Lorde (finally) comes of age with new album
Lorde’s discography can be encapsulated in a single phrase: coming of age. The singer spends her third album, Solar Power, grappling with what it means to be all grown up, reflecting on the hopes and fears present in her past projects and completing what seems to be the last chapter of a three-part Bildungsroman.
The artist’s first album, Pure Heroine, dissects adolescence from the inside out. Lorde takes on teenage status in “White Teeth Teens,” singing about a group of peers who “do nothing, and love it” before confessing that she does not belong to this group after all; “The Love Club,” too, examines the tension between the desire to grow up—get free, “take the pill,” sit “pretty on the throne”—and the risk of becoming “severed from the people who watched you grow up.”
At other points, Lorde is even more frank in her misgivings about exiting her adolescence: “it feels so scary getting old,” she confesses after noting that she has “never felt more alone” (“Ribs”). Is the singer drawing a connection between adulthood and isolation?
Perhaps—but to Lorde, maturity can only be understood in the context of potential fame and increased worldliness. In “Still Sane,” the singer wonders what it will mean for her to achieve renown, expressing fears concerning success and identity: “only bad people live to see/Their likeness set in stone,” she asserts before asking what that “make[s] [her],” making manifest her worry that fame might make her a worse person.
Lorde’s focus on fame, identity, and ageing doesn’t disappear with the release of her second album, Melodrama. But where Pure Heroine had the singer standing on the precipice of adulthood and staring down in apprehension, her sophomore effort sees her actually jumping from the cliff’s edge, then laughing and crying all the way down. “Perfect Places,” the second single from this album, encapsulates the rocky yet exuberant rush through young adulthood. “I’m 19 and I’m on fire,” Lorde gushes, simultaneously exuding joy in the cacophony of youth and frustration at her inability to find the “perfect places” for which she is looking.
This same sense of unstable happiness pervades much of Melodrama. In “Sober II (Melodrama),” Lorde marvels at “how fast the evening passes” before she finds herself cleaning “champagne glasses,” the high point of the evening having apparently gone by in a flash. She finds herself characterizing nights like this as a mix of glamour, trauma, and melodrama (“Sober II (Melodrama)”). The highs may be high, but the “terror and the horror” are never absent, even though she may feel “wild and fluorescent” in the moment (“Supercut”). Lorde, it seems, may be “on fire” as a young adult, but this isn’t a controlled burn. Her exciting, glamorous life, which she describes as a “Supercut,” is rushing by at breakneck speed. And if “Liability”—in which she compares herself to a “toy” that “people enjoy/’Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore”—is anything to go on, Lorde has yet to reconcile fame and personal identity, worried, as she is, that people will grow “bored” when she has nothing left to offer. “Melodrama,” then, has complicated Lorde’s vision of adolescence and adulthood without offering much resolution.
In “Liability,” the singer complains that though “running through the night” may be exciting, “every perfect summer’s eating [her] alive.” But in “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” the second single from the singer’s recently released third album (Solar Power), she’s ready to slow things down to a walk: “my hot blood’s been burning’ for so many summers now,” Lorde sings, recognizing that “It’s time to cool it down” after having been 19 and “on fire” (“Stoned at the Nail Salon”) (“Perfect Places”). In the four years between her two albums, she has finally completed the fall into adulthood, where things are calmer (if not as exciting). “Stoned at the Nail Salon” sees the singer reflecting on youth from the outside, telling listeners that they will “grow out of” the music they loved at sixteen in reference to a line from “Ribs” about having left a song called “‘Lover’s Spit’” “on repeat.” But although there is something bittersweet about losing your love for things that felt like life and death when you were in high school, as Lorde says herself, it’s impossible to remain on the “carousel” of youth forever. Eventually, you have to turn off “Lover’s Spit” and put something else on instead.
The singer does not say with certainty whether this cooling off is an entirely positive development, but given the way she conceives of its apparent inevitability, this might be the wrong question to ask. Perhaps, she allows, some of her more cynical musings about lost beauty might be mere side effects of whatever she smoked before heading to get her nails done—or maybe she truly does “love this life that [she has],” even if it isn’t as glamorous or as electrifying as her previous search for those “Perfect Places.” Lorde, it seems, has finally grown up for good.
“Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)” builds on this notion of resolved adolescent angst. Far from the uncertain, unmoored seeker, the singer now casts herself in the role of a mentor and “tour guide,” both ruminating on the reality of “Growing up a little at a time then all at once” and advising listeners that they must “want [the best] for [themselves].” Not only has Lorde completed the process of growing up, but she also feels qualified to guide others through their own years “on fire” (“Perfect Places”).
But this offer of mentorship should not be overstated. Lorde will be a guide, she has determined, but “if you’re looking for a saviour/ That’s not [her]” (“The Path”). What, then, is 24-year-old Lorde’s approach to fame? To dismiss it. As much as she may be happy to impart wisdom with her lyrics, she’s not interested in having any statues put up in her name.
Nia Sylva is a senior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in History and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She loves running, cooking and watching the New York Giants lose every Sunday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Lorde performs at the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark on June 30th, 2017. Krists Luhaers / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License