Love Letter to Lorde

My teenage years were typified by the constant compulsion to spend every waking moment not tainted by the tedium of homework and household chores and grab onto the newest slither of pop culture that I got my hands on. My ever-changing screensavers were evidence of my volatile obsessions with whichever musical artist had struck me for that split second only to be replaced mere moments later by the newest object of fervent fangirling. That is, of course, until I heard the crooning chorus of Lorde’s 'Royals' casually critiquing the gluttony that pungently pervades pop music. This initial incident sparked the flame that would throw me wholeheartedly in continual consumption of every auditory experience she released in my teenage years, as I tentatively tiptoed on the cusp of adulthood. Now in the limbo of my twenties, I am constantly pressing repeat on her albums Pure Heroine and Melodrama, perhaps an indication that I will be taking in these tunes perpetually. David Bowie caressed his hands in hers when they met and whispered that listening to her felt akin to hearing the future. Her sound is teeming with the taste of that which is transcendental and timeless.

 

Image from NME (originally from Lorde's Instagram)

 

In Pure Heroine, she carefully captures the contours of teenage angst with her harrowing vocals in a way that aches, "biting down" on her simultaneous ennui with everyday experiences and the transfixion that takes over her when she draws out the strange magic in this mundanity elevating “driving through tree-treets" and the happenings of house parties to monumental occasions.  She admits that in her teenagedom she would restrain herself from inebriation at these parties so as to swallow down every intricate detail present in the tableaus within her youthful universe that is shaped by suburbia. She sings of, and subsequently mystifies, the people and places belonging to the cities "you’ll never see on screen" wherein she is the "Empress" of this world of teens. The initiations in this eerie, tropical world drenched in sweat and situated in "the darkness at the edge of town" are not ones where passing is a perquisite for greatness, rather it is the weak who inherit this moniker.  

Listening to Pure Heroine, you become aware that she is a simultaneous participant in the spoils of youth and an outside observer who details the secrets of the night in her notebook. In songs like '400 Lux' (in urban vernacular it is a reference to a drug binge), 'Buzzcut Season' and 'Ribs', she is intoxicated in the minute yet wondrous moments of driving around town with someone and getting so lost in their presence and conversation that time slips out of sight and seeps into “living in a hologram" with them.  In the liner notes of Pure Heroine, she writes a dedication to her boyfriend at the time, James Lowe, thanking him for being “the truest, purest friendship" she has ever experienced. A poignant description considering that romantic relationships are scarcely afforded this metaphor. She attributes this dedication to the manner in which her solitary nature emboldens her to have experiences being made by how she walks and situates herself within a place as opposed to who she is surrounded by, but when driving around for hours on end with James she encounters a shift where the person at her side perfumes her experiences and the places she finds herself in. Large chunks of Pure Heroine are incited by this divergent approach as she wrote it with a cognisance of the places she visited and the people she spent time with. 

 

 

Teenagers are no strangers to being filled to the brim with contradictions. In fact, the nostalgia imbued in the time of teenage hood is difficult to pin down itself. It is both happy and sad which makes it rather appropriate that an album seeks to encapsulate the inbetween stage of being a teenager and being intensely rooted in one’s own head zeroes in on this emotive experience. This is articulated in a book that is a vignette for teenage angst, The Perks of being a Wallflower, which ends off with the line “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”  Lorde it seems is no exception to being a bundle of contradictions, but she resists the condescending way in which her youth is utilized by adult media to make her lyricism seem wise beyond her years as if she veers above the rest of her erratic teenage peers. She clenches onto the fervour of being young and bound by the moment, but rebels against the notion that this somehow inhibits thoughtfulness.  She is a pop artist with an unabashed appreciation for the medium, and yet she stands in opposition with the flashiness associated with the genre with a slightly smiling smirk, monochrome black wardrobe and allocating to make music that properly reflects a “mapping of her own very specific sonic universe in her mind" instead of constantly racing against a clock to throw out new content in order to continue to hold relevance. 

 

 

Throughout the record she embodies these contradictions of being on inside of the 'White Teeth Teens' as their Queen. A few lines later she lets us in on the secret that she is in fact not one of them, but rather visiting under the coverage of the night.  In 'Royals', she isn’t falling for the mirage of excess of “Cristal, Maybach and diamonds on timepieces" prevalent in pop music, critiquing this materialism through a pop song, and then chases after this very high life in 'Tennis Court' when she gets “pumped up on the little bright things" she bought.  'Royals' itself significantly shifted the sound of pop at the time which had previously been dominated by heavily projected, buoyant and ostentatious vocals. 'Royals' warped what the genre had been accustomed to with its subtle vocals, and with its eighty-five beats per minute it is markedly slower than most female pop songs.  This slower tempo is imbued with a tone of intimacy which pulls one towards listening to her songs on headphones, drawing the listener into the storytelling inherent to Lorde’s artistry. In 'Royals', Lorde adopts mixolydian mode, a scale which manipulates the emotions evoked by major and minor cords which cumulates into an intangible sound that is neither happy nor sad, and fitting to the feeling of being neither here nor there. This is a feeling which can be all-consuming during the escapades of youth when you are constantly attempting to situate where you belong.  Lorde does not play any musical instruments, rather it is her hushed, whispering yet full tone which haunts. That is her focal instrument. It is what manifests the poignancy of leering at the edge of the crowd that you are a part of and incites life into her unique song-writing. 

 

 

Taking in an experience from a slight distance whilst being embedded within is not solely significant to the loneliness one feels moving through youth, but it seems inextricably linked to being a writer. Writers are so in awe of the incandescence of a snapshot of life that they are in, separating themselves from it so that they can overthink what about it specifically alerts the awe within them. Writers with their carefully curated words attune the lives that they are living in their minds alongside their actual lives.  In 'Tennis Court', Lorde muses on the way her suburban teendom ripples outwards. As she encounters her newfound fame, she looks down from her airplane and looks upon “the veins of her city like they do in space", folding into her compulsion to ardently appreciate the slices of adolescent navigation of locating belonging and the perpetual process of figuring themselves out as they tiptoe closer to adulthood. The nostalgia that courses through this process is encapsulated throughout the album particularly in the droning, myopic opening of 'Ribs' followed by the lines “My mom and dad let me stay home It drives you crazy getting old". Somehow with these simple statements, she clasps onto the meaning of nostalgia that is seemingly impossible to pin down and capture both the 'nostos' (meaning 'home') component and the aspect of 'algia' (meaning longing). This wistful search for the unknown is soothed through connection as the fear for the future is assuaged by surrounding oneself with people with whom you can “laugh until your ribs get tired", your body undulating in heaving movements like that of the syncopated beats swarming the song.  

 

 

Lorde is the daughter of a poet being "raised on literature and had started gorging herself on short fiction of the likes of Carver" and Vonnegut from her early teens, attracted to the saying a whole lot with a sparse set of words. She is turned on by the “necessity of conciseness" in short fiction, and song writing is demands the same sharpness; it is short fiction on steroids. Perhaps this is why standing atop soundscape of chilling computer programmed drumbeats and glistening synthetic sounds, she is able to accurately articulate the qualia of the teenage spirit congealing the makeshift museum of teenage mundanities with an incandescence that transforms them into a book of folklore "worthy of the centre piece of a shrine in devotion to the age of adolescence wherein you were emboldened with knowledge unknown to children and forgotten by adults". Lorde has taken the teenage experience and carved it into sacred poetry, making her the artist of our youth. 

 

Image by Tiger Beat