Lorde has been said to be the pop music equivalent of antimatter to artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, with her low vocals, alternative beats and instrumentals, and darker sense of style. Now twenty, she describes the sixteen year old who released her first album, Pure Heroine, in a recent interview with Elvis Duran, as a broody “goth”. In multiple interviews she’s talked about how Pure Heroine was an homage to being a teenager, how it was what she needed to write at that time in her life, and now, after years of living largely off the musical grid, her sophomore album, Melodrama, was released yesterday.
The progression from Pure Heroine to Melodrama is staggering. Switching back and forth between the albums gives a deep impression of the personal growth Lorde has gone through since being that sixteen-year-old goth teenager who got a skyrocketed start with the popularity of her single “Royals”.
Pure Heroine is an album by a teenager, about being a teenager, for teenagers. It takes the adolescent experience and expands it into a romanticized fantasy that speaks to the intensity of emotions teenagers feel as they’re forced to navigate high school, and growing older. More specifically, Pure Heroine tackles the suburban fantasy, a concept that creates both the breeding ground for cutthroat high schools and a practically stereotypical setting for teen-targeted movies. However, when growing up in this suburban environment, the intensity of emotions students experience truly feels astronomical. Lorde both validates these emotions by echoing them herself in her music, and pushes back against the suburban fantasy by taking its to its logical – and at times dark – extreme.
The opening song on Pure Heroine, “Tennis Court”, takes on a tone of apathy specifically as a coping method. Lorde exposes the hierarchies of a suburban high school setting while making it a bit too clear “how little [she cares]”, even calling it an “artform” to portray such apathy. The song opens with her asking “don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk / making smart with their words again, well I’m bored” and then later decides she’ll “be the beauty queen in tears.” She manages to poke fun at the performative nature of high school while still getting across how deeply it affects her. This trend continues throughout the album. Lorde’s sense of humor is very tongue-in-cheek. In “Team” she references the teen party scene by saying, “I’m kind of over gettin’ told to put my hands up in the air / so there” and in “A World Alone” she takes a jab at out of touch adults by saying “maybe the Internet raised us / or maybe people are jerks.” Her lyrics speak to to kind of listeners who not only feel disillusioned from their surroundings, but from themselves, and her descriptions of the suburban setting show this.
However, the song which takes this disillusionment furthest is “Glory and Gore,” taking a practically dystopian tone. Lorde brings the listener into the song in the first verse through the second person, singing “you’ve been drinking like the world was gonna end (it didn’t) / took a shiner from the fist of your best friend (go figure)”. She brings us into this cutthroat world where “someone’s gotta go”, with the payoff being glory, a concept kept vague throughout the song. The necessity of being something bigger, greater, than what you currently are, is another common theme in a teen’s mind, especially one like Lorde, who skyrocketed to popularity so young. However, like in many of her songs, Lorde distorts this concept of glory and makes it dark. The bridge of the song again includes the listener, saying “we gladiate but I guess we’re really fighting ourselves / roughing up our minds so we’re ready when the kill time comes / wide awake in bed, words in my brain, ‘secretly you love this, do you ever wanna go free? / let me in the ring, I’ll show you what that big word means’”. The “big word,” in this case, is glory, but in order to get it, Lorde has to abandon any pretenses she has about compromising herself. She shows this fight for greatness as a fight to the death, and in the end, the chilling part is that she loves it. This is where the fantasy breaks down, when Lorde argues that one has to pick between greatness and goodness.
The extended version of Pure Heroine was released a few months after the original, and features a key song, “Bravado.” The song shows the beginning of the recovery Lorde has set up in the album’s narrative arc. She set the stage by laying bare all of her facades that she’s built up through the original track list of Pure Heroine. As the music builds, so does her honesty, and there’s a key shift in this part of the song as she takes power back from all of the defense mechanisms she’s used she shield herself. “And the story’s brand new / and I can take it from here / I’ll find my own bravado” she tells us, and in this moment, the backtrack goes quiet for a split second, and then her tone completely changes. For the first time, Lorde lays out insecurities that aren’t padded with humor, sarcasm, or metaphor.
Fans who listen to Melodrama may notice significant stylistic changes, most notably in Lorde’s instrumentations, from Pure Heroine. However, these changes are not a departure, but rather, a continuation. Melodrama is truly an album about recovery. In that same Elvis Duran interview, Lorde tells us, “I had my heart broken… I went from being sixteen and going ‘I’m never gonna cry about that, that’s lame’ and then… you go through it and it’s such a full, intense thing and I found myself changing as I came out of that…” These changes, both present in the openness in Lorde’s lyrics and the more face-paced, electronic, sometimes even “poppy” instrumentations she employs in some of her songs.
The album opens with the first single released off of the album back in March, “Green Light”, and immediately sets the stage for a departure from the “no care” attitude of Pure Heroine. “Green Light” is a breakup anthem where Lorde readily admits that she “can’t let go” of her past love. Yet, in this song, she’s making her own demands. She asks “did it frighten you / how we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?” The song is also somewhat of a departure from Lorde’s typical instrumentations, blending different styles and sounds throughout. The chorus truly embodies whan an anthem sounds like. It’s upbeat and playful despite the overtone of sadness throughout the song. The change in instrumentation and lyrical bluntness works to establish, right at the beginning of the album, Lorde’s new upfrontness with her emotions, truly a new way she’s grown as a person. She’s hurt, but despite that, she’s done hiding behind the artform of apathy.
This is a lyrical trend that continues throughout the album. In “Sober” she even calls out that past performance, saying “played it so nonchalant / it’s time we danced with the truth”. “Sober” is a song which calls out a lot of the act Lorde was using in Pure Heroine. Like “Tennis Court”, it exposes her facade of indifference, but unlike “Tennis Court”, she doesn’t celebrate her ability to keep it going. Lorde tells us “these are the games of the weekend / we pretend like we just don’t care / but we care” and asks “can we keep up with the ruse?” She recognizes now that her apathy is unsustainable, and that moreover, it’s hurting her. “Sober” addresses this by introducing a theme of alcohol that’s present in several more songs on Melodrama. The refrain of “but what will we do when we’re sober” is present throughout the chorus, and Lorde pairs it with the more typically “positive” lyrics in the song. These images of being “King and Queen of the weekend” are undercut by the refrain, like the concept of leaving the party and returning to normal life, where Lorde will once again have to face the reality of her heartbreak, is a cloud hanging over her party. Unlike the scenes of teen fantasy in Pure Heroine, which, despite the fact that they were ultimately torn apart, were written to be fantasies, “Sober” has a harsh tone of reality that shows us Lorde’s self awareness and the end of the “queen bee” of apathy image she created while writing Pure Heroine.
That deconstruction is also present in subtle references to Pure Heroine throughout Melodrama. The refrain of “broadcast the boom, boom, boom / and make ‘em all dance to it” in “The Louvre” is reminiscent of Lorde’s declaration in “Team” that “I’m kind of over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air”. The second verse of “Homemade Dynamite” also references the image Lorde created in “400 Lux” of a dreamy drive down a suburban street. In “400 Lux” Lorde talks about how “we’re hollow like the bottles that we drain” but “we might be hollow but we’re brave”. She creates this image of effortlessly driving through “tree streets” without consequences. In contrast, the verse in “Homemade Dynamite” tells us “might get your friend to drive, but he can hardly see / we’ll end up painted on the road / red and chrome / all the broken glass sparkling / I guess we’re partying”. The shocking image of a drunk car crash completely tears apart Pure Heroine’s romanticization of the same image, and the final line of “I guess we’re partying” is a dismissal which purposely creates a sense of uneasiness in the listener. Lorde shows us that not only is apathy unsustainable, but so is living constantly like we did as teenagers. We have to grow up, or risk crashing and burning.
The end of Lorde’s “endless summer” is also referenced multiple times in Melodrama, like in “The Louvre” she tells us that “summer slipped us underneath her tongue”. However, nowhere is this imagery more present than in the first part of “Hard Feelings/Loveless”. This song is one of Lorde’s most personal on the album. Not only does she directly reference her breakup, but she talks openly of the emotions she was feeling as the relationship died. In the beginning of the song she says “guess this is winter / our bodies young and blue” to show us some of the harsh reality of growing up and realizing that some things don’t have happy endings. She tells us “I’ll fake it every single day ‘til I don’t need fantasy, ‘til I feel you leave”, showing us how much she’s hurting. It’s in this song that we clearly see that the image of apathy in Pure Heroine was yet another fantasy. It was a protective shell she used, coating herself with sarcasm and indifference. Now she readily admits that truth, yet has grown enough to recognize that a better way to cope is to walk through the pain.
Melodrama features a few ballads, another new style of song for Lorde, one of which -“Liability” – was released in March a week after “Green Light”. In this song, Lorde pours her heart out to us, telling us how she feels like a liability to those she cares about most. There’s no sarcasm here, no hiding behind double entendres and metaphor, just a heart-to-heart with the listener. Through this song, she show sus that allowing yourself to human and vulnerable, knowing when you’re emotionally exhausted, is a part of recovery too. That knowing you can put yourself together again after feeling broken is a necessary part of getting older.
However, despite this ballad being the most stripped and vulnerable song on the album, the ballad most telling of Lorde’s new frame of mind is “Sober II (Melodrama)”. This song feels similar to “Bravado” in the sense that it’s Lorde after the show has been finished, the people have gone home, and she’s once again left alone. The refrain of “oh how fast the evening passes / cleaning up the champagne glasses” sets this mood, and Lorde allows herself to be angry. She’s not empowered, she’s not working in spite of anything, she’s just angry and upset. Interspersed between that refrain is “we told you this was melodrama / our only wish is melodrama” and while these lines are somewhat neutral in tone, this devolves as Lorde tells us about “all the glamour, and the trauma, and the fuckin’ melodrama”. Just like in “Bravado”, where Lorde begins to discard her facade, in “Sober II (Melodrama)” she’s trying to reconcile all the emotions she ignored when playing to apathy. Now that the party is over, and she’s left alone with herself, like so many working through a personal trauma, she feels dramatic. She hyperbolizes like in “Glory and Gore”, talking about “…all the lovers / how we kissed and killed each other” as her emotions reach new highs and lows. Lorde is grieving the past, and she lays that openly for us. Gone are the days of quietly “fighting ourselves”. This time, Lorde lets the whole world know her grief.
The leap from Pure Heroine to Melodrama is large, but still headed in the same direction. Throughout her multiple year hiatus, Lorde grew up, and in response, she wrote an album documenting that. The “queen bee” that released “Royals” has moved onto understanding herself and her emotions. She’s learned, like so many other teens do, that indifference can only be “cool” for so long. With Melodrama Lorde is genuine and open, and in a funny way, this shows us how little she cares about anyone’s else’s perception of her more than Pure Heroine ever did. •
Remy Davison likes to say he’s from New York, but secretly grew up an hour outside of it. He currently studies design in Pittsburgh, and is learning how to balance that with his passion for writing and theatre. Just try to stop him from double texting, having late night discussions, or talking about Star Trek. Tumblr | Instagram