The evolution of Lana Del Rey

Chronicling the musician’s change in lyricism and storytelling between “Born To Die” and “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” on her debut album’s 10th anniversary

Official+Born+to+Die+album+cover+%7C+IMDB

Official “Born to Die” album cover | IMDB

By Ashviny Kaur, Collegian Staff

Bold, controversial, overtly sexualized; these words all described Lana Del Rey’s debut album, “Born To Die”, during its release in 2012. With mixed reviews from critics, the album was widely misunderstood, yet it solidified Del Rey as the quintessential sad, indie pop girl dominating female adolescence.

With songs such as “Video Games,” “Summertime Sadness” and “Blue Jeans,” she exuded raw sadness, pain, and an everlasting longing within her lyrics. Lines that speak of kissing in the dark and getting high echo through much of the album, a love letter to Del Rey’s once turbulent adolescence and later teen years.

Though many themes are explored throughout her early music career, Del Rey only desired one thing as she penned her debut album: male validation. Whether it be through a persona she created in her head, or through her own experiences, the album spoke of a girl who so desperately pandered to the male gaze. By dressing older than she was, falling for older men, drinking heavily and partying to avoid thinking about her life, it’s clear male validation is craved and that these songs don’t talk about being a woman. Instead, they chronicle a child that is lost in the world, growing up much too fast for her age.

Much of this album’s success is attributed to the fact that Del Rey’s music was so different when compared to everything else this era had to offer; “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen and “Payphone” by Maroon 5 led the Billboard charts for weeks. Del Rey’s somber tone took much of the music world and listeners by storm.

“Born To Die” was an album that wasn’t appreciated at the time, but it was needed. Many girls, especially those on social media sites such as Tumblr, found her music to be a safe space. Lana Del Rey spoke of falling in love, falling in lust, regretting her decisions, and everything in between. Girls all over the world caved to the “Lana” aesthetic: flower crowns, bright red lipstick, and winged eyeliner. Del Rey was the “cool girl”, the woman every teenager dreamed of being for a time.

Despite this album’s success, Del Rey’s writing slowly gravitated to more mature themes in her later works. Her sophomore album, “Ultraviolence,” included darker and more tragic themes than the ones presented in “Born To Die.” This change followed throughout the rest of her music; songs about living with no consequences were pushed aside for ballads that confessed love and longing. One theme, however, remained: male validation.

Even though Del Rey no longer subscribed to changing her personality to appease men, she still spoke of them highly. Songs such as “Ultraviolence” and “God Knows I Tried” chronicled tales of domestic violence and tortured romances, yet her lyrics never explicitly mentioned disliking these male figures. Del Rey, or the persona she created, desired the attention and the love that she so desperately craved in “Born To Die,” and she was going to receive it in any way possible. It didn’t matter that these men treated her awfully, because at the end of the day, they loved her.

In 2019, however, Del Rey released ‘Norman F—ing Rockwell!, an album many people, including me, consider to be her best . Ranked number three on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “The 50 Best Albums of  2019” list, Lana Del Rey’s fifth studio album adopted a completely different type of storytelling when compared to her other works.

The title track of “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” opens with the lyrics “Goddamn, man-child, you f—ed me so good that I almost said, ‘I love you,’” signaling a drastic change from her previous writing. It’s unapologetic from the very beginning, as Del Rey no longer succumbs to putting on a front for anyone. She doesn’t care what anyone else has to say, and she’s finally ready to be honest with herself and her fans. That’s what I love most about this album, as Del Rey looks back at her experiences with a critical eye, yet she never actually regrets any of it. “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” is her way of being honest with her fans as she finally understands and accepts her past and is ready to move forward in a more watchful manner.

Seven years after “Born To Die”, Del Rey knows too much, and has seen too much. She can no longer be that naive girl she once wrote about, as she’s come to terms with the fact that the world truly is a dangerous place. There’s no room for her to live as recklessly as she once did, and on “Norman F—ing Rockwell!”, she  understands this truth.

While it may not be glaringly obvious to her average listeners, Del Rey’s growth between these albums is apparent  to avid fans such as myself. Detailing her change in attitude and lyricism would take me years, yet just comparing these two albums shows a great deal. “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” is still Lana; she still speaks of death and violence, but it’s her at her most self-reflective.. She’s no longer worrying, as she sings of trying her best and not having “to be stronger than you really are”. Del Rey realized that while she can’t run away from her past, she’s still able to change herself now.

Furthermore, whether it be another persona she has taken on or not, “Norman F—ing Rockwell” beautifully details being a woman. It chronicles setting yourself up for heartbreak, never being taken seriously, and always doubting yourself despite doing all you can do. This record doesn’t speak of appeasing men any longer, they are painted simply as people in her life that exist. She realizes that she can move forward without a man.

Del Rey has her own autonomy and is capable of existing by her lonesome, although it’s not always fun. To her, life is meant to be filled with heartache, sadness and anger. It can’t always be a bed full of roses, and she sings about this avidly on “Norman F—ing Rockwell!”. Lana Del Rey has lived and learned, and with this record, she shares  her knowledge with the world.

Ashviny Kaur can be reached at [email protected]