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Love Letter To A Record: San Cisco On Lana Del Rey’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Scarlett Stevens, San Cisco – Lana Del Rey, ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ (2019)

One of my earliest memories of touring is drinking way too much tequila on one particular night and singing ‘Video Games’ into an Impulse can in a hotel shower, fully clothed, pouting my lips for full effect (I’m pretty sure the evidence of this lives in an iPhone 4 somewhere and I hope it never surfaces). It was a tragic scene and the impetus for me to never want to drink again on tour.

I guess deep down I’ve always had a soft spot for LDR, at least more than I would care to admit back then. There was that infamous SNL performance and those sneering rumours of LDR being an ‘industry plant’. Her authenticity as a pop star, her backstory, her makeover, were being scrutinised by an industry built on double standards.

I was young and naive and experiencing the music industry for the first time as an adult and as a woman, unaware of how covertly sexist it was. I actually fell for the stereotype that LDR was just this pretty, submissive pop star with no agency over her own music and look, perhaps a sign of my own internalised misogyny.

I definitely had a moment with Ultraviolence. I remember thrashing it in the tour van, thinking it was edgier and more dangerous than Born To Die.

Fast forward a few years and LDR’s career has become somewhat a symbol of resilience and strength in pop culture. Through her music and imagery, she has consistently pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a woman in pop, gracefully brushing off the haters along the way. Her sixth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, is a real testament to this. It’s pretty much a flawless record.

I could write a love letter to the title (also the opener) track alone. The album is entranced by a familiar feeling of nostalgia, brought on by the old time-y piano chords and swirling classical strings, which is offset by LDR’s brutally honest and modern words “Goddamn, man-child” and “your poetry’s bad and you blame the news.” I love the way the chorus lyrics soar, ’Cos you’re just a man, it’s just what you do, your head in your hands as you colour me blue’ a further nod to the mid-century American artist Norman Rockwell and the current broken state of America.

‘Venice Bitch’ is the 10 minute acoustic and synth banger I didn’t know I needed in my life. ‘Fuck it I Love You’ is minimal yet hypnotic.

There’s this line in ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex’, “they mistook my kindness for weakness” that I find deeply relatable as someone who is firm in their beliefs but is easily perceived as passive. I love how LDR subtly challenges those tropes of herself and simultaneously encourages us to do the same for ourselves.

There is so much to unpack in this album, lyrically and sonically, I feel like I could go on all day! So much has been said about this record (there’s a great Pitchfork review of it), but to me it will always remind me of being 27, shifting into adulthood, hanging out with my girlfriends, the first taste of summer and feeling wild and free. LDR has been the spiritual guide for my 20s without me even realising it.

San Cisco’s fourth studio album Between You and Me is out today, 4th September. You can listen to it here.

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