Review: Norman F-cking Rockwell

Years and years ago, I used to publish music reviews on this blog. They were usually my most engaged-with posts, albeit before “engagement” was as much of a buzzword as it is now. But the reason I posted those reviews was not for engagement purposes. I was at an important moment in my life, passing from teenage-hood into adulthood, and a lot of albums that were released spoke to me directly at that juncture in my life. And so, in lieu of being able to do much else, I wrote through my feelings. In the process, I got other people to listen to the music I listened to.

Now, Lana Del Rey doesn’t really need exposure. But I have needed to write through my feelings about her music for years. I wrote my college application essays to Born to Die and Lana Del Ray (catch the spelling) A.K.A. Lizzy Grant; refused to listen to Ultraviolence during a tumultuous summer after my freshman year of college; blossomed through Honeymoon; finally went back to Ultraviolence and mourned; exulted in Lust for Life; and relived it all over again through Norman Fucking Rockwell.

I love Lana Del Rey. I used to not at all; around the time she released Blue Jeans, I thought she was emblematic of everything wrong with the world. I thought she romanticized abuse, engaged in dangerous nostalgia for Americana (“I belong in the 50s!!”), and was just generally not talented.

And then I listened to Video Games. Or maybe it was Born to Die. Or maybe it was Blue Jeans. I can’t recall what I listened to first because I had instantly devoured her entire discography. And I got it. I intuited what she was trying to do, the artist she was trying to be, the themes she was trying to explore, and I saw the spite that was threaded through her work. I felt a kinship with her spite. Yes, the character of Lana Del Rey was mired in abuse and darkness and she thought she was loving it, but we were invited to live in the wrongness of it all with her, and through living in it, were exposed to the lushness and neons and filters that allow you to think, just enough to make it real, that “Maybe this (the pain, the abuse, the darkness) isn’t so bad.”

That’s the genius of Lana Del Rey. She doesn’t write music for the lowest common denominator to consume thoughtlessly: she wants to invite you into the nostalgia with her and learn, with her, that it’s terrifyingly easy to excuse toxicity when it’s couched in beauty.

Simultaneously, she is unapologetically feminine. She engages in the usual tropes: jealousy, cattiness, ruthless ambition, the Virgin, the Whore, the helplessly devoted girlfriend… and then she subverts it with tenderness, with moments of light and escape. In those moments, you realize. The femininity, Lana’s content, is not the issue: the problem is in the negative space. Implied to be kitty-corner from Lana’s music is the toxic masculinity, the patriarchy that makes Blanche DuBois – fragile, afraid, mentally ill – so much more villainous than Stanley Kowalski – a rapist, a misogynist, a wife-beater. We lionize Marlon Brandos at the expense of the Marylin Monroes. Lana Del Rey’s early music was uncomfortable because it was a reflection of our own proclivities.

It was lazy and simplistic of me to blame Lana Del Rey for romanticizing abuse; just as it’s lazy and simplistic and dangerous of us to blame the victims of abusive relationships for not leaving their partners.

Maybe this isn’t actually a review of Lana’s latest album. I’ve been growing and evolving with Lana since Born to Die. To be here with her, occupying the world of Norman Fucking Rockwell, is to luxuriate in the person I have become, to reflect – with tenderness where it should go (towards me) and spite where it should go (to those who have hurt me). And it feels like a homecoming.

Norman Fucking Rockwell is not painless. It forces you to lock eyes with the person you used to be, the places you used to inhabit. It exposes the pretenses of your past, reminds you that the wounds you used to have are still a part of you. But it loves you unconditionally. It shows you where you are now, and nods to the people who are there with you. It tells you it’s okay to hide for a little while so you can get back to the growth promised you. It reminds you that there are walls to lean against when you can’t stand on your own. It tells you that hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like you to have – but you have it. And, most importantly for me, it tells you it’s okay to ask to be treated tenderly.

I always knew I loved Lana Del Rey. She has been one of my favorite artists since 2011. But I didn’t realize she was my favorite artist until I got to the end of this Billboard article ranking all the songs she’s released. As soon as I saw what #1 was, I broke down crying. I may not have agreed with all the rankings, but the name of each song brought up a memory, a feeling, an experience from the past decade of my life. The epiphany that came with the tears was undeniable in its strength.

Lana Del Rey has gone from being an object of scorn to my favorite artist. And – though I accept that this may be a reach – that is a pretty solid parallel to my own journey, from self-loathing to knowing that every day, I become a better version of myself.

Maybe Lana Del Rey didn’t teach me self-love, but she taught me to be patient with myself. Things might be rough now. But there’s always another album on the way. There’s always more tenderness to be found.

(TRIGGER WARNING) On rape and sexual assault

I don’t care who reads my blog. I have a lot of family who reads this, many friends from back home and here and other places, many relatives whom I don’t know very well, and complete strangers too. I don’t care about social sensitivities at the moment – because this is something that needs to be read and understood by each and every one of us.

We have internalized misogyny and in doing so, we have perpetuated a rape culture, one where the victims are blamed, where the first question on a person’s mind when hearing about sexual assault is “Well, what was she wearing?”

Let’s get one thing clear – rape is not a result of sexual desire.

Rape is an instrument of inequality, dominance, and an ideology so deeply rooted in society that victims are more often than not blamed for being raped. It is rooted in cultures where victims are afraid to even report rape for fear of being shamed. It is rooted in a patriarchy where people can use rape as a method of punishment in isolated areas.

It is rooted in a world where the biggest insult to a man is being equated to women; where MALE RAPE VICTIMS are virtually unheard of because no one wants to admit to being that weak. But ladies and gentlemen, male rape victims do exist, certainly not in as large a number as women, but a substantial number nonetheless, and one that CANNOT be ignored. And it isn’t just about rape – it’s sexual harassment that happens daily and can be reported by ANY woman, EVERY DAY!

Rape is rooted in our mindsets. Which is why I say let the protests rage on. Let them not be dimmed by voices crying out for peace. Forget peace. This is when you shatter the peace to cry out in outrage. This is when you break down taboos and hush-we-don’t-talk-about-these-things ideals and say NO. I RECLAIM MY AUTONOMY. I RECLAIM MY RIGHT TO JUSTICE.

You want victory for all the women who have succumbed to the trauma of rape? For the women to haven’t and rage on and fight? For the women who’ve accepted it and moved on but still have that scar marring their pasts?

Then get angry for all the people who’ve been assaulted and harassed and raped and molested. Get angry, and get angry loud. More rapes are left unreported than are not – shame on us for perpetuating this.

Enough is enough. It’s about time we changed things. It’s about time we taught our boys not to rape and didn’t just rely on our girls to be careful, because they damn well shouldn’t need to be. No more using “rape” as a casual interjection in everyday speech. No more talk of “sluts” getting what was coming to them. No more hesitation before a woman can report her assault.¬†And no more inaction from the people who need to take action.

Tear the silence with a scream of outrage. It’s about damn time.

Not all things are meant to be forgiven and forgotten

Do we honestly find it so easy, as a society, to forgive people like Chris Brown simply because he’s a celebrity? Or is there something deeper, a misogynistic tendency embedded deep within a society that has grown to deem it acceptable?

Let me answer that: it’s both.

We live in the kind of mass culture where on the basis of your power, wealth and prestige, you can be forgiven for heinous things for which a normal person may not just simply be rightly convicted, but the wrong person can be convicted as we watch without batting an eyelash. Institutional racism comes into mind here; if you’re an ethnic minority and well-to-do, chances are you’ll probably be considered automatically suspicious by a not-very-ethnic police officer. Heck, you don’t even have to be a police officer, most of the time, to side-eye a middle-aged black gentleman in a suit.

But forget ethnic minorities for a second and come back to heartthrob Chris Brown. He has looks, money, and an insane following. Let’s throw Rihanna into the equation. Chances are, a lot of people liked her less because she was ruining their erotomanic desire for Chris Brown.

Now let’s throw a few punches into the equation. Chris Brown made a big, big boo boo. One that, righteously, should leave him hated and ensure a quick fall from stardom.

Except, now, in 2012, he gets defended by people because obviously, Rihanna had it coming. And it’s not like he caused permanent damage or anything, right? Besides, the chick’s making songs about how much chains and whips excite her! Look, he’s obviously remorseful, look at all those songs he’s making about how she ruined his life just because he messed up her face a little.

And everyone falls for it. It’s Rihanna’s fault for being a strong, black woman. She should have known better than to ruin Chris Brown’s career, that harlot!

If Rihanna was your sister, you’d be feeling very, very differently about forgiving Chris Brown. If you were a decent human being, you would despise Chris Brown because men like that do not deserve to be forgiven if they hit their significant other and whine about it in songs about heartbreak.

But this isn’t even an isolated event, this happens all the time. Take yesterday, where half the world was mourning the lost of songstress Whitney Houston, while the other half was muttering, “she had it coming, that lousy drug addict,” and making ha-larious graphics about how they can’t tell Michelle Obama, Oprah and Whitney apart because, here’s the kicker, they’re all black!

Conveniently, everyone chooses the forget the abuse she was subject to by her husband, Bobbi Brown. Everyone forgives Charlie Sheen because he’s funny. No one raised a fuss against Mel Gibson, cause he was Jesus Christ, you guys!

Take a step back, world, and start thinking about acquiring a bit of decency. Women, this goes out to you too – oftentimes, we’re the ones judging our own sex, we’re the ones putting ourselves down, we’re the ones making snide comments and setting the egalitarian movement back a couple decades with every Fair & Lovely add we watch.

Think a little. I’ve heard it’s something some humans can do.

Also, courtesy of the incredible Kate Beaton:


EDIT: For a detailed account of what exactly happened the night Chris Brown beat Rihanna, go here.
EDIT 2: If this isn’t the perfect example of psychotic ignorance slash cult worshiping of celebrities, I don’t know what is. Thank you to a friend who showed me this article!