanniness never fully retreats. Yet with Del Rey as our spirit guide we know we’re in safe hands.