Lana Del Rey’s Norman F*cking Rockwell is Musical Literature Incarnate

by Marie Lindsey, WRUC Music Director

(A similar version of this article was published in the Union College Concordiensis on October 3, 2019.)

Norman Rockwell, American painter, illustrator, and novelist was born in New York City in 1894. By 1916 Rockwell began his work as a popular illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. He created 321 covers over a span of nearly five decades for the magazine, and is best known for his work capturing the image of the everyday Americana in oil. His name is synonymous with the image of a classic, if unattainable, American lifestyle.

It’s no wonder why singer Lana del Rey, known for bringing Americana aesthetics into the almost-mainstream in the early 2010s, would choose to title her fifth album “Norman F*cking Rockwell.” But unlike Rockwell, Rey has shown a remarkable capacity for growth in her art. In her early career, she often leaned into the indie pop trends of the day. However, since the release of Honeymoon in 2015, Rey has shifted into the realm of classical instrumentation and psychedelic rock. 

“Norman F*cking Rockwell” was composed by Del Rey and Jack Antanoff, who then collaborated with many producers, including Rick Nowels, Andrew Watt, Happy Perez, Kieran Menzies, Dean Reid, and Mighty Mike. This attention to detail is not lost on listeners: “Norman F*cking Rockwell” presents the strength and purity of Del Rey’s vocals woven between instrumental elements such as violin, cello, harp, mandolin, piano, electric and acoustic guitar, flute, keyboard, and electric synths.

It is clear that Del Rey’s artistry lies in her ability to create as a poet first and a musician second. Although neither art form is superior to the other, her work as singer-songwriter is so powerful in that each aspect of her work is an interwoven extension of the shifting creature that is the sentiments of her lyricism. Del Rey has carved her way into the art scene as a writer who sings rather than a singer who attempts to write. Her music has a clear plot, complex imagery, and the ability to captivate listeners. Furthermore, the simple beauty of her soulful vocals as well as her dedication to creating quality music through collaboration in studio production suggest that Del Rey has successfully composed an album that exists simply as rock, but can also be classified as more specifically psychedelic rock, pop rock, or soft rock.

In her song “The Greatest”, she says “my friends, we miss rock and roll,” and yet, as she mourns for the decades of raw rock, vibrant venues, and the grating loyal burn to the musical minds of the 1960s and 70s, she is arguably emerging one of the defining rock musicians of the 2010s.

  The era which she has so fervently desired since her other hits like “Brooklyn Baby” or “Groupie Love” can be felt in the harmonies buried in “Norman F*cking Rockwell”, “Mariners Apartment Complex”, “Doin’ Time”, “Love Song”, “Cinnamon Girl”, “How To Disappear”, “California”, “The Next Best American Record”, “The Greatest”, “Bartender”, “Happiness is a Butterfly” and “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it [as written]”. 

On top of all this, Del Rey has been working on a book of poetry which she intends to release for only $1 a copy. Independent of her work for this most recent album, Del Rey also released a song called “Looking for America” in response and protest to the steadily rising number of mass shootings in our country. Finally, she has also been working on an album called White Hot Forever which is scheduled to be released in 2020.