Lana Del Rey’s sixth studio album “Norman F—–g Rockwell!” marks a watershed in the singer’s career and image. Featuring her typical dreamy, psychedelic sound and sharp yet escapist lyrics, Del Rey innovates her style and overall persona by revamping the subject matter of her songs.
The record still latches onto the sweetly sad and darkly romantic ballads listeners have come to expect of the singer, but now they come with an interesting, apparent feminist twist. Gone is the woman who, on previous albums, has glorified and romanticized self-important, big shot men. The woman who once sang about “Dying by the hand / Of a foreign man / Happily” on “Salvatore,” a track from 2015’s “Honeymoon” and pleaded “I need you to come here and save me” in “Off to The Races” from her debut album “Born to Die” has disappeared from the album.
Del Rey now seems to have discovered certain degrees of pride and self-worth in her own independence and femininity. Instead of submitting herself to these men’s whims and desires, she now subverts expectations by poking fun at their larger-than-life personalities.
She starts the album with this new attitude toward the men she once fawned over, cleverly discussing modern gender politics and female exasperation at men’s inability to hold themselves accountable for their own lives. “Goddamn, man-child,” she croons in the opener, “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news.” The whole track contains thinly veiled insults toward ego-inflated men who see themselves as more than what they truly are. Paired with her soft vocals and slow rhythm, the meaning does not seem heavy-handed at all; it carries the message across simply and effectively.
This more revolutionary angle to Del Rey’s songs comes after she herself has made changes to previous tracks with problematic gender dynamics: “He hit me / And it felt like a kiss,”’ she says in the song “Ultraviolence” from her eponymous third studio album. In recent performances of the track, however, she omits these particular lyrics, according to a 2017 Pitchfork interview.
“I don’t like it. I don’t. I don’t sing it. I sing ‘Ultraviolence’ but I don’t sing that line anymore. Having someone be aggressive in a relationship was the only relationship I knew,” Sel Rey said.
Del Rey refreshes listeners, then, to see her now embrace her empowered, independent self on tracks like “Mariners Apartment Complex,” in which she presents herself as an unapologetically complicated woman: “Think about it, the darkness, the deepness / All the things that make me who I am.”
“Doin’ Time,” a cover of a Sublime song, perfectly merges the old and the new, putting a fresh spin on a staple song. What Lana Del Rey has done on this song translates well to the rest of the album — it is an amazing collection of current worries and desires crashing into her now-iconic old America lyrics and imagery.
Politics have also played an important role in the singer’s shift in persona. Del Rey, who frequently used to perform in front of an American flag, has now modified her stage props, ditching the Americana visuals in light of President Donald Trump’s election.
Political statements such as her subtle changes of aesthetic and lyrical digs, while not being the central focus of the album, certainly get their time to shine and make appearances on tracks like “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it.” Del Rey opens up about being “a modern day woman with a weak constitution” when facing the current political atmosphere but still having hope for the future and overcoming difficult times.
The whole album’s lyrical, dreamy vibe is reminiscent of vintage classics, and teamed with Del Rey’s soothing vocals, listening to “Norman F—–g Rockwell!” in one go is a cathartic experience. The record finds its niche in that peculiar gray space between sad and tentatively hopeful, perfectly blending in melancholy, nostalgia and deep introspection when looking toward the rapidly incoming future.
With their hollow beats, orchestral backing and languid vocals, the tracks mesh well with one another, but it may be difficult at times to discern one from the other. This interweaving of the tracks makes them lose their individuality, but turns the piece as a whole into complex tapestry. Listening to the album in one sitting invokes a trancelike atmosphere in which the world is narrowed down to Del Rey’s darkly fantastical daydream, one which now more than ever begins to anchor itself in the political and social landscape of reality.
“Norman F—–g Rockwell!” deserves every ounce of praise it has received for showcasing Del Rey maintaining her own artistry while still updating it to be deliberately and cuttingly relevant for the music world of today.