On Lana Del Rey’s All Things Go Set And The Scream-Along Singalong Phenomenon
The scream-along singalong has come for Lana Del Rey, and that’s how you know that the scream-along singalong has permeated just about every corner of the big-deal live-music business. The scream-along singalong is not a new phenomenon, but it’s distinct from the simple, regular singalong that’s been a staple of stadium-rock shows since before I was born. In the scream-along singalong, audiences don’t just sing the words of the song. They howl those words at top volume, giving little mind to melody or modulation or anything else that might temper the purgative force of their collective voice. I’ve always associated the scream-along singalong with hardcore and emo; Dashboard Confessional is still the artist I most associate with the phenomenon. But those days are over. These days, everyone is Dashboard Confessional. Even Lana Del Rey is Dashboard Confessional.
The total omnipresence of the scream-along singalong feels pretty new, though I’m sure it has roots that just haven’t been visible to me. The sheer intensity of the phenomenon became impossible for me to ignore earlier this summer, when I saw Zach Bryan and Taylor Swift a couple of days apart. Bryan and Swift are vastly different artists with vastly different performance styles and vastly different audiences, but those audiences both treated every song at those shows as invitations to bay at the moon. Sometimes, you couldn’t hear the artists because the crowds were too loud. As different as they are, Bryan and Swift both actively welcome and encourage the scream-along singalong. Lana Del Rey doesn’t really do that, and her whole style almost feels like an extended case against the scream. On Sunday night, it didn’t matter. Lana Del Rey has an audience, and that audience loves to scream.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a few pop stars, figures like Lorde and Billie Eilish, who work primarily in the field of vibes. Those artists all owe something to Lana Del Rey, the queen of vibes. Lana’s music is not energetic. It’s not fired-up. It’s not cathartic in any obvious way. Instead, Lana sings almost everything in a heavy-eyelid murmur, occasionally switching things up for a half-whisper or a Betty Boop coo. Her songs are soft and uncluttered and thoughtful. She writes catchy melodies and precise, emotive lyrics, and I usually sing along when I’m listening to her, but there is no Dashboard Confessional in Lana Del Rey. If she takes after any circa-2000 singer-songwriter type, it’s Cat Power. If you went to see Cat Power in 2000, you were not screaming anything. But when audiences come to see Lana Del Rey, they come to sing-scream — or, at least, this one did.
On Sunday night, Lana Del Rey headlined the second night of the All Things Go Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion, a big old historic shed venue between Baltimore and Washington. I happened to graduate from high school on the Merriweather stage, but I’ve only been back to the venue in the past quarter century for my younger siblings’ graduations. Before Sunday, I’d only been to one festival at Merriweather. That festival was 29 years ago, and it was extremely 1994: Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD fest, with Midnight Oil and Arrested Development and Live just after they dropped Throwing Copper, as well as all the world-music stuff that Gabriel was pushing at the time. Fruitopia sponsored it. I saw the slam poet from the Higher Learning opening credits doing his slam poetry in a tent. It was my second show ever.
The All Things Go Festival is put together in a consciously ’90s way. Specifically, All Things Go seems to be patterned as a present-day Lilith Fair — another festival that used to stop at Merriweather. There’s no Sarah McLachlan figure behind All Things Go, and the festival never turns the makeup of its lineup, which is almost entirely made up of women, into a talking point. But the same sort of uplifting progressivism was in the air. The crowd was overwhelmingly full of young women. All the porta-potties on site were marked “women only,” and the bathroom lines were out of control. Plenty of the attendees dressed in what I’d almost have to call ’90s cosplay. But as one of the few people there who was old enough to actually remember the ’90s, All Things Go did not feel especially ’90s to me. It felt like a new thing. After all, nobody was trying to scream-sing to Peter Gabriel or Midnight Oil.
I brought my daughter, who is 14 — same age as I was the last time I went to a festival at Merriweather. We missed the first day of the festival, with Carly Rae Jepsen and home-state hero Maggie Rogers at the top of the bill, because she had her first high-school homecoming dance, which I’m told also involved a lot of scream-singing. My kid loves Lana Del Rey. She says Lana is the only artist she can listen to during math class. (They let kids listen to music in class sometimes now. Shit is wild. I’m so jealous.) We were both excited to see a lot of the acts at All Things Go, and I was probably more hyped up about boygenius, who were in the just-below-the-headliner slot, than I was about Lana. But Lana Del Rey is a constant presence in my house, a staple of just about every moment that demands a soft and non-jarring soundtrack. So it was striking to see people getting crunk to Lana’s music. It might’ve even been a bit of a surprise to Lana herself.
Lana Del Rey’s current stage show is a pop-star stage show, despite Lana herself doing very few of the things that pop stars are traditionally expected to do. For instance: Lana Del Rey does not dance, but she’s often surrounded by dancers. Sometimes, she strikes graceful poses that distantly echo whatever her dancers are doing. Most of the time, though, Lana simply stands still in the center of the stage while her dancers whirl around her or drape her in elaborate fabric. During “Bartender,” Lana sits off to the side of the stage at a little table while her dancers take center stage for a whole balletic routine. By the same token, Lana sounds spectacular onstage, her voice rich and communicative. But she doesn’t hit big notes. Instead, she has three backup singers who sometimes come out to roar out gospel-informed runs while Lana just kind of sways off to the side.
The whole Lana live experience is a big production, but it often seems intended to distract from a central performer who’s not exactly working overtime to entertain her audience. It’s as if Lana and her collaborators didn’t think that Lana’s crowd would get enough out of just watching her sing her songs. But from what I could tell on Sunday, that audience doesn’t want traditional pop-star entertainment. They want to watch Lana radiate old-school movie-star glamor — something that she does beautifully — and they want to sing along with her songs. On Sunday, Lana didn’t seem to expect the big singalongs that she got, but she was happy about them anyway. It was like: “Wow! That was cool! Thanks!”
Not every Lana song gets the scream-along singalong reaction. Most of the tracks on Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard were more likely to incite swaying seas of phone lights, but the crowd did come unglued for the “you’re fucking up bigtime” bit from “A&W.” That was how the night went. Every big, memorable line from every Lana song got a huge, echoing reaction. In the live-show context, those great Lana lines stopped being simply great lines on pretty songs. They became anthemic things to yell collectively — the “goddamn manchild” on set opener “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” the “fresh out of fucks forever” part of “Venice Bitch,” all of “Video Games.” We happened to be in a part of the crowd where people were going off to that stuff, and it was infectious. Lana’s richly atmospheric torch songs songs weren’t built to facilitate those singalong moments, but they did the trick anyway.
I wonder if the scream-along singalong is here to stay, and I wonder if future Lana Del Rey shows will be more planned around that kind of reaction. On Sunday, Lana’s set was a little discombobulated. She came out 15 minutes late, had to make the 11PM hard curfew, and rearranged some of the setlist on the fly, but most of the songs were still ultra-choreographed mini-productions. It all felt very planned-out. The big exception came when surprise guest Jack Antonoff, whose band Bleachers were the token male act on last year’s All Things Go lineup, came out to sing the duet “Margaret” with Del Rey. (Antonoff’s wife Margaret Qualley was looking on, and AOC was there too.) For a few minutes, it was just the two of them singing over Antonoff’s acoustic guitar. When “Margaret” ended, Antonoff started playing the chords from “Venice Bitch.” Maybe I’m reading the body language wrong, but it seemed like a moment where Lana had to go along with something unplanned, and it was gorgeous. I’d love to see a Lana Del Rey show that’s more like that — a little more freeform, a little less carefully mapped-out.
The other artists who were high up on the bill were more comfortable with the scream-along singalong. On the main stage, boygenius played a full headliner-length set just before Lana Del Rey closed the night, and the audience treated them like headliners. All three members of boygenius came off as total rock stars. As someone who’s been seeing and covering the group’s members from their small-room days, and it’s a blast to see them unlocking these new levels of swagger. The boygenius harmonies sound great on record, but they sound better live. And plenty of bits from boygenius songs — I’m thinking of the “always an angel, never a god” bit from “Not Strong Enough” in particular — were clearly written with the scream-along singalong in mind. There are plenty of quiet boygenius songs, but their ragers, like the set-closing “Salt In The Wound,” hit especially hard in this context. They just kicked ass, and it was a joy to see.
Right in between boygenius and Lana Del Rey, MUNA headlined the second stage, and that band is really tapping into something. MUNA’s self-tited 2022 album snuck up on me, and their ’80s-style club-jams sound amazing live. Onstage, MUNA do that rare thing where they seem completely in-the-moment even as they bust out synchronized dance steps. The passion and the professionalism don’t work against each other; they feel like different aspects of the same driving force. And those songs make for fun group singalongs. My daughter and I were pretty far back from their stage, but even where we were, everyone knew every word to every song.
Every band at All Things Go didn’t get the scream-along treatment, but the show had a communal feeling that I don’t see at too many big festivals. Virtually everyone who performed, including Lana Del Rey, said something onstage about how cool the festival was. Samia said it was like someone had rounded up all of her favorite bands for the day. Arlo Parks ran out to sing “Silk Chiffon” with MUNA. The good feelings seemed to extend to the crowd; I didn’t see a single person act like a dick all day.
Meet Me @ The Altar, who took the second stage just as we were coming into the festival, had tons of energy, and they also played cover songs that everyone immediately knew. That’s always smart. People might not know your band right now, but they’ll still be excited to jump around to “Since U Been Gone” and “Complicated” and that one song from Freaky Friday. Samia sang great harmonies with her backup singer, and she evoked the Lilith Fair vibe more closely than any of the other acts I saw. Alex G, this year’s token male act, remains an absolute mystery to me. Some of the parts sound cool, but my reaction has not changed now that I’ve seen him in person. That reaction is: This guy? Really? You’re certain? OK. That’s cool. I’m glad you like it. You’re sure, though? All right. OK. I’ll stop asking.
And then there was Ethel Cain, who wailed out her apocalyptic-Americana hymns with Danzig-level intensity, with only a drummer and a guitarist backing her up. Cain was on in the middle of the afternoon, but you could still hear certain corners of the arena answering her voice, scream-singing to the parts that they knew. Once again, I wasn’t expecting the Ethel Cain singalong scream-along. Once again, when I heard it, it made its own kind of sense.
I have all sorts of theories on the singalong scream-along. Maybe it’s a post-pandemic longing for connectivity, bottled-up emotion finding an outlet. Maybe it’s an influencer-age urge to stop watching the show, to become a part of the show yourself. Maybe concerts are so expensive, and tickets are such a pain in the ass to acquire, that people feel like they have to go all-out once they’re there. Truly, though, I don’t know why the singalong scream-along has become such a central uniting force. But I’m into it. Let the kids scream along. It’s good for them, it’s good for the performers, and it might be good for us, too.