Lorde's 'Melodrama' // On Vulnerability & Power in Pop

Eve Jones examines Lorde's latest album, Melodrama. Eve is a 19-year-old writer and waitress from Plymouth. Obsessive by nature, she's always in pursuit of some delicious syntax. This is her first article for Boshemia.

Lorde: explorations of youth and power

In 2013, Lorde, aka Ella Yelich-O’Connor, released her debut album Pure Heroine. Its popularity was hailed by Clash as proof that ‘there’s still an intellectual, polished and important place for pop [music]’. She was 16 at the time. Four years on, Lorde launches back into our minds with Melodrama, which still buzzes with that potential energy—though it hasn’t all been plain-sailing. In a recent interview with The Guardian, she likened her fame-riddled celebrity friendships to ‘having a friend with an autoimmune disease’—‘there are certain places you can’t go together. Certain things you can’t do’. The insensitive analogy received backlash from fans, prompting Lorde to apologise on Twitter. While her conduct has been controversial, her music continues to question youth and power in a dynamic habitat of scorched harmonies, flinty 80s keyboard and lyrical wit.

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fresh flesh

Pure Heroine was praised as a critique of youth and millennialism. The anatomical motif (songs refer to ‘flesh’, ‘throats’, ‘veins’) mirrors the constant awareness of appearance that comes inevitably in teenhood. Every year feeling like you’ve grown an entirely new body. Fresh flesh. Life becomes a moment-to-moment affair—a feeling conveyed in Pure Heroine as each song is a very singular account of a new experience.

However, like Lorde herself, the music has matured and these bodies that once occupied so much brainspace, are sidelined in Melodrama: ‘we throw our hands overboard’ (the Louvre).

As a record, Melodrama is also more cohesive—each song not a vignette, but part of a multi-sensory microcosm, one vibrant picture of her life as a 19-year-old. But, even at the start of her career, Lorde knew that this unification and stability would come with time; reassuring in Still Sane that ‘I’m not/ in the swing of things/ but what I really mean is/ not in the swing of things yet’. The ever-forgiving ‘yet’.

a secret power

I was drawn to Pure Heroine in a time of self-doubt and hearing lyrics like ‘Never not chasing a million things I want’ (Tennis Court) and ‘We’re coming for blood’ (Glory and Gore) empowered me to strive for that unashamed, lustrous ambition in my own life. But while thrilling, the power Lorde employs throughout Pure Heroine is one of aggression and masculinity—there is an abundance of ‘blood stains’, ‘gladiators’—an acceptance that ‘Glory and Gore go hand in hand’; literally, we cannot have one without the other. This is a common image that we see on TV and in politics as women try to reconcile their femininity with success in a patriarchal society.

In contrast, in Melodrama, Lorde presents vulnerability as power. There is huge emotional exposure in thegentle piano of  Liability, she tackles the ominous break-up song with Hard Feelings/Loveless andin Writer in the Dark she serenades ‘I am my Mother’s child, I’ll love you ‘til my breathing stops’. Emotion is now the ultimate power— defeated only in death—and Lorde openly associates this with femininity; the Kate Bush pitch of these words is undeniably feminine—as is the power source: her mother. She didn’t acquire it by compromise. She didn’t leave ‘blood stains’ in her wake. She ‘stumbled’ on this ‘secret power’ that lies, untapped, in all women and minorities marginalised by nuclear society.

breaking the glass

In her novel Too much and Not The Mood, Durga Chew-Bose likens feelings of isolation to being ‘reduced to aquarium eyes’, but this metaphor also fits the head-sickness of youth. Feeling like you’re underwater with an ideal world inches beyond your reach; ‘reduced’ to just another tank in the aquarium; trapped by the expectations of the ogling masses on the other side of the glass. Lorde knows this feeling too as she ‘[calls] from underwater’ and comes up for air (soundbites of her breath are repeatedly pasted over the lyrics in production) amidst breakups and fame in Hard Feelings/Loveless.

However, in The Louvre, Lorderecalls the moment she broke the glass and liberated herself from these expectations. The song leads into an interlude where Lorde takes ‘a gnarly flume beat and [throws] it underwater’ whereupon tides of her sirenesque sound lap at electric drum beats—each one, a chip in that tank—that glass ceiling. Drums. (Crack). Drums. (Crack). Drums. (Crack).

Lorde proves to listeners that all these ideals we harbour in our youth aren’t real. We’re all attempting to escape into these ‘Perfect Places’ but, she asks, ‘what the fuck are perfect places anyway?’ (Perfect Places). Through laying her own brain bare on the record, she allows us to look at our vulnerabilities. Really, we’re all in it together. We’re all just swimming around in the same hormone-filled ocean, avoiding the glass and trying to keep our heads above water.