Maybe it’s just that I’ve never felt like I was a “millennial,” but Lorde’s media-title of 2013 was the “voice of her generation.” She was edgy, performed Kanye West covers, and didn’t subscribe to the bubblegum-pop mentality. Lorde was—as many of my peers described people as—”alt.” She might have been only sixteen years-old, but she was nominated for and won a GRAMMY, was part of Taylor Swift’s little celebrity/model clique, and even headlined Coachella.
Unlike Taylor Swift; however, Lorde was the new goth. Dressed in all black with ghostly makeup and haunting background imagery, she found a niche in a pop world that is still entirely her own. She even included musical elements of rap music with pitched-down vocals and rapid hi-hats. She might have been anti-fame and materialism on her breakout single “Royals,” but she still wanted to be a ruler of the people: “that kind of luxe just ain’t for us.” Furthermore, Lorde’s “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air” style guided her towards critical acclaim, enough to to stay relevant for the entire three year gap in between albums.
While her debut, Pure Heroine, felt like a collection of the artist’s singles thus far, Melodrama is way more of a cohesive project with reprises, a central theme, and a definitive sound. Building on her character of a Top 40’s pop-star who criticizes their stereotypical lifestyle, the record focuses on tracks written post-breakup, and mostly acts as an alternative, and even commentary on, a topic dominated by the career of Taylor Swift.
With the cutesy lyrics replaced by images of dark and rebellious teen parties of ’80’s era film, Lorde captures her idea of “melodrama” quite well, showing how it affects various angles of her life, as well as the inherent irony, throughout the record. On “Writer in the Dark,” she tells her ex that he must really regret ever starting a relationship with a songwriter because she has now written a whole album about him, the same technique used ad nauseam by Taylor Swift, yet Lorde writes with an air of self-awareness that doesn’t let such a comment remain the crux of the song.
And while I may not love every decision or top 40 concession Lorde makes on the record (such as tracks like “Perfect Places,” “Supercut,” and even “Writer in the Dark”), there is a slight maturity that Lorde has begun to acquire, and one that I hope continues to grow throughout her career. After all, she is only twenty years old; and at times during the record, nineteen. The best part of Melodrama, however, is not the lyrics or even the thematic material, but the sound.
There are a good amount of cringe-worthy moments made on the record, but her decision to remain a different artist than most Top 40 pop stars really shows here, as she adds unnatural sounding vocal lines on “Green Light,” experimental high-pitched synth flourishes on “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” and an interesting blend of dynamics, whispers, and instrumentation on “Sober,” my favorite track on the record. She even stuck it to legendary songwriter Max Martin, by including the key change that completely changes “Green Light” after only the first minute, despite his advice against it.
Lorde might not be my favorite pop artist, but at such an early age, she has her whole career ahead of her. Melodrama is only her second album, and in my opinion, a major step up from her last. The record proves not just that Lorde can stand behind what she believes in when it comes to songwriting, but that she can successfully challenge the genre’s industry-norms. I might not accept her as the “voice of the millennial generation,” but Melodrama adds enough weight to claim that she’s one of the most important voices in contemporary pop music.
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