Talk about pressure. Lorde’s 2013 debut, ‘Pure Heroine’, saw the New Zealand teen – real name Ella Yellich-O’Connor – lauded by the press, praised by David Bowie (he believed she was the “future of music”, according to a former member of his band), inducted into Taylor Swift’s squad and hailed as nothing less than the voice of the millennial generation.
It’s a list that couldn’t fail to have an effect on the ego, or the self-confidence, and when you’ve found fame by connecting with an audience of peers on their own level, singing about your nowhere town and your disconnection from the world depicted in music videos, it threatens to destroy the very thing that made you special.
Lorde’s solution? Shut out the world and focus inwards. ‘Melodrama’ is devilish in its cleverness, using its framing device – a concept album about an out-of-control party, with all its highs and lows and woozy regret – to explore the rush and crash of relationships and the difference between the external and internal self. It often feels like there are two Lordes sparring for attention: the strong, composed young woman and the hidden “psycho” – a word that crops up alarmingly frequently in the lyrics. They’re duetting in ‘Green Light’, the stunning, rule-breaking single, one Lorde coldly observing “Those Great Whites they have big teeth”, the other reacting, breathlessly, “Oh, they bite you”.
With its pounding piano house sound, ‘Green Light’ brought back sounds not heard in pop music for years. It’s indicative of the album as a whole only in its determination to be bold and different. ‘The Louvre’ updates Phil Spector’s girl group formula as it imagines Lorde and her partner hanging in The Louvre (“in the back, but who cares, still The Louvre”), ‘Liability’ is a hymnal ballad reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and the string-drenched ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’ is like something from a musical, albeit describing a desolate scene of champagne flute-strewn carnage. And there’s that voice of a generation thing in play again, always framing experience through a modern lens, like in ‘Supercut’, in which a relationship plays out in condensed highlights, like a YouTube clip.
It’s a rudely excellent album, introspective without ever being indulgent, OTT in all the right ways, honest and brave, full of brilliant songs with lyrics to chew over for months. The message might be that Lorde considers herself wild and flawed and bruised (“I’ll love you till you call the cops on me,” she sings, on the deliciously bitter ‘Writer In The Dark’), but we all do sometimes. That’s the neatest trick the album pulls off – universal connection, in spite of the squad and the praise and the superstardom and the pressure. Humanity intact. Artistry assured. Brilliance confirmed.