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Imperfect love and maturity: ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’

Imperfect love and maturity: ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’

Courtesy of The Ithacan

Lana Del Rey has just gifted the world with “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” a 14-track masterpiece of classic romance, culture and femininity in the modern age. The album has received rave reviews from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Metacritic, with some even heralding her as one of the greatest songwriters of our time. After hearing the album, it’s hard to disagree with that statement. If you know anything about Del Rey, or if you’ve been following her career, you know that her songs consist of little stories, poetry or moments captured with phrases or words. 

Norman Rockwell, a New Yorker like Del Rey, was an American author, painter and illustrator best known for his uncanny ability to reflect American culture. Images like “Rosie the Riveter,” “Freedom from Want” and “The Problem We All Live With” are the standouts in his catalog, capturing the truth of what it meant to be American – for everyone. This concept is what Del Rey’s album is built on, but in the context of imperfect love.

The titular track opens with Del Rey crooning, “Goddamn man child,” setting the stage for the epic love story she’s about to tell. The bad boy we’ve heard about throughout past albums “Born to Die” and “Ultraviolence” truly comes to life on this album. Listeners have heard about this man described in a way that is very glamorous, adventurous and romantic. He’s a bad boy who plays by his own rules and he’s reckless. She loves the rush, but “Norman Fucking Rockwell” details the toll it took on her, in addition to why she stayed. Del Rey’s character has always been the Brooklyn baby escaping to California to pursue a different –  and much tamer –lifestyle. On this album, we travel back and forth between New York and California, through past and present, to see this “bad boy” character completely through her eyes.

A clear favorite on the album is “Cinnamon Girl,” a double-edged sword in terms of character exposition. Both Del Rey and the male antagonist have their faults and the relationship between the two of them is explained. The lyrical content describes the drug use of the “bad boy” character and Del Rey’s self-esteem issues, with both causing problems within their relationship. This song is a confessional to herself, an act of growth on her part, but it also highlights the imperfections of love. She presents a condition that she knows he cannot meet, so she keeps it to herself instead.

“How to Disappear” is not a track to sleep on; the sad, clunky, almost ironic score is reminiscent of the musical style of the 1940s. Del Rey sweetly details a lifestyle that is unique and universal all at once. She’s consistently involved with strong, Marlon Brando-types who aren’t in touch with their emotions or hers, but their presence means something to her: security. Though she knows it’s merely physical when they “disappear” or mentally check out, she still craves them and stays with them. This song delves deeper into the personal issues she has been carrying throughout her life and shows that she is finally beginning to learn and grow from them.

It’s about so much more than a complex relationship. The concept as a whole can be applied to numerous aspects of life. As people, we tend to hold tightly to our security blankets knowingly, willingly and oftentimes against our better judgment. Such a propensity often results in the challenge of learning how to be okay with always having the memory of those we loved. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a tribute to growth, imperfect love and overcoming the tragedies that come with it. 

Del Rey will be performing at Jones Beach Theater on Saturday, Sept. 21.

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