New Zealand singer Lorde may have left her teen years behind last November. But in many ways she still sounds like a typical teenager on her sophomore effort, the aptly named Melodrama. The highs are high (both literally and metophorically). The lows are low. As in, bottomless-abyss low. There’s not much in between, as Lorde rockets back and forth from one extreme to the other.
But while Lorde’s experiences here may be typical of melodramatic teenagers—love and loss, euphoria and despair—what’s different is the fact that she has a culture-shaping platform to sing about how she’s dealing with all that drama. And, with the excepion of a few moments of vulnerability and self-awareness, Lorde’s coping with her hurts by launching herself recklessly into soul-numbing hedonism one moment and rage-filled nihilism the next.
In “Green Light,” Lord asks her ex whether her strong affection for him drove him away: “Did it frighten you?” she wonders. “Sober,” meanwhile, finds her counting the cost of not dealing with reality: “Played it so nonchalant/It’s time we danced with the truth.” On “Liability,” Lorde’s pretty self-aware about the fact that she can be difficult to deal with. She describes her love of herself as “the only love I haven’t screwed up,” even as she also admits (in third person) that she’s pretty hard on herself (“She’s so hard to please”).
“Sober II (Melodrama)” voices an important question about identity after a wild party’s over (“Lights are on and they’ve gone home/But who am I?”). Likewise, Lorde articulates, in a way, how her wild lifestyle isn’t satisfying her on “Perfect Places”: “I’m 19, and I’m on fire/ … It’s just another graceless night/ … Trying to find these perfect places.”
“Writer in the Dark” describes a movement toward acceptance (“I love it here since I’ve stopped needing you/ … I’ll find a way to be without you, babe”). “Supercut” imagines a healthier second chance: “When you call, I’ll forgive and not fight.”
“Green Light” hints that the relationship just sundered was a cohabiting one: “I’ll come over and get my things.” Lorde’s initial response to the breakup involves bitterly vengeful fantasies (“Those great white sharks have big teeth/Hope they bite you”) and casual promiscuity (“Sometimes I wake up in a different bedroom”).
“Sober” isn’t really about sobriety at all. Sex, anger and profanity mingle here: “I know this story by heart/Jack and Jill get f—ked up and possessive/When it get dark.” Elsewhere we hear, “But my hips have missed your hips.” (Harsh profanity, namely f- and s-words, turn up on six of 11 songs here, I should add. We also hear “d–n” and some misuses of God’s name.) Similarly, “Supercut” reminisces about the early days of a couple’s torrid intimacy: “I’ll be your quiet afternoon crush,” Lorde sings, “Be your violent overnight rush/Make you crazy over my touch.”
On the nihilism side of the ledger, “Homemade Dynamite” imagines destroying stuff (maybe literally, maybe metaphorically) just for the rush of it: “Our rules, our dreams, we’re blind/Blowing s— up with homemade dynamite/Our friends, our drinks, we get inspired/Blowing s— up with homemade dynamite.” That song also goes out of its way to tell an ex that Lorde’s getting busy with other guys: “See me rolling, showing someone else love.”
“The Lourve” rationalizes a steamy sexual relationship: “Half my wardrobe is on your bedroom floor/ … OK, I know that you are not my type (still I fall)/Nothing wrong with it.” Elsewhere in the song, Lorde describes herself as “your sweetheart psychopathic crush.” Right, then.
Lyrics on “Liability” could be heard as threatening suicide: “They’re gonna watch me/Disappear into the sun/You’re all gonna watch me/Disappear into the sun.”
“Hard Feelings/Loveless” ponders what to do “when you’ve outgrown a lover.” Lorde’s answer to that question in this song? Get mad: “I’m gonna mess your life up/Gonna wanna tape my mouth shut/Look out, lovers.”
“Perfect Places” closes out the album with yet another description of a young woman’s embrace of anonymous sex as her primary painkilling strategy: “Every night I live and die/Meet somebody, take ’em home/Let’s kiss and then take off our clothes/It’s just another graceless night.”
Our hearts long for intimacy and security. Lorde’s Melodrama illustrates what happens when a young woman doesn’t get those things.
In her quiet moments, Lorde (or the woman whose perspective she’s singing from, at least) pines for real, lasting love. But she hasn’t found that. And she’s not responding well at all to a breakup that’s shattered her hopes. Most of the time here, she oscillates between venting her rage and seeking to drown her pain in carnal excess (usually a combination of alcohol and, it seems, a lot of meaningless sex with men she’s using).
Lorde’s honest enough to recognize that her painkillers aren’t working. But it would seem they’re the only hope at dulling the hurt inside that she can find. And that, obviously, is a message that offers no hope to millions of other teens and young adults who—just like her—are trying to figure out how to respond to their deepest hurts and disappointments.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.