An older, more sober Heroine

Lorde changed collaborators for her new album Melodrama.
Lorde changed collaborators for her new album Melodrama.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Four years after the success of her debut album, singer Lorde is back with musings about parties and untrue love

NEW YORK • When your music has been called the sound of tomorrow by no less than icon David Bowie when you are only 16, you either rise to meet expectations or suffer massive stage fright and fade away.

Lorde did seek the comforts of her native New Zealand after her Royals song put her on the global radar in 2013.

She wished to rewind to an old life with friends. "Hugs and dinners," The Guardian cited her as saying. "Trips to the beach. Going to dumb bars in the middle of intersections."

Indeed, four years on, between albums, Lorde makes it sound as if all she did was party. Not that she was having much fun.

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On Melodrama, her second album, her nights out are a swirl of drunken flirtations and reckless relationships where she tries to forget herself, but ends up more lonely and self-conscious than ever.

Momentary pleasures lead to lasting regrets and trivial interactions can seem cataclysmic. It is an exceedingly narrow slice of life, but Lorde inhabits it with feverish intensity is how The New York Times describes the album.

The lead single, Green Light, leaps right into all her conflicting impulses. She is furious at an ex, but still struggling to let go, though, she also notes, "sometimes I wake up in a different bedroom".

But the song's joyous major chords sound as if she has busted loose.

In extensive social-media posts and interviews, Lorde - born Ella Yelich-O'Connor - has presented Melodrama as autobiographical, summing up the time since her 2013 debut album, Pure Heroine, particularly "the last two wild, fluorescent years of my life", she tweeted.

It is a deeply selective account. Between albums (and parties), Lorde was also the hardworking musician she portrayed herself as in the track Still Sane on Pure Heroine.

She toured the world, supervised the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (with a song of her own) and worked steadily on the songs that would follow her world-conquering debut.

Amid the party reminiscences on Melodrama, she also sings about a break-up that she insists was partly triggered by her growing fame.

He "hated hearing my name on the lips of a crowd", she sings in Writer In The Dark.

Lorde was all of 16 and clearly wise beyond her years when Pure Heroine was released.

In most of the songs on that album, she presented herself as a voice of ordinary teenagers, particularly the middle-class types in her hometown in New Zealand.

But with Pure Heroine, Lorde became a pop star. It would make anyone's head spin and give anyone second thoughts - no wonder Lorde, now 20, took so long to make a second album.

She had an infinitude of choices; she had worldwide recognition and new friends such as her fellow teen conquistadora, Taylor Swift.

It is a very different, more rarefied, more isolated peer group.

Lorde is not remotely ordinary any more and is no longer a teenager, though she is not that far away. Perfect Places, another song about trying and failing to party her woes away, proclaims "I'm 19 and I'm on fire".

For her second album, she changed collaborators. After working with New Zealand musician and producer Joel Little on Pure Heroine, she wrote and recorded nearly all of Melodrama with help from other talents.

Writing about parties and untrue love, she risks joining the pop pack instead of upending it the way she did with Pure Heroine.

But she still has the immediacy of her voice, with its smokiness, melancholy and barely suppressed rage, and she refuses to let her lyrics resolve into standard pop postures.

She understands temptation, complicity and self-sabotage as well as self-righteousness.

And she has already posed herself a question she can answer on her next album, after a few more years of growing up.

In Sober, singing about yet another fling entered with misgivings, she asks: "What will we do when we're sober?"

But that is a question for another time. For now, as she tells The Guardian, she is more consumed by this thought.

"When your first record is so well received, at such a fledgling time, you think: God, what if I develop? And what if they don't like who I develop into? What if they want me to go back to being an embryo?"

But the worldly-wise Lorde knows she will never be able to please everyone. "I'm trying to make stuff that looks like the inside of my brain. So how can criticism touch me? As long as I know I'm transcribing my brain faithfully and vividly?"

And where does she want to end up eventually?

"I think I'm pretty good now. I think I've made a good start. But I want to be Paul Simon. I want to be Leonard Cohen. I want to be Joni Mitchell. And that takes time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'An older, more sober Heroine'. Print Edition | Subscribe