Lana Del Rey Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Lana Del Rey is smiling more these days. Sometimes she’s smiling through tears, like she does in a hazy shot from the recent video for “Fuck It I Love You,” but she’s smiling all the same—a sign of a new level of nuance from an artist who made a name for herself peddling dreamy, depressing cliches about heartbreak and self-destruction. On her fifth studio album, 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Del Rey harnesses the world’s perceptions of her—in the January single “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have—but I Have It,” she reflects those perceptions back at the world, calling herself a “24/7 Sylvia Plath.” The album continues the dusty Americana narrative begun in 2012’s Born to Die, back when critics accused Del Rey of inauthenticity, unable to square her indie-pop sensibilities with her Top 40 aspirations. Seven years later, she leans into her sad-girl archetype with confidence. Del Ray produced NFR! with pop powerhouse Jack Antonoff (who’s recently worked with Lorde, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Taylor Swift), and the record’s 14 songs display masterful restraint, showcasing her vocals with stripped-down guitar and piano. Del Rey builds a mellow portrait of dissatisfaction and longing yet makes these timeless emotions feel very current: she drops a pin in her parking spot, stares out to sea, refers to herself as “the most famous woman you know on the iPad.” On “The Greatest,” a Beatles-tinged anthem for the end of the world, she jumps from references to David Bowie and Kanye West to land on what feels like the thesis of the new album: “The culture is lit / And if this is it / I had a ball.” It’s Del Rey’s trademark despondency taken to a macro level—all the world’s a deadbeat lover, and sometimes all you can do is shrug and try to have a good time.   v