Norman F*****g Rockwell!
Part of the fun of listening to Lana Del Rey’s ethereal lullabies is the sly sense of humor that brings them back down to earth. Tucked inside her dreamscapes about Hollywood and the Hamptons are reminders—and celebrations—of just how empty these places can be. Here, on her sixth album, she fixes her gaze on another place primed for exploration: the art world. Winking and vivid, Norman F*****g Rockwell! is a conceptual riff on the rules that govern integrity and authenticity from an artist who has made a career out of breaking them.
In a 2018 interview with Apple Music's Zane Lowe, Del Rey said working with songwriter Jack Antonoff (who produced the album along with Rick Nowels and Andrew Watt) put her in a lighter mood: “He was so funny,” she said. Their partnership—as seen on the title track, a study of inflated egos—allowed her to take her subjects less seriously. "It's about this guy who is such a genius artist, but he thinks he’s the shit and he knows it,” she said. "So often I end up with these creative types. They just go on and on about themselves and I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah.' But there’s merit to it also—they are so good.”
This paradox becomes a theme on Rockwell, a canvas upon which she paints with sincerity and satire and challenges you to spot the difference. (On “The Next Best American Record,” she sings, “We were so obsessed with writing the next best American record/’Cause we were just that good/It was just that good.”) Whether she’s wistfully nostalgic or jaded and detached is up for interpretation—really, everything is. The album’s finale, “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it,” is packaged like a confessional—first-person, reflective, sung over simple piano chords—but it’s also flamboyantly cinematic, interweaving references to Sylvia Plath and Slim Aarons with anecdotes from Del Rey's own life to make us question, again, what's real. When she repeats the phrase “a woman like me,” it feels like a taunt; she’s spent the last decade mixing personas—outcast and pop idol, debutante and witch, pinup girl and poet, sinner and saint—ostensibly in an effort to render them all moot. Here, she suggests something even bolder: that the only thing more dangerous than a complicated woman is one who refuses to give up.