When, during my junior year of high school, I was assigned to read The Great Gatsby in AP US History, I quickly informed my teacher I had already read the work in 8th grade. She laughed at me and said that the work was one I need to read every five years, as it will teach me something new with every passing month. I didn’t care for her comment, I was just mad I had to read it again. However, at this point in my life, I realize she was prepping me for the type of critical thinking we barely do- that of the long term. It is rare for us to consume work and allow our interpretation of it to manifest over time. We rarely allow our on going life experiences to shape our opinion on things. I am not here to give The Great Gatsby the benefit of my time. I’m here to talk about Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, or as many of you know her- Lorde. An artist who in my opinion, captures a facet of the American story much better than Fitzgerald ever did.
Many old white men with Ph.D.’s say F. Scott Fitzgerald was able to capture the essence of the Roaring 20’s with Gatsby. I don’t really care to disagree with them on that, but I will say we don’t like to give that title to artists anymore. We barely let people say Kendrick Lamar captured the American POC, especially black, struggle with To Pimp a Butterfly, and for me to go and say that Lorde has proven, twice over, that she is able to pen, poetically, the very emotional essence of being a young woman in the developed world— would probably raise some disagreement. I can understand where some of that disagreement could come from, but I will contend Lorde’s girl power is the fact that her writing is abstract enough to capture wide swaths of a specific populace’s emotions.
I was first introduced to Lorde like everyone else, in 2014 when “Royals,” from her debut album Pure Heroine, sat at number 1 on Billboards Top 100 for nine weeks in a row. I was in high school at the time, living the suburban, lucid dream she captured so perfectly. As many of us remember, “Royals” became the song of that year (winning that exact Grammy.) Lorde to the broader public, disappeared soon after. From 2014 to now she has taken a direct hiatus to write and create her newest album, the oozy and powerful, Melodrama. It was when I heard the second album, that many people still don’t realize exists, that I became aware of Lorde’s F. Scott Fitzgerald nature- not only can this girl tell a story, she can, so poignantly, grasp the feeling of an entire generation of young females, time and time again.
Being a woman in the developed world comes with specific hard truths, many of which we can’t fully articulate to someone because they are so part of our everyday lives. Add in the intersections of multiple identities, and the female experience can become rather isolating. Who else is like “us” truly? We begin to believe that the individual we are has experiences that are singular to us. In a selfish act of trying to figure out how to operate in every system in front us, being femme in the developed world can mean in all your identifiers, you never find anyone who can tell your story, because you’ve been led to believe your story is dangerously unique.
You especially feel this gripping sense of selfish isolation as a teenager. 16 in a well-to-do North Texas suburb, I, of course, connected to Lorde’s music as she was singing out my exact experiences. Pure Heroine is an anthem to the vice of a not so wild youth. Lorde had, even at the age of 17, the emotional intelligence to capture what an entire generation of girls in the developed world were feeling. She knew exactly how to articulate what it meant to be so bored that you fell in love with your own debauchery. She told a story that many of us only saw as ours, and helped us all to see that it was pervasive across all levels.
Pure Heroine had tracks about social climbing and falling; “White Teeth Teens.” Songs about accepting your own level of mediocre folly, as teenage girls often dream of bigger parties and fancier lives than their parents allow; “Royals.” There were songs about feeling the pressure of the very potential many teenage girls are confronted with in the prime of their youth; “Bravado.” Many more lessons of teenage life on the 16-track album. It captures a slice of the millennial girl’s story and explains that while nothing is glamorous, every insecurity can amount to something emotionally relevant.
“Royals” won the Grammy for song of the year and numerous other awards on top of this. Through her fame, Lorde remained a girl with big curly hair and a fetish for dark lipstick that I feel every girl had at 16 and 17. She also remained true to the fact that she was still awkward and still learning— from every meme that came out to taunt her mannerisms to every fashion editor that called her a vampire— it was clear that Lorde strove to accept her “imperfections” in a way that validated them in a subtle way. She comes back on the scene in March of 2017, with an album cover to “Green Light,” her new debut single off Melodrama, that looks straight out of Picasso’s Blue Period, and a sound that drips with all the cynicism and magic that comes with being 20.
There aren’t many reviews for Melodrama. Probably because the people who would review it are in their 20’s, and Lorde makes very clear her opinion on being that. 20-year-olds are crowded, they are messy, they are self-serving, they are liars, they are full of, purely exhausting, melodrama. Much like how Pure Heroine was at its core, a critique of the hazy suburban life the majority of western teen girls live— Melodrama comes as a much-needed critique of what we do to ourselves and to others when we hit 20. The reason that her newest work, once again, is so addictive on the level of its content, is because it makes ubiquitous the experience of being a 20-year-old girl.
“In my head, in my head, I do everything right.” Is the tag line to her third track on Melodrama, “Supercut.” Through the album, such ethereal one liners sing out to capture the listener, and maybe even make the 20-year-old girl weep. In this age of music, there are many ways to capture your audience. You can speak on very political social issues, you can speak on very tangible struggle. Lorde, however, picks a much more ubiquitous fight, that, regardless of race or creed, the 20-year-old girl will face at her transition into her next decade.
Melodrama is about owning up to your own dirt, much like how as teens we feel no one will understand us, as 20-year-olds, I can personally admit, we believe that no one will understand our anxiety, our drama. We feel very special in our suffering. Lorde, with some of the best emotional intelligence seen by a modern artist, has shown, in Melodrama’s cryptic, often mystic, lyrics, that we are very not special. We have all felt like a liability, we have all felt the bite of falling out with friends, we have all felt the need to dance with ourselves in our living rooms at night. Melodrama tells the story of young women in a way that is raw, and thus, in a way that is holy. We don’t get many albums that speak to us like how we speak to us- and that is exactly what Lorde is able to do.
I recently began listening to both her album’s interchangeably, allowing myself to do long term critique. Pure Heroine was the first CD I purchased and the first one I listened to when I acquired my license. It is literally the music I became a functioning member of society to. It is present in almost all my high school memories, the more viceful ones, and the more mundane. Melodrama hit my ears right when I literally turned 20, this summer. It seemed to perfectly define so many of my thoughts, emotions, and literal actions- framing them in a way that made me realize I was very not alone, very not special, in being a 20-year-old girl. The girl power is right there; that if I can listen to Pure Heroine now, and still learn so much, and listen to Melodrama, and see myself in so many of those ethereal lyrics, then Lorde is not just a pop star, she is a story teller, one who has captured a very broad range of emotions, in very beautifully pieced together albums.
Lorde is a novelist, a poet, an anthropologist of sorts, who over the last four years, has done an incredibly accurate, emotionally ept, study, on what it means to participate in girlhood and cross over to womanhood. She does by letting her lyrics speak for the drama, the insecurities, and the ugly facets, and her hymnal voice sings towards the serendipity of the whole thing. If you have not listened to Melodrama, I suggest it with my whole exigency. If you have not listened to Pure Heroine since 2014— it is worth a treat you didn’t know you needed. I promise.
Words by: Suraiya Ali