Lorde's Melodrama: A Triumphant Tribute to the Trials of Early Adulthood

Lorde's Melodrama: A Triumphant Tribute to the Trials of Early Adulthood

The musical prodigy returns with her sophomore album—a simultaneously heartbreaking and euphoric account of where she's been over the past four years.

The musical prodigy returns with her sophomore album—a simultaneously heartbreaking and euphoric account of where she's been over the past four years.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Lorde was gone for way too long. Her debut album Pure Heroine, meant to be a little record that outlined a 16-year-old New Zealand girl’s thoughts on her friends and the suburban culture that surrounded her, took the world by storm due to her surprising wisdom and awareness of how the world operated and how she fit within it. She created her own soundscape, defined by soft electronic beats, sparseness, and confidence, and inspired a generation of young and self-assured artists. Then she disappeared and let them take the momentum. But her sophomore album Melodrama, released today, explains why she took so long: she had to grow.

Melodrama sees Lorde deal with her first major heartbreak and enter her wild child phase, signaling the point where she herself becomes the subject matter in her music. She’s no longer the girl on the outside looking in commenting on the events that surround her—she’s become the life of the party. The album, co-produced mostly by Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff, expands her signature sound without losing its DNA — synths and organic instruments collide seamlessly, and big rushes of sound are matched with long atmospheric moments that envelope the listener. Throughout, the production is both aquatic and airy, low-key and extravagant, playing as the perfect meeting of minds between her and Antonoff. As the music grows, so does Lorde, as she enters a cycle of love, destruction, and reckless partying.

In context of the album, lead single “Green Light” is Lorde catching us up on life since her rise to fame, trying to get over a break-up and just not finding the key to moving on. “Sober” takes us straight into the party, perfectly merging the tempting dangers and exuberance of a night out. A couple tracks later, she crashes from her high on “Liability,” as her ways become too much to handle for herself and everyone else. From there on, her cycle of unbridled happiness, debilitating indecisiveness, and refusal to let go continues, slowly revealing a more spontaneous and emotional side to the usually cool and collected artist.

That’s not to say that her ever-changing feelings take over completely (although she could very well justify that). Her moments of wisdom and sharp humor are more than present on Melodrama, exemplified most on “The Louvre,” where quips like “We’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in the Louvre/ Down the back, but who cares, still the Lourve” reveal Lorde’s bright mind and carefree nature. This is also shown in the track’s dynamic sound, which effortlessly switches from mid-2000s grunge rock to underwater hip-hop bass to an Eagles-esque guitar fadeout while still sounding like a classic from Lorde’s repertoire. It provides the perfect contrast to songs like “Writer In the Dark,” in which she faces her devastation head-on and makes her first attempt to heal across straight-forward piano, her voice swelling to Kate Bush-levels of catharsis that we’ve never heard from her before.

The beauty of this album is that the story isn’t just told with Lorde’s words, but with little musical tricks that perfectly match what she says. On “Loveless,” she explains how our generation is utterly ruthless as the volume gradually lowers, signaling our decline. On the next track, “Sober II (Melodrama),” she treats her generation like a grandiose opera, with dramatic strings and extravagant bravado. With this and throughout the album, she explores contrasts that are remarkably accurate on both sides, and completely reflective of our constantly changing mindsets. Each track brings a different emotion, but all of it rings true.

“Supercut” sees Lorde almost reach a level of full healing as she accepts her mistakes, reflects on the good times, and wishes that she could have given more (“In my head, I do everything right”), in an '80s-style, subtly cathartic rush of intense synths, drums, and piano riffs that perfectly compliment “Green Light.” But much like her debut, Melodrama ends in a state of contemplation and uncertainty about her way forward. Lorde hits the peak of party-induced euphoria on closer “Perfect Places,” as she lets the pills and drinks take her away in search of a better place. In the moment, that place sounds heavenly, with a dreamy chorus, woozy synths, and catchy melodies out of the gate. But all good things must come to an end, and as she comes back down and wonders “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?,” we all get sent back to that state of wonder.

Lorde is still finding herself and making her way through life, and maybe because of that, we shouldn’t hold her up as the pillar of young wisdom like we did during her debut era. But Melodrama also proves why we did. Her ability to distill adolescence, those feelings of letting go of limitations and searching for oneself in a transition between teenager and twenty-something, into a cohesive yet incredibly dynamic record, is nothing but remarkable. And no word could better succinct those extreme waves of emotion like “melodrama.”

On “Liability,” Lorde concludes, “You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun,” a likely true statement given her track record thus far. We'll miss her, but we should applaud as we send her off, and give her as much time as she needs to explore herself and develop new perspectives. We know it will pay off in the end.

Revisit Lorde's V cover story here.

Credits: Cover photo by Inez & Vinoodh, styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele for V88 in 2014

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