In 1996, I was a metal head hating my life as I was moved to a very small town outside of Lafayette. For a kid from New Orleans, the backwards thinking, minimally entertaining atmosphere had me going crazy in terms of figuring out how I’d eventually get out of there. That year, over twenty years ago, also happens to be the year a lady from New Zealand would be born. Much like my world at the time, Lorde dreamt of getting out and making something of herself.
Jump ahead twenty years, and we currently live in a world where the music industry has a newish, shining star. Obviously I’m talking about Lorde. She’s been celebrated by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters as the future of alternative music, parodied by the creators of South Park in a glorious non-offensive way(It’s not normally like that when Parker and Stone sets their sights on someone), and she’s become a very public figure who hangs out with the current queen of Straightforward Pop, Taylor Swift. All of those things are great, amazing and exciting, but it does little to actually explain why she’s become such a powerful musical force, even if she only has one album out and another one that was just recently released, in all it’s darkly, forwardly pop thinking mindframe
Her 2013 debut. “Pure Heroine,” was a nearly instantly well known record that resonated with “music snobs” like myself, but also with a wide audience who very well may be entrenched in traditional pop offerings. From the opening beats of the record, you can tell it’s something different than the glossy everyday ho-hum of her counterparts. Opening track “Tennis Court” weaves in and out, like a distant light coming full focus under the cover of darkness. Multiple tracks on the debut reinforce Lorde’s unique style of pop music, if you want to call it that.
Take a song like the infectiously playable “Royals.” The song is honest in a way that most music isn’t. On the track, Lorde pierces the cliches of modern music, while at the same time lamenting about how she’ll never be be just another pretty face. This serves her purpose in a more palpable and permanent way. Remember Kesha, or any of the other blantaly played down pop of the last few years. More than likely is the chance that while you may recognize songs from time to time, these artists aren’t meant to stay around. It’s a flavor of the month thing meant to be easily digestible and regurgitated quickly to turn profits for the business who run the record companies.
I mention that because Lorde has managed to ground herself quite favorably in that world, but where other fall on the backs of their one successful song, she presides over thinking man’s pop and turns it into something else entirely. She takes herself seriously as an artist, of course, but anyone who listens to her tracks should be able to see that while she may be known as a “pop music queen,” the concepts of normal pop music barely interest her, beyond the obvious digs at the cliched notions of your run of the mill radio music.
So what do you do after you’ve become a household name with songs that are the antithesis of modern music like “Team?” For Lorde, you go away for a little while, build your sound even more in the direction of dark synth pop than your previous record. Released in the last few weeks, Lorde’s second album “Melodrama,” has all the bite of the first album, but it’s influences are more varied than the theme of a young woman discovering her surroundings, both in the music industry and the outside world as a whole.
Opening the album with the incessantly danceable “Green Light,” it’s clear she’s evolved majorly from the girl whose brain often dreamed of seeing the world and getting out of her hometown. The record is focused and displays mature growth, in both its musicality, as well as sincerity. Not to imply at all that “Pure Heroine” wasn’t honest, but her outlook and perception of the world has changed in drastic ways over the last few years. This is most obvious on a song like “Writer in the Dark.” It’s my favorite song on the record, and mostly it’s because of how much she pushes herself during it’s three minute and thirty-seven seconds. The piano tapping notes slowly, but purposefully ways, it creates Lorde’s first ballad of sorts. The emotion is palpable, and it’s used to brilliant effect. Her voice soars as she expresses regret, sadness and poignancy in ways she simply wasn’t capable of in her early days. It’s a beautifully sad song, and one that proves that she wasn’t just a one trick pony(not like the rest of the album doesn’t also help to drill this point home).
While in the overarching narrative of musical stars and entertainers alike, Lorde as an artist has shown that not only is she album to fill voids with a variance of soundscapes and emotions, but her genuinely kind, patient nature has made audiences far and wide swoon over how someone seemingly as down to earth and honest can survive in the treacherous music industry. Perhaps it's all an act, or perhaps she is the artist that is most likely to succeed beyond traditional wavelengths. If she can keep delivering stellar albums and songs that make everyone want to sing, she just might grow to be as big as Queen B and Swift, although hopefully she’ll keep writing her own songs. That’s where her success is most vital. Stay true to yourself and write about what moves you, and you’ll never be blind in the dark.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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