Atwood Magazine’s writers discuss Lana del Rey’s sixth album Norman Fucking Rockwell! and its ironic patriotism, satire-like quality, and undeniable appeal.
Featured here are writers Oliver Crook, Danny Vagnoni, Ditta Demeter, Nicole Almeida, and James Crowley.
What’s your favourite track from the record and why?
Ditta Demeter: “Venice Bitch” is incredible, almost cinematic in its length ability to build a really alluring atmosphere. I also love “Doin’ Time” – it’s a great, sunny-summery complement to the general melancholy. “Hope is a dangerous thing” is also very close to my heart, it sends a strong message, especially at the end of the album.
James Crowley: “Venice Bitch” is my favorite, although I struggle with the fact that it’s nine minutes. “Fresh out of fucks forever” is an iconic line to have that early in the song. Del Rey hasn’t had a melody that’s nearly as catchy as this chorus. The psychedelic jam in the middle can be grating if I’m not in the mood for it, but when it hits, it’s awesome. It’s incredibly bold to create a pop song that long. The title track is also in the running, because it’s a great comment on American culture at this moment.
Oliver Crook: My favourite track is easily “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it”. It’s just so beautiful and feels like her fully embodying her role as a women Leonard Cohen. The use of silence between the piano chords are just as stunning as the music itself, and the lyrics are so achingly raw. It’s the perfect album closer and I’d hold it up as one of her best songs. Second place probably falls to “Venice Bitch”, it’s just that swaggering-melancholy that suits her so well.
Nicole Almeida: “Venice Bitch” is the song I haven’t been able to get out of my head every time I listen to the album, but I love the lyrics in “The greatest” and “California”. “L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot/ Kanye West is blond and gone/ “Life on Mars” ain’t just a song/ I hope the live stream’s almost on” might be my favourite lyrics of the year.
Danny Vagnoni: “Norman Fucking Rockwell” makes such an impact as an opener as Lana addresses that “god damn man child.” Its sound is fraught and exhausted, making it a perfect counterpoint to the closer, “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it.” They’re bookends reflecting an emotional progression. It’s also impossible not to listen to her cover of “Doin’ Time” and think that the song was written for her.
Watch: “Venice Bitch” – Lana del Rey
What track did you enjoy the least and why?
Ditta Demeter: There isn’t any I straight up didn’t like, probably because the album is so comprehensive in style and quality and no song really deviates from that overall feel. I’ll have to say “Fuck it I love you” because…that’s just not the energy we need in 2019.
James Crowley: While this does have some of Del Rey’s work that I’ve enjoyed the most, Norman Fucking Rockwell! tends to bleed into each other. It’s hard to pick a least favorite track, as this feels like such a singular work. “Love song” is maybe most forgettable and cliche.
Oliver Crook: While I think the album is solid front-to-back, “Doin’ Time” just doesn’t feel like it fits in the rest of the record. It’s too catchy, too uptempo, too old-school-Lana that it disrupts the whole rhythm of the record. I don’t hate it, but I feel the album would be stronger and keep it’s cohesion better if it wasn’t there.
Nicole Almeida: Though I don’t hate the song by any means, I have to agree with Oliver that “Doin’ Time” is the one song I find dispensable from NFR. I do think it surprisingly fits the album, but I could do without it just because it isn’t a del Rey creation. I find the whole album surprisingly solid, even though it’s long it’s hard to get bored of any songs because it’s just so delightful to get lost in them.
Danny Vagnoni: “Mariners Apartment Complex,” sandwiched between the decisive opener and the album’s magnum opus, “Venice Bitch,” doesn’t stand out. The songwriting is still strong, but it feels more like a speed bump and uneven with the remainder of the album. Watery imagery goes over well, but feels more like early romantic literature than the rest of the album’s satiric invocation of mid 20th century Americana.
In your opinion, how does Norman Fucking Rockwell! compare to del Rey’s previous album, Lust for Life, in terms of style, sound, genre, and feeling?
Oliver Crook: Disclaimer: I know Del Rey—like most pop stars—is a manufactured entity so to discuss her authenticity is rocky ground at best. I highly recommend reading Jessica Hopper’s piece on this. Having said that…
To be completely honest, I’ve found every Del Rey offering disappointing since her debut Born To Die—which I consider one of the best records of the 21st century (come at me!) Even through its upbeat moments Born to Die still carries a genuine sense of someone falling apart: It’s a great story about the dark side of the American Dream. After this record, the direction of her work felt forced and therefore unenjoyable—Lust For Life included. This record feels more like a return to the feel of Born To Die, while still evolving the idea of Del Rey into more sarcastic terrain.
Nicole Almeida: I love Lana del Rey and have since Born to Die. Ultraviolence is my favourite del Rey record, and NFR does remind me a lot of it especially with the amount of guitar on the album. I love how Lust for Life put a 21st Century spin on del Rey’s sound, especially with the trap-infused “Summer Bummer”, but with NFR I feel like she’s taking the sound of Ultraviolence, mixing it with the joy and confidence of Lust for Life, and making it all more organic and grounded. It seems like the album of hers that’s the most deemed to be a classic after Born to Die which, I admit, can’t be beaten in terms of impact. NFR seems del Rey at her lyrically most comfortable and sarcastic, and sonically it brings the listener closer to the artist. It feels intimate and special.
And about her authenticity: I wonder if this would even be brought up if she was a man.
Watch: “Fuck It, I Love You & The Greatest” – Lana del Rey
Lana del Rey is known as much for her music as for the strong image – “brand” – she has carefully created throughout the years. How do you think Norman Fucking Rockwell! develops her image as an artist?
Ditta Demeter: Lust for Life is a difficult album to follow in terms of image. That record radiated optimistic nostalgia and a kind of powerful escapism, with a strong, smiling Lana as its icon. That was a big step forward from her previous Lolita-esque persona and Bambi-eyed “sad girl” aesthetic. There’s moments where I feel Norman Fucking Rockwell! reverts back to that slightly and complicates the more recent Lana image; the final song and its confident affirmation of hope saves it from descending into contradiction.
James Crowley: This is almost sarcastically patriotic. Del Rey’s reference to Norman Rockwell is almost making fun of the fact that she’s been adopted as something of the Americana popstar. We can’t forget that Del Rey’s probably biggest mainstream break came from a song placed in an adaptation of a literary giant of an American Novel, of which the biggest theme is “the American Dream.” A song like “The Next Best American Record” is a perfect summation of this. She’s an artist that creates pop music obsessed with Americana, and this song even feels to poke at that. To some extent, this is the most Lana Del Rey image that she could have conjured up-it’s satirical, smart, and genuine.
Oliver Crook: Norman Fucking Rockwell takes Del Rey into Father John Misty level’s of satire, with her invocation of Americana legend Norman Rockwell only furthering this mockery. Her whole career has been holding up a giant mirror to Americana, with varying levels of sarcasm and success. Now that she’s the face of Americana, this satirical approach feels like a natural progression for her.
Nicole Almeida: I think NFR is Lana del Rey at her most confident, open, and comfortable. What it means to her in terms of her image as an artist is something I’m not really invested in because I’ve always looked at her music more as an atmosphere and world than anything else. I consume her music without thinking about her character because I find the stories she tells so irresistible that nothing else matters to me. I think on this album she reveals who she is and how she feels about the current state of affairs more openly than she did before, and she seems to be doing the same in interviews surrounding the release, maybe that’ll mean people will start to look at her more as a person than a persona. If anything, I’m glad she’s finally getting the critical acclaim she deserves with this album.
Danny Vagnoni: Lana del Rey is a persona discrete from Lizzy Grant, and toys with the idea of American celebrity in interesting ways – sometimes the line between Lana del Rey as satire and Lana del Rey as an earnest deptiction is blurry, but Norman Fucking Rockwell brings the chracter into the sharpest relief it’s had since the beginning of Lana’s career. Where Born to Die, my favorite of her albums in terms of sound, played the character almost (almost) straight, NFR is weary of being America’s avatar, and for good reason. NFR reflects this at all levels – musically, lyrically, stylistically. Aside, perhaps, from Freedom, Norman Rockwell and his body of work represents the quintessential panglossian vision of America after World War II as a force for good. What figure could be better to warp – Norman fucking Rockwell. Born to Die played Lana del Rey straight. NFR is a jaded, intimately intoning Lana in a revanchist America starkly different from the narratives of mid 20th century heroism.
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📸 © Lana del Rey 2019