Elton John Lashes Out at Lana Del Rey Critics

There are few music moments of the 2010s that are more infamous than Lana Del Rey‘s live performance on Saturday Night Live – though Elton John apparently didn’t mind it too much. The singer seemed nervous and her singing was very strange. For many, this was their first impression of Del Rey, and it was not a positive one. Here’s how the singer and John defended her controversial performance.

Lana Del Rey arrives at the 24th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Oscar viewing party | Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Lana Del Rey’s friendship with Elton John

Del Rey recently interviewed John (and vice versa) for an issue of Rolling Stone. The two are a perfect fit for such an article. Del Rey has taken lots of influence from John and many other singers from the peak era of his popularity. She has also referenced John’s music in two of her songs; the duet that she did with Sean Ono Lennon, “Tomorrow Never Came,” featured a lyrical nod to John’s “Tiny Dancer,” while her more recent song “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” features the lyric “I ain’t no candle in the wind,” a clear reference to John’s biggest hit.

Elton John | Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

During the interview, the two discussed everything from computers to drug use to Kacey Musgraves. When the subject of Del Rey’s infamous Saturday Night Live performance came up, Del Rey defended herself from her detractors. She felt that the performance “wasn’t terrible,” adding “What’s weird is, it’s the one night in all my time performing that I wasn’t nervous. I remember the intention I had. Looking back, there was a more eccentric performative approach to it. I was thinking about Maria Callas, or someone darker coming through.”

She also gave her fans some insight into how she was booked for Saturday Night Live. She said “What’s funny is, I was selling out arenas for a year before — that’s how the guy who runs [Saturday Night Live’s musical performances] heard about me, because he thought, ‘This is strange. This girl is selling out arenas, and she has two songs.’”

Elton John defends Lana Del Rey

John defended the singer, whom he praised multiple times in the article. He told Del Rey “But listen, you survived. You came through that awful thing in that Saturday Night Live. Which was so distressing for someone like me to see someone so crucified. I’ve watched it, and it wasn’t that bad!” He added “I don’t know what the agenda was there, but where was the #MeToo movement there?”

The article also revealed that the relationship between the two singers blossomed after the infamous performance. John said that afterward he called Del Rey and said “Listen, I just want to offer my help. I know you’re sober and everything, but just don’t take any notice of these people.”

Were the critics too harsh?

Lana Del Rey performing in Hollywood | Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

That live performance colored critical perception of Del Rey for some time afterwards. The album she released shortly before the performance, Born to Die, received mixed reviews, with many critics questioning whether or not Del Rey had any talent. 

In the years since, Del Rey has released several critically acclaimed albums. Many critics now question if it was proper to dismiss her based on one bad live performance. Her debut album has gone on to influence numerous young artists; it’s difficult to listen to Lorde, Halsey, or Billie Eilish without hearing elements of Del Rey’s music.