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The world has missed Lorde. The New Zealand pop singer (real name: Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) rocketed to global superstardom at age 16 when she released her debut album, Pure Heroine, and its chart-topping single, “Royals,” in 2013. Since then, she’s largely evaded the public eye, taking a break from touring and releasing sporadic updates about her second album, Melodrama.
Upon first listen, it’s easy to see why she waited so long: In the past four years, Lorde has been busy aging a lifetime.
The singer’s thunderous sophomore album reminds us that young people deserve—no, that they need—the opportunity to grow and hurt and make mistakes in private. It makes no difference if they’re celebrities; they’re just as entitled to their safe spaces as we are. Lorde wrote Pure Heroine as “my way of enshrining our teenage glory”; on Melodrama, she explores the grandeur of superstardom while coping with a devastating breakup. The result is a cathartic record free of irony or cynicism that forces listeners to confront the heartache of their past with painful clarity.
The singer sprinkles nods to her own youth throughout the album, most poignantly on “The Louvre.” “I overthink your punctuation use,” she croons, “not my fault, just a thing that my mind do.” Fame and fortune do not quell a restless mind working overtime in the wee small hours, trying fruitlessly to ascribe meaning to every cryptic tweet or arbitrary text message.
The difference, however, is that Lorde’s every move is subject to scrutiny, as the public views her life through a distorted looking glass. “When you’ve outgrown a lover, the whole world knows but you,” she sings on “Hard Feelings,” the album’s gut-wrenching centerpiece. “I’ll start letting go of little things till I’m so far away from you.”
Yet amid her sorrow, she still finds room for mirth. “Bet you wanna rip my heart out, bet you wanna skip my calls now,” she taunts on the song’s second half, “Loveless.” “Well guess what? I like that, ‘cause I’m gonna mess your life up / gonna wanna tape my mouth shut.” Lorde may have written Melodrama in the throes of her anguish, but nobody’s escaping this breakup unscathed.
The singer extends her emotional vulnerability to her fans, too, annotating the lyrics to several of her own songs on Genius, such as album closer “Perfect Places,” on which she sings, “Watch the wasters blow the speakers, spill my guts beneath the outdoor light.”
“I wrote this lyric in November of 2016, but then in December me and my friend drank a bunch of 1 part champagne, 1 part vodka cocktails which we christened Suicides and DJ-ed a really raucous Christmas party,” she explains. “We had this crazy room going then blew the speakers spectacularly and ghosted out of there. So yeah. Kind of about me. I’m a mess.”
Everything about the annotation, from the grammar to the candid resignation that she’s a mess, reminds us how young Lorde is, despite how old she sounds. That dichotomy resonates among millions of fans, one of whom commented: “i love you so much ella, this album is going to change my life i can just feel it, thank you so much for your amazing music.”
These types of fan reactions are hardly uncommon for artists of Lorde’s stature, but one gets the sense that the singer specifically tailored her new album to meet her audience’s emotional needs while also breaking new ground artistically. She’s spent the past four years grappling with heartache and navigating her own womanhood from atop a pedestal. Melodrama will enthrall critics as a result, but in the end, Lorde still finds her safe space within herself and among her fans.
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.