From the Kennedys to Marilyn Monroe
This week, pop’s self-dubbed “24/7 Sylvia Plath” is blessing the masses with her new album, Norman F—ing Rockwell. With its pearl-clutcher of a title, the follow up to 2017’s exceptionally lofty Lust for Life will once again continue the singer’s exploration of America’s glamorous and gritty underbelly.
From doomed wrong-side-of-the-track lovers to drunk starlets outside the Chateau Marmont, Del Rey has been toying with the collage of American imagery and themes since her major label debut, Born to Die. So throw on a pair of vintage Levi’s and swipe right on that James Dean lookalike as we take a deep dive into her career-long exploration of the U.S.A.
The Hollywood Sign
With the majority of her videos set in California, the Hollywood sign — an iconic symbol for the glamour and grit of Los Angeles — heavily frequents Del Rey’s videos and music. She stood atop the infamous landmark in her 2017 duet with the Weeknd, “Lust for Life,” and also gave a shout-out to it in the trailer for the album of the same name, stating she lived smack dab in the middle of the sign’s “H.” (Honestly, she probably does.)
In her short film Tropico, Del Rey saluted the film legend right where she belongs — alongside Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Jesus. The myth of Monroe — through her metamorphosis from Norma Jean into the platinum-blonde star, along with the swirl of sex and death that surrounded her — feels like a natural tie in to Del Rey’s own transformation from everyday gal Lizzie Grant.
The American flag
Del Rey often references our national banner, particularly in the video for “Born to Die,” where it serves as a backdrop for her doomed romance with a tattooed bad boy — and what’s more American than that? The red, white, and blue also literally swaths our all-American girl while she hangs with a crew of motorcyclists in the “Ride” video.
Lana did Jackie before Natalie Portman, when she created her own diorama of the doomed first family with A$AP Rocky in “National Anthem.” The epic video chronicles Del Rey and Rocky’s very hot political romance, which, much like the Kennedys, ends tragically.
Levi’s (or related denim)
Del Rey is often clad in various types of denim in her videos; if you watch the one for “Ride,” she rocks cut-off jean shorts. Her love of the very American fabric even led her to name a song “Blue Jeans,” which showed a dude stripping out of them. A true American hero!
James Dean (or James Dean-types)
Del Rey’s got a type — and they all have a vaguely James Dean air about them: cooler than thou and slightly aloof. While James Dean in 2019 would have been downright clean cut, the men that litter Del Rey’s world are decidedly not. It’d be surprising if any of them have ever owned a bed frame, which is basically American masculinity in a nutshell.
Is there anyone who is more quintessentially California cool than Del Rey? It appears that feeling is more than mutual for the singer because the majority of her work is set amidst the Pacific Ocean and palm trees. Even the tenor of her music fully inhabits the vibe of the Sunshine State — sexy, slow, and sublime. Speaking of, who else could perfectly cover the legendary California ska punk band and get away with it?
No other industry might be so wrapped up in the myth of American culture as the automobile business. Del Rey’s constant references to old-school cars not only displays her nostalgia for another time period, it’s an acknowledgement of California’s auto-focused culture. Imagine Lana Del Rey driving around in a Prius? Please.
When you mention surfing in pop culture, thoughts immediately go to Gidget, the Beach Boys, Jeff Spicoli — and now, perhaps Lana Del Rey. The ocean has long been a huge part of her music and aesthetic, and with her new album Norman F—king Rockwell, it looks like she’s getting on the surfboard herself.