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Some people love her, and some people love to hate her: Lana Del Rey is among the most divisive figures in modern pop music. Her 2012 Saturday Night Live performance was almost universally panned, and the album she promoted with that set, Born to Die, wasn’t received too hotly either. Yet with the August 30th release of her fifth album Norman F****** Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey seems to be on top of the world.
Music critics have called NFR! a masterpiece, heavy and beautiful, and the work of someone fully in the driver’s seat. These comments are levels more positive than the reception Del Rey received at the start of her career, when rumors abounded that she was fake and possibly an “industry plant.” Yet the enthusiasm about Del Rey’s newest album should surprise nobody, as she’s been slowly unveiling her newest phase to positive response over the course of a full year.
Del Rey released her first NFR! single, “Mariners Apartment Complex,” all the way back in September 2018. That song and its companion “Venice B****,” released just a week later, showcased her most blissful, languidly psychedelic music to date. From that moment onward, fans and critics alike found themselves thrilled with the prospect of a more mature, refined Del Rey – and all eyes were permanently on her.
At the top of 2019, Del Rey followed her brief burst of September activity with another new song. Its title makes an unforgettable statement before the song even begins: “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It.” People noticed that for Del Rey to use the pharse “woman like me” acknowledges, if not knowingly winks at, the unsteady reputation she’s built over the course of the decade. Some music critics even went so far as to say that “Hope,” “Mariners,” and “Venice” together comprised some of the best music Del Rey has ever made.
Just one problem remained: Del Rey technically had yet to formally announce NFR!. This style of releasing music – announcing album titles, slowly unveiling new songs, finally setting release dates – is nothing new for Del Rey. It’s likely intentional, a way of intriguing listeners so deeply that, when her albums arrive, the hype around them is unshakably huge. That’s why, in May, when Del Rey released her cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” everyone paid attention – even her cover of a band as divisive as Sublime was well-received. By the time Del Rey ended July with an official NFR! announcement and release date, she had laid the groundwork for sky-high expectations regarding the album.
The album’s final two singles, “F*** it i love you” and “The greatest,” delivered on that promise. Released only a week before NFR!’s release, the combined music video for these dimly lit, breathtaking soft rock songs racked up five million views in just nine days. When the album finally arrived not long after, it received far more critical acclaim than any Del Ray album before it. Del Rey is peaking hard right now, but what’s most exciting is that, since she’s only five albums in, her all-time peak may still be on the horizon.