It’s been four, long years since we last heard from Ella Yelich-O’Connor, otherwise known as Lorde, the brilliant singer-songwriter-producer from New Zealand who took over the world with her debut single when she was just 16 years old. So, what has she been up to since you ask? Well according to Melodrama, her second album released yesterday, she’s been partying, but not having all that much fun.
When Lorde spoke to New York Magazine back in April, she told Jonah Weiner that over the course of Melodrama’s 11 tracks, the album would tell the story of one party in particular. “With a party, there’s a moment where a great song comes on and you’re ecstatic,” she said, “and then there’s a moment later on where you’re alone in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, you don’t think you look good, and you start feeling horrible.”
By that point, the public had heard two offerings from the album: lead single “Green Light” and ballad “Liability,” both songs encapsulating the overwhelming and conflicting feelings Lorde detailed in that interview. “Green Light,” which also opens Melodrama, is an anthemic song that defies so many rules of what makes a modern pop song that Max Martin himself told Lorde it was “incorrect songwriting.” He has a point; as a song, it shouldn’t really work. “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car / We order different drinks at the same bars / I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth” she growls before the song takes a sharp left turn into an infectious chorus accompanied by a house piano that have the song, and Lorde herself, bursting at the seams. But it’s not long until you’re screaming along with her, “I’m waiting for it! / That green light! / I want it!”
The party reaches its apex with the blaring horns of “Sober” and infectious chorus of “Homemade Dynamite.” But every party has to end at some point, and Lorde is just as interested in the high as she is the come down. “Baby really hurt me / Crying in the taxi / He don’t wanna know me / Says he made the mistake of dancing in my storm / Says it was poison,” she laments on “Liability” before accepting, “You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun.” She’s not the first wonder if she’s “too much” to find love, whether its platonic or non platonic, but few have conveyed it with the same conviction.
On “The Louvre,” Lorde recalls her wardrobe all over an unnamed lover’s floor, overthinking punctuation of a message received and a shared love so vivid that they would hang it in the world’s largest museum (in the back, but who cares?) before devolving into something more volatile altogether. “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark / Now she’s gonna play and sing and lock you in her heart,” she threatens on the haunting “Writer In The Dark.” She goes inward on “Supercut,” lost in a whirring and fluorescent dream where she does everything right and the memories are all beautiful. It’s only when she wakes up that she realizes this is only half of the story.
So much of Lorde’s effectiveness as a writer lies in her specificity; it’s what made her first album Pure Heroine such an incredible achievement. Together with producer/co-writer Joel Little, she had managed to capture the teenage experience with a brutal honesty that felt like a breath of fresh air. Melodrama feels like a bold step forward, and an honest portrait of life since her debut. No longer is she stressing about getting older (“Ribs”) or working through her disillusionment with pop culture (“Team”). Now, she’s watching the sun set on her time as a teenager, reckoning with the dawn of adulthood and cradling a broken heart. Her collaborator this time around is Jack Antonoff (though Little pops up with a credit on “Green Light”), who is quickly becoming a household name in pop music. He pushes the singer into places she’s never been before, as he’s done for other artists in the past (namely Taylor Swift) to mixed results. But Lorde’s expert songwriting skill and his swirling production are a match made in heaven; Melodrama is yet another vivid snapshot in time, only this time we’re peering into the romantic, and oftentimes intoxicating, feelings that come with leaving your teenage years behind.
“Maybe this is the party / Maybe the tears and the highs we breathe / Maybe all this is the party / Maybe we just do it violently” wonders on “Liability (Reprise).” “You’re not what you thought you were” our protagonist realizes as the song ends. By this time, the party has ended. Everyone else is asleep, but Lorde is still awake. The sun will be up soon. It’s a scene we’ve all either seen in movies or experienced first hand. The memories are fragmented, but come together in the misty-eyed final chapter “Perfect Places” in which she asks us, “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?” The answer: they don’t exist.
It would be easy to write that Melodrama is a break up album, but that’s simply one small hue in a varied palette of colors. It’s gorgeous but devastating all at once. This is an album about coming to terms with the fact that despite what others might tell you, being alone doesn’t always have to be such a bad thing. Sometimes, downing another drink and turning the music up to drown out the fire raging inside of us isn’t enough. Sometimes, the person you need the most in those moments where nothing is okay, is yourself. The kids may not be alright, but they will be, and that’s enough.
***Essential Tracks: Green Light, The Louvre, Liability, Writer In The Dark***