Yes, Lana Del Rey’s Headlining Coachella Set Was Perplexing — And Profound

Not only did Lana Del Rey start her Coachella headlining set early, but her entry was epic. 

On Friday, April 12, at 11:16 p.m. the festival main stage screens showed an aerial view of Del Rey and her entourage rapidly approaching. As she neared, it became clear her crew was not rolling up on the expected golf carts that often shuttle stars around the Indio, Calif. fest, but rather motorcycles. And as a snippet of her never-to-be-officially-released song “Jealous Girl” played – with the lyric “Baby, I’m a gangster too” on loop – Del Rey’s motorcade took a lap through the crowd as she smiled and waved to the thousands of fans gathered for this very moment.

“What’s up, Coachella,” she asked casually, after making her way to center stage and offering a small smile before performing “Without You” into a fusion of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” with “Summertime Sadness.” “I’m so happy to be here,” she added with another faint, and even briefer, smile. But keep in mind, this is Lana Del Rey – sad girl pop president and eternally committed to the bit, whether she’s headlining Coachella or not.

As such, her demeanor matched the elaborate set design that looked much like a dilapidated version of the Gatsby Mansion long after it had thrown its last party. Making it, of course, the perfect imaginary scene for Del Rey to host a late-night shindig of her own complete with a swing band and roaring 20s-inspired backup dancers.

Early into the set, Del Rey noted that she last played Coachella “exactly 10 years ago to the day” (during which she debuted single “West Coast”), before softly speak-singing, “We’re still doing it.” Yet, it’s not the fact that she is still here a decade in that’s impressive, but more so that she is still entirely and unapologetically herself after so many years – or at least, that the persona of Lana Del Rey is still so intact. In fact, across her nine studio albums, Del Rey has seemingly become even more herself, taking bigger experimental swings and offering longer, more eyebrow-raising track titles along the way. 

And tonight, her headlining set seemed to be a quiet celebration of such, during which Del Rey sauntered across the stage performing career-spanning hits that, in a festival setting like Coachella, felt almost like underground gems that she was carefully unearthing. Even the expected “headliner stunts” were delivered with a delicate touch: She performed “Ride” while slowly spinning from within a circular, leaf-covered swing; delivered a gorgeous a cappella rendition of “The Grants” alongside her trio of backup singers; and, most notably of all, sang “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It” via hologram accompanied by collaborator and close friend Jack Antonoff on piano, who co-produced the track. (Earlier in the night, she was joined by Jon Batiste on piano for an extended version of “Candy Necklace.”)

The hologram – though a bit morbid, especially considering the lyric, “Hello, it’s the most famous woman you know on the iPad/Calling from beyond the grave” – perfectly punctuated the spirit of the set. As evidenced by her closing song selection of “Young and Beautiful” (which was prominently used in The Great Gatsby), it became increasingly clear that Del Rey had come to make a statement.

As she sings on “Young and Beautiful: “I’ve seen the world, done it all, had my cake now. I’ve seen the world, lit it up as my stage now.” All the while, the song’s primary question loomed: “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” 

Earlier in the night, Billie Eilish delivered an affirmative answer. 

Following online rumors that the superstar would be making a guest appearance during Del Rey’s set (an artist Eilish has long been a fan of), she appeared toward its end atop the arched trellis to duet on “Ocean Eyes” and “Video Games” with Del Rey. After the two were done, they sat a moment longer, seeming genuinely stunned by one another’s presence. “Get the f–k out of my face,” laughed Eilish, speaking to her hero. 

“Yep, that’s the voice of your generation, the voice of our generation,” replied Del Rey. “I”m so f—ing grateful she’s standing next to me right now.” To which Eilish replied: “This is the reason for half you b—-es existence, including mine.” 

That simple sentence cut to the core of the evening. Sure, the set was spotty at parts – with moments of darkness and silence in between many songs and a handful of issues with mic volume, all of which Del Rey audibly called out. And yes, Del Rey’s soft-spoken tendencies on and off stage may have not made her the most obvious headlining act to kick-off Coachella. But it’s her impact that remains undeniable. 

But don’t take my word for it, take it from “the voice of our generation.” The artist who we may not have had it not been for an artist like Lana Del Rey doing what she has and will always do best: being Lana Del Rey.

As she delivered the final note of “Young and Beautiful,” the band picked up steam and her dancers reappeared with champagne bottles in hand as fireworks exploded into the night sky – all the makings of a signature Gatsby blowout. And as Del Rey rode off on motorcycle, just as she came in, the party on stage continued long after she was gone. And that’s the point. 

Her undeniable impact is also unforgettable – and exactly what makes Lana Del Rey the icon she is. And one well worth the celebration.

Lyndsey Havens