‘Melodrama’ at five: how Lorde’s cinematic pop opus inspired a new generation of artists

The Kiwi artist's groundbreaking second album cemented her status as a flag-bearer for a wave of young, emotive pop songwriters. Words: Sophie Williams

‘Melodrama’ was the sound of a young woman about to go out into a world that kept pulling itself from under her feet. Released five years ago this week (June 16), the second album from Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, spoke to feelings beyond what a single person could bear: navigating your first real, unexpected breakup while juggling what it’s like to feel free, determined, and confused at the same time.

The follow-up to the New Zealand-born artist’s debut, 2013’s monochrome-tinged ‘Pure Heroine’, was a groundbreaking masterclass in balancing heart-on-sleeve bombast and intimacy. It topped NME’s Albums Of The Year 2017 list, while its maximalist lead single ‘Green Light’ –  a cathartic electro-pop anthem imbued with pounding beats, Phil Collins-sized drums and real electricity – saw Lorde going two-for two, after being named our song of the year. It was an outstanding achievement that is yet to be replicated by another artist since.

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Produced by acclaimed songwriter and Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff, ‘Melodrama’ saw Lorde illuminate the dignity in her pain, and extend a helping hand to those who may have been going through a similar journey. She threw her heartbreak onto the dancefloor and breathed in its neon, transformative glow: “When you’ve outgrown a lover / The whole world knows but you,” she sang on expansive centrepiece ‘Hard Feelings’, encouraging listeners to be generous to themselves after the breakdown of a relationship. ‘Liability’, meanwhile, captured the hard-earned nobility of loneliness: “Every perfect summer’s eating me alive until you’re gone / Better on my own.” This masterful command of emotions proved that she is a powerful, needed figure in pop music.

Not that Lorde herself agreed with the critical acclaim at the time: “I’ve always known that it’s bullshit when people would say ‘voice of a generation’”, she said in her first-ever NME cover story, which dropped the same week as ‘Melodrama’. “I’m gonna nip it in the bud now… this is not what this is, and it will never be that.” Yet the gravitational pull of ‘Melodrama’’s songs – threaded with a narrative of moving alone through early adulthood, faltering a little less with each step until euphoria takes over – made young people feel seen and heard.

“Lorde’s ability to get to the ‘nerve’ of a song inspired me to really go there and find the heart in my songwriting,” BRIT Award-winning singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone tells NME. She’s not alone: a bevvy of newcomers writing emotionally-charged pop have grown up with ‘Melodrama’ as a key, life-changing reference for their own music. They tell us, in their own words, what the album means to them.

Jensen McRae

Jensen McRae
Credit: Press

“‘Melodrama’ gave an entire generation of young women permission to feel their vast feelings, and to intellectualise them simultaneously. I think Lorde belongs in the tradition of Fiona Apple in that way, of helping to construct narrative legitimacy for the pain, angst and triumph of young women.

“The musical space I currently inhabit, a space that rewards heightened sensitivity, deep wisdom and close reading, wouldn’t exist in the same way without Lorde’s work. Listening to ‘Melodrama’ at the exact halfway point of my undergraduate music education set the tone for how I would continue writing about my feelings and my life experience, as I wrote what would become my first and I believe my most important single, ‘White Boy’, just a few months later.”

Remi Wolf

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remi wolf
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME

“Before I heard ‘Melodrama’ for the first time, I wasn’t as tuned into production as I am now. The songs on that album still really shine five years on; I like how understated they are, but they’re still impactful. After touring with Lorde last year, I realised that the tiny, elegant details of songs like ‘Homemade Dynamite’ and ‘Supercut’ translate when played live too – they’re so striking and precise. They work because Lorde doesn’t shy away from the theatre of performance, which is something I also learnt from her and will be applying to my own headline shows.

“Young people still turn to Lorde because her songs are so honest that they feel like confessionals. In songwriting nowadays, I think there’s a lot of fluff going on, but her lyrics cut to the core of very specific human experiences. She’s a poet, and I think that her fans really resonate with her universal truths of youth. The imagery that you get from her music is so vivid – I think Lorde is like a special alien writer!”

Allison Ponthier

Allison Ponthier singer
Credit: Julian Buchan

“I remember listening to ‘Melodrama’ around Pride, where I first met my girlfriend, who surprised me with Lorde tickets that summer. She took me to this concert, and it changed my life. Lorde performed St Vincent’s ‘New York’ with Jack Antonoff, and in that moment I was like, ‘This was made for me.’ I really struggled with my sense of self back then, and everything about that concert, which was ‘Melodrama’-centric, totally changed what I thought it meant to be an artist. ‘Melodrama’ is not just about the successes of someone; it is about the faults and weaknesses, and learning about yourself while growing up.

“I then really started paying more attention to Lorde after she did her SNL performance of ‘Liability’. It’s the perfect song, and I think it has influenced me more than entire albums have. I’m not trying to write that exact song every time, but the feeling and essence of ‘Liability’ follows me everywhere, as many of my own songs also illuminate my own faults.

“This year, I got to go on tour with Bleachers. I was really excited because it marked a full-circle moment since I saw Lorde and Jack perform together. The biggest thing I took away from that experience was when I spoke to Jack for the first time, I brought up how much that ‘Melodrama’ concert meant to me in 2017. He fully lit up, and as we talked, it was clear that he still really cares about the cultural importance ‘Melodrama’ has, particularly for young women.”

Dylan Fraser

Dylan fraser singer
Credit: Ho Hai Tran

“‘Melodrama’ made me realise that pop music doesn’t have to be a one-dimensional experience, and that you can be creative and make interesting shit, while the masses can still enjoy it. It inspired me to think outside the box when it comes to songs and production. It’s just honest, real, and boundary-pushing, and I think most new artists strive to be those things too. I love Lorde’s willingness to push boundaries and try new things, and how she treats albums as conceptual experiences. It’s like little moments in time that she creates her own world around, and I think that’s so fucking cool.

“I also used to listen to this album when I would walk to college every morning. I only went there for a year before I dropped out, but this album made me dream of bigger things whilst walking in the pouring rain every morning. Scotland, I love you, but the weather is intense – although ‘Liability’ hit differently in the rain!”

SPIDER

spider artist
Credit: Press

“Listening to ‘Melodrama’ for the first time was like being hit by 6,000 bricks of inspiration at once. I felt such a huge urge to create more music after listening to it; there was something so powerful and consuming about the production. I was also just left in awe of the songwriting throughout the whole project – it made me want to make my own ‘Melodrama’.

“The album really taught me the importance of not compromising your artistic identity for fear of not fitting into what’s popular at the time. ‘Melodrama’ became the album that I listened to whenever I needed to get out of a writing slump, especially when I first started making music and didn’t really know where I was going. The album was like my North Star, and each time I would listen to it, 200 new ideas would follow. ‘Melodrama’ has such a distinctive identity: there’s no album like it and there never will be.

“‘Melodrama’s ability to capture time keeps it living in the hearts of artists everywhere. When you put it on, you’re transported to specific moments. Only great writing and production can do that, and I think that every artist’s goal is to make something that can do what ‘Melodrama’ still does for people years after its release. To make something that doesn’t have an expiration date in the current moment is fucking difficult, so when you find something that does that, you want to keep it close to you. ‘Melodrama’ is the ultimate example of music that follows you [through life], and now I only want to create things that make people feel a similar way.”

Phoebe Green

Credit: Lewis Vorn

“Lorde has always been such an inspiration to me because she rose just as I started writing. What she has to say is so insightful and interesting for someone of her age. It’s fascinating to hear someone so in tune with their emotions and their environment, because I felt so much from so young, it was really reassuring to see someone not inhibited by [that feeling] or ashamed of it.

“‘Melodrama’ is such a perfect representation of emotionally-charged pop music. It’s so euphoric, yet so heavy, but so uplifting, too. Lorde just gets it – she will always be one of my favourite people. She transforms and you never get sick of her songs, they’re timeless.”

Nate Brazier

nate brazier artist
Credit: Sam Shack

“So much of being a young artist is about reflecting your life in your music, and putting your interior on paper for the world to observe, and I think Lorde really commemorates that. I remember around the time ‘Melodrama’ came out, I was biking home from a party with my friends, and once we’d all split our separate ways, I played ‘Perfect Places’. It felt like the perfect use for the song, as I reminiscing over the night. It became my go-to end of the night song after that – for the night bus home, the last train, the early morning Uber, wrapping all the memories of the night into this romanticised montage.

“Lorde’s ability to put nostalgia into words is super inspiring; almost every track of hers is drenched in a certain sentimentalism – even homesickness – which really affirms the sanctity of youth. Through her, I’ve learnt to glorify the mundane in my writing – she put ‘teenagerdom’ on this pedestal and wrote about boredom with such charm.”

Leith

Leith artist
Credit: Press

“On ‘Melodrama’, Lorde is so authentically herself. Her songwriting and storytelling is so specific to her experiences, but also universal. The album has definitely made me want to have more fun with my songs. The lyrics on ‘Melodrama’ somehow make me feel like I’m in that moment with her, and I think that’s every writer’s dream; to make people feel that way.

“Every time I listen to ‘Melodrama’, I hear something different, whether it’s a sound or a lyric or even a change in inflection from chorus one to chorus two. It also feels like a time capsule in her life, and I think all artists aspire to have that with a project. There’s so much personal exploration in the album, and I think all young artists can relate to just trying to figure out who they are through their music – and ‘Melodrama’ still feels like the perfect example of that.”

Kai Bosch

kai bosch singer
Credit: Press

“Lorde taught me the importance of being unashamedly real – it often feels like her biggest musical inspiration is herself. I think that’s something that she has really drilled into me: to not try and be anything I’m not. ‘Melodrama’, therefore, was monumental for my own artistry. This album really laid the groundwork for my own music, and I was constantly coming back to ‘Melodrama’ as a point of reference – it’s a masterclass in how pop music should be done.

“‘Melodrama’ also perfectly captures that weird gap of being an early 20-something, where you’re no longer a teenager, but yet to feel like an adult. I don’t think an album has ever illustrated that in such a concise way before, and I think that’s why so many people see themselves within Lorde’s music – she is a trailblazer for young creatives. Whether it be purging an ex-lover on the dancefloor in ‘Green Light’ or having a one night stand in ‘Perfect Places’, there’s a sense of proud messiness throughout ‘Melodrama’, and I think that’s why we resonate with it. In a climate where it feels like the world might end within our lifetimes, we might as well keep enjoying, keep failing and keep learning – and doing so with no shame.”

Sarah Kinsley

Sarah kinsley singer
Credit: Press

“‘Melodrama’ was revolutionary for me as a pop album in the way it completely flipped structure on its head. Lorde changed the way I envisioned the flow of a single song and an entire record. The dogma of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, outro – whatever we believed to be the standard – she moulded it into something completely new. And this liberating side of ‘Melodrama’, that has really stuck with me and my work. [I want to] create pop music: juicy, sweet, daring, open, intimate, full songs that have no bounds – as I think ‘Melodrama’ did.”

Joesef

Joesef singer 2021
Credit: Alexandra Waespi

“I’d just come out of my first serious relationship when I heard ‘Green Light’. The whole album completely held me up after that – it was absolutely devastating and simultaneously euphoric. Lorde is a visionary and a trailblazer for young artists who know exactly who they are. She’s just always seemed like herself and it has felt like enough, there is never any bullshit.

“‘Melodrama’ has only resonated more as I’ve grown up and experienced new things; I think you need to live with an album to truly appreciate it, and ‘Melodrama’ always finds me when I need it. People can also see themselves so vividly in the stories Lorde tells.  Heartbreak makes you feel like the last person on Earth, but hearing music like this feels like you’re not alone anymore, and that’s why it will last forever.”

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