In addition to its breathtaking landscapes and bustling culinary industry, New Zealand has something absolutely extraordinary to offer: the pop music darling Lorde.
Best known for her chart-topping 2013 debut single “Royals,” Lorde is a hidden gem amongst her contemporaries for her masterful lyricism and thought-provoking exploration of youth. Lorde wrote and recorded her debut album “Pure Heroine” at just 16 years old and shocked critics and pop fans alike with a sense of introspection and emotional intelligence well beyond her years.
What separates Lorde from her contemporaries is her refreshing refusal to glorify what society defines as the pinnacle of young adulthood: getting wasted on expensive liquor, sporting luxury brands and experiencing tumultuous love affairs.
“Pure Heroine” feels like a record written on Lorde’s 14-hour plane ride from New Zealand to Los Angeles, a teenage introvert slowly bracing herself for newfound stardom, coming of age and later succumbing to the overindulgent nature of young adulthood that she once criticized. The record remains relevant for anyone going through a developmental point in their life, especially while the COVID-19 pandemic keeps them feeling isolated. Its themes are truly epic and tell a compelling story of suburban monotony, the naivety of youth, disillusionment with fame and the fear of aging through the lens of a sharp-witted teenager eager to escape her humdrum hometown.
One of the most impressive stories is told on the song “Ribs.” Lorde elaborates on her bittersweet relationship with aging and coming to terms with the brash reality that everything she knows will someday cease to exist. She desperately clings to what little she has left of her innocence: her childhood best friend and their memories together. As many of us find ourselves trapped at home, we feel the environment of our youth closing in around us.
Another track off of her debut album, “Buzzcut Season,” highlights the political dormancy Lorde experienced as a teenager. She describes the violence raging around the world with “explosions on TV,” cleverly using the television to emphasize the separation between sheltered teenagers and the violence itself to highlight the younger generation’s state of political oblivion.
While “Pure Heroine” may emulate the girl who would rather stay in than go to a rager, in “Melodrama,” her follow-up record, Lorde becomes the party herself.
“Melodrama” encapsulates all the shades of early-20s young adulthood, described by Lorde herself as an album that takes place in one single night of partying, showcasing a complex range of rollercoaster-like emotions.
The music video for the album’s lead single, “Green Light,” features Lorde on a midnight drive, cathartically releasing her frustrations surrounding a recent breakup that left her emotionally paralyzed.
The genius of Lorde isn’t simply her subject matter but also her impeccable usage of metaphors and poetic language to deliver her lyrics in a memorable way. She utilizes the metaphor of the green light similarly compared to the iconic novel “The Great Gatsby” to symbolize moving on from a traumatic experience.
Lorde’s clever use of imagery and poetic language in songs like “Homemade Dynamite” reinforce the idea that pop music does not have to be devoid of specific detail to resonate with mass audiences. She continues this impressive usage of poetic language on this album highlight where she delivers a tongue-in-cheek description of reckless drunk driving.
She playfully sings, “Might get your friend to drive / But he can hardly see, ooh-ooh / We’ll end up painted on the road, red and chrome / All the broken glass sparkling / I guess we’re partying.” No one other than Lorde would describe the disturbing scene of a potentially deadly car crash with “sparkling” broken glass, with the blood of the accident acting as paint for the canvas that is the road.
The album closer, “Perfect Places,” leaves the listener with a rhetorical question, which I deem to be the ultimate synopsis of Lorde’s view on life and overall mindset as an artist: “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”
The key to creating long-lasting pop is finding the balance between lyrical specificity and mass relatability. For a pop song to stick with a listener, it needs to be specific enough that it is lyrically impactful and relatable enough that it is applicable to a wide range of interpretations. With “Melodrama,” Lorde strikes this balance perfectly.
The lesson of Lorde’s work is that the human mind is insatiable and the grass will always be greener on the other side. Conflict is inevitable and the glorification of your past life — or even an idealized future — will leave your present state feeling perpetually incomplete.
As Lorde pivotally realizes in “Perfect Places,” the human condition is imperfect, and the sooner we stop chasing a perfect reality, the closer we will be to finding inner peace.