By Tejal Pendekanti
I don’t enjoy trying out new music—I spent the majority of junior year listening to the same two albums (Suncity by Khalid and Wasteland, Baby! By Hozier). Taking the time to explore new music is so tedious. You never know if you’ll like it, but you still have to take the time to attempt to like it. Why put yourself through that if you can just listen to the same 20 songs on repeat that you know you’ll like? If you’re anything like me, you might not want to listen to Lana Del Rey’s newest albums, Norman F****** Rockwell; however, I really do think it’s worth taking the time to listen to. Let me explain:
To understand her album, we first need to examine the namesake of the album: Norman Rockwell. Rockwell was an American author, painter, and illustrator. Most known for Rosie the Riveter, his creative work reflected the American culture at that point, often “sentimentalizing portrayals of American life.”
The current American dream—the romanticization of it, the condemnation of it—is what Lana Del Rey struggles with in this album. Her tone in this album is, in her words, exasperation paired with a slight eye roll. “It was kind of an exclamation mark: So this is the American dream right now,” she says. “This is where we’re at—Norman f****** Rockwell. We’re going to go to Mars, and Trump is president, all right.” Lana Del Rey is critical of today’s America: she mocks Rockwell’s idyllic views in the titular song, calling him a “man-child” for his beliefs; she “mourns” for her country in “The Greatest”—“Hawaii just missed that fireball / LA is in flames, it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blonde and gone.” Really, this album is an hour and 17-minute denunciation of America and it’s one-minded supporters.
This message is seen so often in pop culture today, from TV shows to Grammy acceptance speeches to songs; it’s trite. However, the saving grace of this album is that its disapproval of American exceptionalism is covered by folk-influenced music, adding to the layers of complexity on whether or not America is truly that bad. Lana Del Rey adheres to American traditions, while still finding faults in them. Her own confusion in this album on her stance is what makes her message unique, allowing her to stand out from the derivative “America sucks” movement.
Regardless of whether you like her sound, this album’s way of grappling with the crumbling of the American dream is artistic and truly deserves praise.