Norman Fucking Rockwell! tears up the modern feminist message

Photo by FOX via Getty Images.

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Photo by FOX via Getty Images.

Kati Morris

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Listen to the track “The Man” from Taylor Swift’s new album, “Lover” and the message it sends is immediately clear. If I was the man, she said, “I’d be a fearless leader. I’d be an alpha type.”

Swift is no stranger to penning grade-A girl-power bops — her pop debut, “1989was a self-empowerment album from start to finish. Swift, along with other women in pop music, has taken a formulaic approach to writing feminist anthems.

It’s the same formula that Destiny’s Child nailed about 18 years ago when they released “Independent Woman.” With few words, it acknowledged the societal institutions that still hold women back, while promoting independence and self-love. Beyoncé perfected that message about five years ago with “***Flawless.”

So what happens when we switch up that narrative?

Back in 2014, when Beyoncé released her 2014 self-titled manifesto of feminist liberation, Lana Del Rey released “Ultraviolence.” She wrote about women relative to powerful men. She wrote about romanticized abuse and codependency — everything that modern feminism shunned.

When Del Rey released “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” this year, again she placed herself in opposition to the feminist narrative.

“Can’t a girl just do the best she can?” Del Rey asks. “Catch a wave and take in the sweetness / Think about it, the darkness, the deepness / All the things that make me who I am.” While so many women in pop music focus on highlighting all of the things that make women “flawless” and “perfect,” Del Rey takes a more candid approach. She writes about a woman with toxic qualities.

With that being said, can you be a strong woman who is also helplessly and hopelessly romantic?

When it comes to the feminist anthem formula, the prevailing idea is that a strong woman doesn’t need a man. When Del Rey sings “Fuck it, I love you” on “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”, she surrenders her power, rejecting the feminist narrative entirely.

So much of Del Rey’s songwriting revolves around being utterly and tragically in love — so in love that she finds herself out of control. “You know that I’d just die to make you proud,” she proclaims, on “Love Song.”

“Cinnamon Girl” features Del Rey at her most vulnerable. “If you hold me without hurting me / You’ll be the first whoever did,” she sings, a painful reflection of an abusive relationship.

What Del Rey does on “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” is portray a side of her womanhood that we often forget. It’s the part where being strong isn’t always attainable.

Kati can be reached at [email protected] or @neutralsoymlk on Twitter.

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