In her fifth album, “Norman F-cking Rockwell!,” Lana Del Rey elegantly sings of hurt, hope and healing. Her songs achieve levity, ease and display shocking self-awareness. She sings of a girl who burns to the ground and rises from the ashes only to be hurt again. Del Rey not only solidifies herself as a jaw-dropping vocalist, but establishes herself as a top songwriter, too.
“Ultraviolence,” released in 2014, was Del Rey’s best work up until this point. Her other albums had stand-out songs but seemed incohesive and slightly forced. In contrast, her newest project flows from beginning to end.
Moving away from her well known ‘trap-hop’ pop style, evident in songs like “Summertime Sadness” and “Young and Beautiful,” Lana features baroque piano ballads and folk-inspired instrumentals. She combines her intelligent and witty songwriting abilities and unique voice into an album resembling a 1970s California dream.
Over the course of her five albums, we have seen Del Rey’s style change. She has gone from an all-American girl, singing her song “National Anthem” in front of an American flag, to a now lyrical, defiant performer with a more techno-based sound. Her new style can be defined by a line from her song “The Next Best American Record,” as she sings, “‘70s in spirit, ‘90s in [her] frame of mind.” Her songs show an act of resistance and change but are coupled with the love and happiness associated with the ‘70s.
Heartbreak is an obvious theme throughout the album. Her piano ballad, “Happiness is a butterfly” pulls on your heartstrings. Lines like “If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst / That can happen to a girl who’s already hurt,” and “Don’t be a jerk / don’t call me a taxi / I’m sitting in your sweatshirt / crying in the backseat,” make you question why we’re born with a heart at all if it is only going to be ripped out.
Despite prevalent heartbreak, “Love Song,” the album’s sixth track, offers an optimistic take on a relationship. She sings, “Oh, be my once in a lifetime / lying on your chest in my party dress…/ Baby, it’s the best, passed the test and yes / now I’m here with you.” She sings of hope and optimism as well as compassion and love.
In addition to heartbreak and love, Del Rey also captures the essence of her album’s namesake, Norman Rockwell. Rockwell was an American artist who illustrated everyday American life and history. Her album is sprinkled with references to American pop culture staples like Laurel Canyon, Venice Beach, Hollywood and Vine, Vogue, Rolling Stone and the Eagles.
In “Norman F-cking Rockwell,” Del Rey not only separates herself from other artists in the pop and alternative genres, she also separates herself from the rest of the work that she’s released. This album is authentically Lana and is her best work yet. Her witty and intelligently written lyrics offer a look inside of her life and allows us to feel her feelings. Her musicality has always been incredible but her instrumentals and songwriting ability only elevate her abilities in this album.