It’s been nearly four years since Lorde’s smash debut single “Royals” propelled her to the top of the charts at the tender age of 16. The first single from the New Zealand singer’s forthcoming sophomore album suggests she’s done some hard growing up since then.
Despite its sunny, infectious electropop sound, “Green Light” tells an intense, disillusioned tale of a young woman picking up the pieces of a broken relationship. Lorde herself has said as much, telling Beats 1 Radio DJ Zane Lowe that the song is about “my first major heartbreak.” On Twitter she characterized the track as “the first chapter of a story I’m gonna tell you, the story of the last 2 wild, fluorescent years of my life.”
Lorde’s “major heartbreak” story begins in medias res—Latin for “in the middle” of things. “I do my make-up in somebody else’s car,” she confesses ambiguously. “We order different drinks at the same bars.” In other words, there’s been a rupture, but these two exes are still in close proximity.
Close enough, in fact, for Lorde to overhear the pitch her former beau is lobbing at a would-be new partner. “I know about what you did, and I wanna scream the truth,” she sings. “She thinks you love the beach, the such a d–n liar.”
From there, things degenerate. Lorde fantasizes about her man coming to a grisly end (“Those great whites, they have big teeth/Hope they bite you”). She’s bitter about his betrayal (“Thought you said that you would always be in love/But you’re not in love anymore”). She second-guess whether she might have been too aggressive (“Did it frighten you/How we kissed when we danced on the light-up floor?”) And she wants him to know she’s apparently having revenge or rebound sex with other guys (“Sometimes I wake up in a different bedroom”).
Speaking of that, lines elsewhere also imply that Lorde and her ex might have been living together before their dramatic split: “‘Cause honey, I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let it go/ … Oh, I wish I could get my things and just let go.”
As for that green light referenced in the song’s title, Lorde says, “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it.” What the light signifies isn’t completely clear. But it could be heard as Lorde’s desire to move forward with her life after a romantically messy season. If so, that’s really about the only potentially positive message in this song.
In her interview with Zane Lowe, Lorde also described the woman in the song by saying, “And I realized this is that drunk girl at the party dancing around crying about her ex-boyfriend who everyone thinks is a mess. That’s her tonight and tomorrow she starts to rebuild. And that’s the song for me.”
The video, even more so than the song itself, captures the vibe of a desperate, angry, perhaps inebriated young woman fiercely venting her emotions. We see Lorde making tortured faces in a mirror at a dance club before she runs outside, jumps in a chauffeured SUV, then proceeds to stick her head out the window and sing as he drives through a city. Eventually, he parks, and Lorde continues dancing erratically (in a tight dress) on top of the vehicle and elsewhere on city streets.
Lorde says that this song is about the beginning of a personal rebuilding process. But mostly what we hear and see in this song and video is a woman who is disoriented by a relationship that has been torn down. She longs for a “green light” to get back to a better place. But she’s not there yet … and she’s making decisions that could create even more heartbreak and heartache in the meantime.
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.