Album Review of "Melodrama" by Lorde


Growing Up Lorde: Giving the Green Light to Both Hedonism and Humility

At age 16, Lorde charmed the pop world with her runaway hit single "Royals," a song about the malaise of suburban teen life. But what happens when the poet laureate of suburban teen pop is no longer a teen--and no longer trapped in the suburbs.

Genre: Pop

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Album Review Podcast - Show Notes
Melodrama by Lorde 

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Album Review: Melodrama by Lorde
Growing Up Lorde: Giving the green light to both hedonism and humility

This is a transcript of Ep. 6 of the What's This Album About? podcast - listen here

Hi, everybody. Welcome to What’s This Album About?, the show that looks at lyrics to uncover the meanings and messages of new musical releases. I’m Bobby Waller, and this time around, we’re looking at Lorde’s new album, Melodrama.

       ♪ Oh how fast the evening passes
            Picking up the champagne glasses
            Our only wish is melodrama

Titles often tell us a lot about an album’s central theme. For example, this song, like the album it comes from is called “Melodrama.” It’s named after a type of play whose characters’ exhibit extremely exaggerated personality traits. Villains are unabashedly evil, and damsels are flagrantly distressed. In melodramas, all emotions are over the top. And that’s the phenomenon that Lorde is exploring in this album. Melodrama is about high highs and low lows that typify the sometimes reckless, often misguided pursuit of club-based thrills in late adolescence and early adulthood.

        All the gun fights and the limelights
           And the holy sick divine nights

To be honest with you, normally, I wouldn’t be too interested in an album about the ups and downs of a club-frequenting 20-year-old. But Lorde is no ordinary 20-year-old. Melodrama is the long-awaited follow-up to her 2013 album Pure Heroine, which featured her unexpected international pop superhit, “Royals.”

       ♪ And we'll never be royals
           It don't run in our blood

“Royals” had many of the earmarks of a standard pop hit—a danceable beat and a young sultry female voice evoking the imagery of life in the fast lane with references to Cristal, Grey Goose, jet planes, tigers on a gold leash—all the things that rappers and pop divas brag about all the time. But the twist is that Lorde sings “Royals” from the perspective of a working class suburban kid who knows she will never have those things. It is exceptionally self-reflective for a pop song, and even more exceptional with the news that Lorde was only sixteen when “Royals” hit big. Music critics all over the world marveled at how such insights and such songwriting acumen could come from a sixteen-year-old, and “Royals” skyrocketed to the number one position in the US, Canada, Italy, the UK, and, of course, Lorde’s home country, New Zealand. 

       ♪ But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach
            Diamonds on your timepiece
           Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
           We don't care
           We aren't caught up in your love affair

But what happens when the gifted sixteen-year-old is no longer a child prodigy—and, in fact, no longer a working-class suburban teen? What would the album of a 20-year-old cosmopolitan Lorde be like?

The album begins with the hit single “Green Light.”

       ♪ I do my makeup in somebody else’s car

A smoldering tone and an image of getting ready for a night out.

       ♪ We order different drinks at the same bars

Two people together but not really.

       ♪ I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth

The smoldering tone gives way to flickers of anger.

       ♪ She thinks you love the beach. You’re such a damned liar.

And we find out there’s another woman for whom the narrator’s love interest has has been putting on airs. Right away, Lorde lets us know that this album will not be the album of an inexperienced sixteen-year-old trapped in the suburbs. This is the album of a young woman navigating her way through the nightlife of early adulthood and—in this song—a breakup. The theme of melodrama manifests itself in the changing tones of “Green Light,” the initial smolder with flickers of anger, bursting into the even burn of a dance beat as Lorde sings about being unable to let go, and the buildup to the hopeful crescendo, the repeated chorus that expresses anticipation of a breakthrough.

       ♪ I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.

“I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it”

       ♪ I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.

Melodrama is the album of someone who’s ready to go, someone on the outer edge of adolescence trying desperately to jump start her adult life through the drama of nightlife.

       ♪ I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.

To be clear, though, this is no ordinary album about the thrills of clubbing because Lorde, with the help of co-writer jack Antonoff, brings to Melodrama the same pointed self-reflection and razor-sharp observational skills that she brought to “Royals.” To illustrate this point, let’s compare a Lorde song about clubbing to someone else’s song about clubbing. Listen to how Liam Payne sings about clubbing in his hit, “Strip That Down.”

       ♪ You know, I love it, when the music's loud
            But c'mon, strip that down for me, baby
            Now there's a lot of people in the crowd
            But only you can dance with me
            So put your hands on my body
            And swing that round for me

The comparison of a Lorde song to a Liam Payne song is apt for a number of reasons. Payne rose to fame as a member of the English boy band, One Direction. So, like Lorde, he is a former teen star coming of age with songs about clubbing that hit it big in the Summer of 2017. But Payne’s lyrics are very different from Lorde’s. They never go beyond the good times. He drinks Bacardi, goes to a club, women throw themselves at him, but he’s fixated on one particularly attractive woman who he hopes will take her clothes off. And that’s it. As he himself puts it, he just wants to have fun and get rowdy, which is fine.  i think there’s definitely a place for songs that focus solely on the physical aspects of club life. But as the host of a show about songwriting, I look for songs that lend themselves to a richer lyrical analysis. And Lorde definitely delivers. Listen to how she sings about clubbing on the track titled “Sober.”

       ♪ Oh God I’m closing my teeth around a liquor-wet lime

She closes her teeth around a “liquor-wet lime.” It’s a very evocative image of seduction. But then…

       ♪ Can we keep up with the ruse?

…then she calls her seduction a ruse. For Lorde, club life is more than just physical.

       ♪ Jack and Jill got fucked up and possessive
            When they get dark

She recognizes it’s a game, a conquest, and she questions the results that such a conquest might bring. Listen to the first few lines of the chorus:

       ♪ King and queen of the weekend
            Ain’t no pill that can touch our rush
            But what will we do when we’re sober?

She begins with images we might find in a Liam Payne song, boasting that she and her love interest are “king and queen of the weekend” and that no pill can touch their rush. But then she quickly wonders what will happen when the alcohol wears off and recognizes that what replaces the rush may not be so glamorous.

A similar thought is expressed in the single “Homemade Dynamite,” which acknowledges the emotional volatility of a flirtation with a fellow thrill-seeking club-goer who she describes as someone she doesn’t know super-well. Let’s listen to the chorus:

       ♪ So let's let things come out of the woodwork
            I'll give you my best side, tell you all my best lies
            Seeing me rolling, showing someone else love
            Hands under your t-shirt
            Know I think you're awesome, right?

Here again we hear about the ruse. “I’ll give you my best side, tell you all my best lies.” I’ll play the game, and I’ll play it hard. I’ll do whatever it takes to seduce you, even though I know that doing so will “make things come out of the woodwork.” Lorde knows these exploits will unleash all sorts of emotional reactions but she engages in them anyway because, at twenty, you’re adventurous that way. I like how she captures the emotional volatility of her actions in the title line…

       ♪ Blowin’ shit up with homemade d-d-d-dynamite

“Blowin’shit up with homemade dynamite…” What an evocative idea. The dynamite is homemade. Lorde and her love interest made it from scratch because there’s no guidebook for anything they’re going through. It’s exciting in that way because it’s innovative and spontaneous. But it’s also dangerous. Because it’s explosive. Shit gets blown up, as Lorde puts it. We drink and dance and seduce near-strangers, but, while the rush may feel great in the moment, it takes a formidable emotional toll.

       ♪ Blowin’ shit up with homemade d-d-d-dynamite

Probably the most poignant account of the costs associated with the emotional volatility of early adulthood is the track called “Liability.”

       ♪ Baby really hurt me
            Crying in the taxi
            He don't wanna know me
            Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm

In it, Lorde laments having been abandoned by a lover who regrets having made the mistake of “dancing in (her) storm.”  And this abandonment, she suggests, is the natural result of the kind of melodrama the entire album Is about.

       ♪ They say, ‘You’re a little much for me. 
            You’re a liability. You’re a little much for me.” 
            So they pull back, make other plans. I understand. 
            I’m a liability. Get you wild, make you leave. 
            I’m a little much for e-a-na-na-na-everyone.

On the whole, though, Melodrama is not really a downer of an album because Lorde’s playfulness shines through even in the midst of all her self-reflection. Some of my favorite moments from this album include her imitation of an explosion in “Homemade Dynamite”…

       ♪ Now you know it’s really gonna blow… [imitation of explosion]

..and the little reality check she gives herself in a moment of self-aggrandizement in the track called “The Louvre.”

       ♪ But we’re the greatest
            They’ll hang us in the Louvre
            Down the back, but who cares? 
            Still the Louvre

Lorde plays with words like no other pop diva on the market. Her rhyme schemes are complex, and both her musical and lyrical phrasing defy listeners’ expectations. She does embraces some of the norms of Top 40 pop but she’s never formulaic. She sings about light-up dance floors and one-night stands but is never prurient about her sexuality. Melodrama gives us a portrait of Lorde at age 20 that is intimate without being titillating and self-reflective without being self-indulgent. In all, Melodrama creates the impression that Lorde is growing up like a lot of young women her age—pursuing the good times with gusto but keeping her hedonism in check with humility and honest self-reflection.

       ♪ Broadcast the boom, boom, boom, boom
            And make ‘em all dance to it

Early indicators suggest that Lorde is navigating the rocky emotional terrain of early adulthood just fine, and that if we, the listening public, are lucky, Melodrama is just a start.

       ♪ I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.
            I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.

Thanks for listening to What’s This Album About? If you liked what you heard, please take a moment to like, comment, share, or subscribe. We’re on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and iTunes, and we’re always happy to hear from you. Until next time, I’m Bobby Waller reminding you to look for the green light, because:

the more you listen, the more you love