Starting in December 2019, I am counting down my top 7 albums of the decade in reverse order. Number 6 is Lorde’s alternative pop album released in 2017 and her second studio album, Melodrama.
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The true teen pop genius phenomenon of this decade was Lorde, not Billie Eilish. Too many people seem to forget Lorde’s extraordinary burst into fame in the first half of the decade – she was 16 when she released the viral single “Royals” – bringing refreshing talent, songwriting skills, a keen ear for emotive production, and ability to convey the ennui of suburban life. Melodrama speaks of the joy and pains of ephemeral relationships, weaving in between peaks of teenage invincibility and moments of self-effacing insecurity. Lorde celebrates spontaneous actions and decisions and meditates on the permanence of their impact.
Pure Heroine was the brilliant debut, but Melodrama is more compact, painting more vivid, impressionistic images with each track. Lorde reaches peaks of emotional maturity in “Writer in the Dark” and the oft-covered ballad “Liability.” Melodrama showcases more innovative sounds in “Hard Feelings / Loveless” and even a trap-like beat creeping in during “Sober II (Melodrama).” Ultimately, the album captures the essence of being young in the 2010s.
From the first second of the first track, “Green Light,” Lorde’s voice penetrates through many dimensions and heads straight for listeners’ souls. Her voice, supported by declarations from the piano, is urgent yet intimate. This is her greatest strength: her ability to announce to the world and speak to individuals at the same time. Lorde uses her signature “backup singer” voices – layered duplicates of herself – as a chorus celebrating how she broke free from her past relationship and jumped into the future, searching for the traffic “Green Light” to a new path.
The music video for “Green Light” is pure unbridled desire: the desire to transform. Lorde contorts her face, dances, stumbles, jumps, and tosses her hair in an unstoppable burst of energy. We witness an artist eager to dare, reflect, and evolve.
“Green Light” is an excellent opener to the album for its thrilling momentum. Claps, energetic keys and bass, Lorde’s ever-tangible voice propel the track forward to the meticulously constructed second track. A glossed-over gem in Melodrama is Lorde’s self-proclaimed favorite from the album, “Sober.” The track bursts with spontaneous genius and sophistication. Clean percussion sleek trumpets surround great lyrics: “We’re King and Queen of the weekend / Ain’t a pill that could touch our rush,” Lorde sings. But she also admits, “These are the games of the weekend / We pretend that we just don’t care / But we care.” Her voice is marked by hunger and sensuality, making “Sober” a delight to replay over and over.
“Homemade Dynamite” escape your attention after first listening through the whole album, but it is another true standout for its remarkable sonic soundscape and Lorde’s sensitive vocal performance. The lyrics are rebellious, but there is no deliberate attempt to be rebellious just for the sake of it: it’s just a couple of young adults watching one impromptu action lead to another. “Our rules, our dreams, we’re blind / Blowing sh-t up with homemade dynamite,” Lorde whispers. “Homemade Dynamite” may be the most effective description of Lorde’s magic: organic, explosive power.
The most exposed, vulnerable moments in the album come from the two ballads with minimal accompaniment: “Liability” and “Writer in the Dark.” The two songs, together, delve into the two battles Lorde fights in the album: anxiety among peers and romantic heartbreak. Both end with Lorde finding resilience and self-love. Her voice dances into the deepest registers, adding textures that sound the most intimate and personal. These songs are best experienced with headphones, alone, and late at night.
Listen to her sing,
“I’ll love you ’til my breathing stops
I’ll love you ’til you call the cops on me
But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power
I’ll find a way to be without you, babe”
and it will be impossible not to get goosebumps or feel a tear rolling down the cheek.
“Perfect Places” is a great way to close the album. Starting with a relaxed tempo, Lorde sings more brilliant lyrics, and the music slowly builds to the delicately layered chorus. As synths begin blaring underneath the chorus, they conjure up the image of a dance floor. The instrumentals feel almost nostalgic as listeners say goodbye to this tale of youth.
Melodrama establishes Lorde as an artist with the lifestyle of a party-loving, city-scaling teenager and the soul of an intellectual with wisdom seemingly compounded over generations. In the penultimate track, “Liability (Reprise),” Lorde sings, “Maybe the tears and the highs we breathe / Maybe all this is the party / Maybe we just do it violently.” Violent, rebellious, vulnerable, searching, insecure, happy, hopeful: this is what Lorde felt and what all young people felt in the 2010s. This was our party.
5 Essential Tracks
- Green Light
- Homemade Dynamite
- Writer In The Dark
- Perfect Places