I'd never listened to Lana Del Rey, so I reviewed 'Norman F—ing Rockwell!'

'Like any exceptional art, my emotions are no longer my own — for these 67 minutes, Del Rey determines what I feel'

"Norman F—ing Rockwell!," Lana Del Rey’s sixth album, was released nearly two weeks ago and is topping the charts. Up until now, I had never listened to her music. 

Avoiding Del Rey for this long seems impossible, especially considering 2013 was the year of Tumblr, and the "Born to Die" singer was the poster child of the Tumblr soft grunge aesthetic — and I was very active on Tumblr in 2013. I probably scrolled past photos of her hundreds of times on the website without a second thought. She is constantly recommended to me by Spotify, friends and family, I just never got around to listening. But rave reviews for "Norman F—ing Rockwell!" ("NFR!") encouraged me to start.

The first track, which shares the name of the album, begins much like the opening to a play. Soft strings hum as the curtain opens, and in my head, a spotlight beams down on Del Rey as her voice booms overtop a piano. 

Transitions between songs feel seamless. If I wasn’t paying attention to the details of each song, 15 minutes could pass by, and I would think “wow, I knew it was long, but 'Venice B—h' (the third song on the album) is like, really, really long.” 

The only real disruption occurs about halfway through the album when a cover of Sublime's "Doin’ Time" begins. As someone who grew up listening to Sublime, the album feels interrupted. Now all I can think is "why this song?"

No doubt, "Doin’ Time" is exceptionally groovy. Del Rey does a good job of taking a reggae-hip-hop hybrid and refurbishing it into a distinctly different genre. While I did find it odd to hear Sublime in the middle of her album, I found it endearing that Del Rey was able to take a song nearly left behind and give it to a new generation. But "Doin’ Time" ends, and we’re back to vibe city. 

Whispering words of poetry, Del Rey is quiet and controlled as she murmurs “In the car, in the car, in the backseat, I’m your baby.” "Love song" is one of the shorter songs on the soundtrack, but it still manages to steal the show. A simple yet beautiful melody captures my full attention, and the relatable subject matter builds up tears in my eyes.

Like any exceptional art, my emotions are no longer my own — for these 67 minutes, Del Rey determines what I feel. 

Just when I think I’ve gotten control of myself, "California" begins. As Del Rey sings, “You don't ever have to be stronger than you really are / When you're lying in my arms / Baby, you don't ever have to,” tears form once again. 

Part of me is wondering why I’m crying, the other feels comfortable with it. It’s a mutual cry. It’s not just me alone in my bedroom sobbing to a Bluetooth speaker. It’s me and her together. 

Del Rey’s vulnerability is tangible throughout the album, much like St. Vincent’s “Marry Me.” It’s no wonder why the two feel so similar, "NFR!" was produced by Jack Antonoff, who has worked with St. Vincent as well.

The emotions behind every song in the album are so powerful, it felt like Del Rey planned out each and every detail. The reality is Del Rey wasn’t looking to make an album when she was first approached by Antonoff. It was when Antonoff played her a riff that she first started thinking up "NFR!" and visualized “a folk record with a little surf twist,” according to an interview with Billboard.

If this is Del Rey at an uninspired level, I can’t begin to imagine what she is capable of. "NFR!" is everything it is said to be.

The album that almost never existed balances a feeling of nostalgia without making it feel rose-tinted. In a time where the all-American tropes and patriotism that Del Rey is famous for has lost its romanticized roots and warped into something entirely different, she helps reframe the perspective. It promises new beginnings and leaves you broken, yet hopeful.

"NFR!" may break away from most of Del Rey’s typical aesthetic, but the transition is well done. Perhaps this is because I am a first-time listener, but "NFR!" has me sold. 

Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated the producers of ‘NFR!’ The story has been accurately updated.


Reach the reporter at swindom@asu.edu and follow @SaraWindom on Twitter. 

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