Lorde established herself way back in 2013 with Pure Heroine, a beyond-her-years debut that stood as a glowing example of how to do pop right. She was only 16 at the time, and the record served as a chronicle of what it means to be young. It was free of pandering or dishonest clichés. Now, four years later, the young woman born Ella Yelich-O’Connor returns to the spotlight with an album all about what comes after.
The New Zealander’s follow-up, co-produced and co-written with Jack Antonoff, is the best pop record of 2017 thus far, and even surpasses its predecessor Pure Heroine. It is more cohesive, yet more varied; more mature, yet more spirited. While not a concept album, there is a loose narrative surrounding the eleven tracks concerning a wild night out on the town. This framework allows the now twenty-year-old Lorde to deal with everything a youthful night entails.
This ranges from a casual romance doomed to fail in ‘The Louvre’ through to the crazy-ex in ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless.’ The latter half of this two-parter is the most poppy song she’s ever made, with her repetition of “L-o-v-e-l-e-s-s generation” over glitchy drums – but like everything on Melodrama, Lorde sells it with her intimate vocals. It isn’t all sad tales of love and rejection though. Many of these tracks detail the uncertainty, doubts and fears of someone just out of their teenage years. Her lyrics are the perfect cocktail of grief and hedonism, like in the chorus for ‘Sober’: “We’re the King and Queen of the weekend/ain’t a pill that could touch our rush/But what will we do when we’re sober?”
Later in that same song, she remarks, “we act like we don’t care/But we care.” That lyric acts as the connecting tissue of the album. Lorde captures the supposed impassivity of youth, even as they try to assign profound meaning to their debauched parties and attempts to delay the morning after. At the same time, it avoids reading like a diary, with a healthy dose of profanity, and a self-aware approach to the excess and extravagance of her tales of decadence. In ‘Sober (Reprise)’ she drolly repeats, in a falsetto, “Our only wish is melodrama.”
Pop maestro Max Martin once referred to Lorde’s early hit ‘Royals’ as “incorrect songwriting,” insofar as a top 40 pop record should sound. That atypical trend is continued here, starting with opener and first single ‘Green Light.’ Starting with regular house piano and isolated vocals, it abruptly transitions to a pulsing synthesiser with a boom-clap drumbeat and pitched-up, sometimes falsetto singing. Instead of feeling random and piecemeal, the song is engaging and imbued with the same youthful spirit as her impassioned lyrics. This New Wave aesthetic continues in tracks like ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’ with its industrial pounding, and the haunting pulse of ‘Supercut.’
This level of craft and introspection is rare among her peers. That Lorde is only twenty makes it all the more remarkable. Four years out of the spotlight could have been disastrous for a new artist. Instead, that time away has allowed Lorde to hone her voice and skill for a refined album that bucks the trend of the sophomore slump, standing heads and shoulders above her contemporaries.
Melodrama was released on June 16th, 2017 via Lava/Republic Records.