Coming in at number 4 in WSUM’s Top 10 of 2017 list is Lorde’s Melodrama.
Most of you are probably familiar with Lorde at this point. At the young age of 21, Ella Yelich-O’Connor has already risen to global superstardom. This time around, she didn’t enjoy the same wild commercial success that followed Pure Heroine and mega-single “Royals”. However, on Melodrama, Lorde follows a promising debut with a masterstroke. Melodrama perfectly captures the essence of being young and stupid while showing wisdom beyond her years.
When Lorde enters her 20’s and leaves her teenage years behind, Melodrama comes as a retrospective on being a young woman. The central plot lines to the album focus on a few signature trope of teenage life: a first major breakup and a house party.
Lorde’s heartbreak is clear on many tracks on the album, starting with the anthemic opener and lead single “Green Light”. Lorde sings “But honey I’ll be seeing you down every road, I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it, ’cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go”. She’s aching for that green light, the release and the signal that it’s okay to begin to move on. When discussing the song, Lorde said “I realized this is that drunk girl at the party dancing around crying about her ex-boyfriend who everyone thinks is a mess. That’s her tonight and tomorrow she starts to rebuild”. There are ups and downs to any recovery, and those are showcased best on the tender piano ballad “Liability”, where Lorde sings about worrying that she’s “a little much” for anyone. About this track, she said, “It’s about me and just feeling the pressure of people finding it difficult to be friends with me- to be close to me”. While some pop stars write breakup songs trashing their ex, Lorde opts for a different route based on self-care and reflection. On “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, she begins to heal, singing “I care for myself the way I used to care about you” (a MOOD for 2018 if I’ve ever heard one). On “Supercut”, Lorde imagines a dream version of her previous relationship.
“In my head, I play a supercut of us, all the magic we gave off, all the love we had and lost…’cause in my head, I do everything right. When you call, I’ll forgive and not fight, because ours are the moments I play in the dark. We were wild and fluorescent, come home to my heart.”
She expresses a longing for that feeling but knows that she has to move on. She takes the positives from a bad situation and grows from it.
Lorde has had an adolescence that most of us could only dream of, but she’s still a millennial at heart (she even made a fake Instagram account this year to feature different onion rings she tried in different cities). Perhaps her best quality on Melodrama is her ability to relate so closely to the generation she’s a part of without ever coming across as disingenuous or cheesy. On “The Louvre”, a standout from an album full of standouts, she sings “I overthink your punctuation use”, alluding to young people over-analyzing texts shared with their crush. Tracks like “Sober” and “Homemade Dynamite” are all about the highs of youth, when “you’re just king and queen of the weekend, you own the party.” The reprise of “Sober”, “Sober II (Melodrama)” details the morning after. Lorde sings “Lights are on and they’ve gone home, but who am I? Oh, how fast the evening passes, cleaning up the champagne glasses”. She says that there’s a certain sadness to the lights coming on and breaking that space that once was.
The inclusion of two reprises, “Sober II (Melodrama)” and “Liability (Reprise)” show that Melodrama is a carefully and meticulously constructed concept album. Lorde’s ability to take a long look at the important events in her life and see them as crazy and over-the-top (as the title Melodrama suggests) is truly remarkable. She effortlessly relates to the millennial listener by nodding to the craziness of teenage life without robbing us of the value of those experiences. Stacey Anderson, a senior editor at Pitchfork, wrote “Lorde rages in a self-aware hedonism, reckless in grief yet knowing that tomorrow her heart will begin to heal…her party has pills, dresses rumpled on the floor, no absence of profanity, and a sense of humor, too: the moxie it takes to not only acknowledge your extravagant emotional contortions, but wink at them drolly by calling the whole thing a Melodrama.” This perfectly sums up the feelings evoked on Melodrama: we’re going to go a little crazy and make some stupid decisions, but in the end, we know everything will work out.
Musically, Melodrama is the antithesis of a top 40 pop record. There isn’t a hint of typical pop music in the whole album. You’d never find the soaring tones on the bridge of “Hard Feelings/Loveless” in a Taylor Swift song. The barebones piano of “Liability” feels distinctly hers. There is a complexity and density to a lot of the songs, but it’s never overbearing. It’s a blissful saturation, hitting the mark exactly without moving a step over it. Lorde’s main collaborator and producer on the album was Bleachers frontman and former fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff. While he has produced for mainstream pop royalty, he brings an indie touch to the record and helps set Lorde apart from her peers artistically. Lorde’s synesthesia serves as an interesting base for the album. She explores a variety of styles and colors, but the album as a whole, to her, feels blue.
When discussing writing “Sober II (Melodrama)”, Lorde explained “It’s funny, I have synesthesia, which people have asked me about, and the clearest example of synesthesia kicking in with this record was with this song and with the other part, “Sober.” It just, all of a sudden the color of the record was so present and vivid and it was just the craziest — just this sort of rain of violets and blues. And it was so intense, and that sort of came to shape the rest of the record.”
On Melodrama, Lorde is iridescent: showing luminous colors that seem to change when seen from different angles. She’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime visionary artist, and a voice that will continue to soundtrack a generation for years to come.