She’s the internet’s flower crown queen. She brought the phrase “femme fatale” back into this decade’s lexicon. My mother has reacted to her music on multiple occasions by saying: “Why does she always sound so sad?” Lana Del Rey first appeared in the music scene with a fully formed “cool girl” persona, sweeping cinematic songs, and a whole ocean of controversy soon followed. In 2012, everyone was trying to figure out how real her songwriting was or whether she was an industrial plant. At the same time an intensely devoted, mostly teenage, fan-base was formed. Many found solace in her romanticization of Los Angeles, her Marilyn Monroe references and her very specific depiction of Americana. The supersaturated unreality of her work is what made her famous; however, “Norman Fucking Rockwell” pares down the extraneous and gives us the clearest picture we have of the enigmatic artist.

For the last few years, Lana Del Rey has teased a book of poetry that she’s been writing, and has also captioned her Instagram posts with her own poetry on occasion. It makes sense then that “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is Del Rey’s most poetic record. Lines such as, “If you hold me without hurting me, You’ll be the first whoever did” or “If he’s as bad as they say, I guess I’m cursed” are instantly quotable and hard-hitting. Lana Del Rey’s voice floats strongly and freely through the air but displays a certain vulnerability that makes these songs emotionally rousing. Del Rey has often been criticized for singing in a way that comes across as disinterested, but a more accurate description would be disillusioned. Maybe this has always been her goal, but on “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” Lana Del Rey is clearly tired of being in failed relationships. She’s come to understand the falsehood of the American dream. 

There are still many nostalgic references to ’70s musicians and places in California, but perhaps for the first time in Lana Del Rey’s career, these references truly provide a poignant reflection of our society. America in 2019 is a country that is tired. We are tired of tragedies, tired of failing to get our politician’s attention, tired of our inability to combat the climate crisis. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” perfectly encapsulates all these feelings and gives us something to latch on to. Some of the album’s best lines manage to talk about the current state of the nation, and the effect it has on our society. When she says, “L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot,” or my personal favorite, “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news.” The album lets us know that we are not alone. Others have fallen for the romanticized vision of an America that never truly existed. 

The instrumentation seeks to showcase her impressive vocal talent in a way that harkens back to Lana Del Rey’s earlier cinematic songs, but feels more focused. I mean, she once had a song in the movie “The Great Gatsby”. It doesn’t get much grander and melodramatic than that. This new era of Lana Del Rey is more stripped back. The cinematic qualities come more from her voice, with the instrumentation lifting her words just enough to give them power while retaining the honesty in them. 

It almost seems idiotic to try and criticize Lana Del Rey’s public presence in 2019. Over the years it’s become clear that Lana Del Rey does what Lana Del Rey wants. She is no record producer’s performing monkey. She is not a pop star. She is just herself. Only Lana Del Rey could cover a Sublime song and make it sound this incredibly heartfelt. Only Lana Del Rey can get away with the line “The culture is lit, and if this is it, I had a ball.” Contrary to what her old music videos might say, Lana Del Rey lives in our crumbling world. Her way of depicting it, however, is beautiful.

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