Lana Del Rey Mourns Her Loss of Patriotism on New Record

Del Rey’s newest album is her most mature—and perhaps her most pessimistic—to date.

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Lana Del Rey is certainly a controversial figure in the music world. Public opinion of her character and music ranges from criticisms of a perceived lack of authenticity to appreciation of her unique and nostalgic blend of American pop culture with modern-day sentiments. Over the past decade or so, the singer’s music has undergone a subtle but noticeable transformation as she’s matured and as recent events shaped her view of the world. The result of this transformation manifests on her latest record, Norman _______ Rockwell!, a distinctly melancholy, yet peaceful meditation on her life in the context of the present political turmoil. Though this album’s lyrics mostly center around love and relationships, they are framed by an ever-present awareness of the rapid deterioration of American values.

Del Rey, whose given name is Elizabeth Grant, was born on June 21st, 1985 and grew up in Lake Placid, New York. She went to a Catholic elementary school and sang in a church choir. When she was 15, her parents sent her to a boarding school to resolve a drinking problem. After high school, she lived on Long Island for a year, where she worked as a waitress and learned how to play guitar. She attended Fordham University, majoring in philosophy with an emphasis in metaphysics. During this time, she performed songs she wrote herself in nightclubs and volunteered with homeless youth programs. The singer has said that, if her career in music didn’t work out, she would have dedicated herself to doing social work in a small town.

“In the face of this criticism, however, Del Rey doubled down on these themes on her second album, the much darker and pessimistic Ultraviolence, with the title track describing a woman stuck in an abusive relationship.”

Her first album released under the name Lana Del Rey, Born to Die, sold well but received a mixed critical reception. The album was notable for its references, both musically and lyrically, to the 1950’s, as the singer alludes to Elvis Presley and the sweeping, orchestral soundtracks of James Bond films, as well as the troublesome relationship dynamics associated with the era. Much of the criticism of Del Rey’s debut album centered on this theme, as she was accused of being inauthentic, shallow, and even glorifying unhealthy relationships.

In the face of this criticism, however, Del Rey doubled down on these themes on her second album, the much darker and pessimistic Ultraviolence, with the title track describing a woman stuck in an abusive relationship. Other tracks on the record explore similarly dark themes, including the pain of infidelity, breaking up, and a nihilistic embrace of materialism. Ultraviolence was well-received by critics, however, who praised the album’s cinematic, film-noir aesthetic and were drawn in by its romanticism of fatalistic attitudes.

Her following two albums, Honeymoon and Lust for Life, received similarly positive reviews and expanded upon the themes of problematic relationships while expanding her music style to include trap, classic rock, and hip-hop influences. The two albums also incorporated patriotic references to the past several decades of American culture, featuring songs with titles such as “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind” and  “God Bless America — and All the Beautiful Women in It,” with one song featuring a performance from Sean Ono Lennon.

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“Far from her once-patriotic interpretation, she now sees her country as one that continues to claim to lead the world and embody wholesome values, but exposes this self-characterization as fraudulent with its actions on an ongoing basis.”

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Norman _______ Rockwell! was released on August 30th to widespread critical acclaim. The album represents Del Rey’s most mature work yet, as she expands upon themes explored in her previous works with a sense of clarity and confidence. In addition to offering more detailed, complex portraits of relationships, Lana Del Rey captures and expresses the feelings of reckoning with the changes of modern-day American society. The artist, who dropped the image of the American flag from her performances of “Born to Die” a few years ago, expresses a disillusionment with how recent events have shaped our way of life with lyrics like “I’m facing the greatest / The greatest loss of them all / The culture is lit and I had a ball / I guess I’m signing off after all.” 

Rockwell, the artist to whom the album’s title refers, is notable for his idyllic and patriotic depictions of mid-century American life. By dropping the f-bomb in her latest album’s title, Del Rey turns this view of America profane, an act of near-blasphemy directed at a classic American icon. The title track extends this metaphor by describing a pretentious “man-child” with an excessive ego: “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news… You talk to the walls when the party gets bored of you.” Del Rey’s view of the character she ironically compares to Norman Rockwell represents her updated view of America itself: far from her once-patriotic interpretation, she now sees her country as one that continues to claim to lead the world and embody wholesome values, but exposes this self-characterization as fraudulent with its actions on an ongoing basis.

“The singer sounds almost as though she’d rather be hopeless, as hopelessness precludes the possibility of disappointment”

The record deals with the paradoxical sense that, in modern life, we enjoy the greatest amount of comfort that’s ever been possible while simultaneously dreading the future. Though Del Rey continues to comment on the American way of life — the album art features an American flag and one song is titled “The Next Best American Record” — her commentary is more subdued and contemplative. “L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blond and gone / ‘Life on Mars’ ain’t just a song,” she sings, expressing a realization that the American dream is on its way out, and may never have existed in the first place, as she bears witness to the gradual destruction of our environment and social landscape.

This paradox culminates on the final song on the record, aptly titled “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have — but I have it.” A slow piano ballad, the song sounds more haunting than hopeful, as she sings, “Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not, / But at least I can say I’m not sad.” The singer sounds almost as though she’d rather be hopeless, as hopelessness precludes the possibility of disappointment; as such, Del Rey carries her hope like a burden, knowing in the back of her mind that things are not going to be okay, but believing they will be anyway.

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