album Review: Lorde spits out bubblegum pop in sophomore album melodrama
Written by Marygrace Schumann
If mainstream pop tastes like bubblegum, Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama is swallowing the gum. It’s worrying it’ll stick to your stomach, grow and spread until all of your bones are gooey and you’re trapped in a body whose insides are neon pink. It’s blowing the biggest bubble possible, letting it explode right in your face. It’s laughing it off and trading it in for a swig of whatever is cheapest at the bar that night. It’s spitting the gum on the sidewalk. It’s cursing when you’re the one who steps on it.
If bubblegum pop is the brightest parts of youth, Melodrama is that piece of bubblegum spit and stepped on, stretched and broken. Melodrama isn’t the brightest parts of youth; it’s just youth. Every single part of it.
Older artists continue writing about their teenage years and early 20s way past their teenage years and early 20s. Katy Perry was 25 when Teenage Dream came out. Bands like Fall Out Boy have the words “youth” and “young” in just about every other song they put out despite bassist Pete Wentz and lead singer Patrick Stump being well into their 30s.
It’s artificial most of the time. Too sweet or too sour. They’re trying to capture something that’s already gone, shaking around an empty jar when all the lightning bugs have already gone home. They’re either sickly nostalgic, or unable to recall anything good that happened to them before they turned 30.
But Lorde is here, in these moments, writing young and honest music in the way only people who are actually young and honest can write music.
“I do my makeup in somebody else’s car,” she starts in the album’s first track “Green Light,” voice a little groggy. She doesn’t have to say what that means. I already know. I’ve done it too, running late, a little tipsy, eyeliner smudged.
“Those great whites / They have big teeth,” she sings in that same voice, only to follow it with the sweet, high auto-tuned, “Oh they bite you / Thought you said that you would always be in love / But you're not in love no more.” It’s fun, catchy, electric. It’s a little angry, but it’s not all angry. I know these nights.
“Broadcast the boom, boom, boom and make ‘em all dance to it,” she sing/speaks in “The Louvre,” voice almost a monotone. It feels, in some ways, like the perfect example of what it’s like to be this age. You’re having fun, sometimes when you don’t want to be and sometimes when you’re just pretending. The song speaks of the love we’ve all had. The weird, unhealthy, exhilarating. It’s that line that stands out for me, though. Maybe because every time that boom, boom, boom, boom comes on, I’ve danced to it, no matter what. Through scraped knees, and runny mascara, and sweat behind my knees. Who’s making me dance to it? I don’t know. I do it anyways. I guess that’s her point.
“You’re all going to watch me disappear into the sun,” she whispers to us in “Liability,” a heartbreaking song about being too much and, even worse, not enough. The line ends the song and it creeps up on you. We just disappear into the pain. You forget that when you’re old, I think. You didn’t always scream. You didn’t always make a scene. Sometimes you just disappear, and make everybody else watch.
“Hard Feelings/Loveless” is anger and desperation split in half. “I wish I believed you when you told me this was my home,” she begs in the Hard Feelings half. But it’s not. Even if it was, she’d never believe it. She breaks your heart in Hard Feelings, describing the demise of a relationship.
In Loveless, she takes back the power. She’s angry. She wants to ruin lives. She wants to hurt the people who hurt her. Her broken heart fuels her fire. She calls our entire generation Loveless. Maybe she’s wrong. Maybe she’s exaggerating. That’s not the point. It’s about what she feels, not what’s actually real.
“Writer in The Dark” is rough, voice smoky, on edge, like it might break at any second. “I am my mother’s child / I love you ‘til my breathing stops / I love you till you call the cops on me,” she tells us, voice higher, almost whining. She doesn’t stop there though. “I find a way to be without you babe,” she sings, in the same voice, no defiance, no anger. It’s a “superpower,” she says, but it’s what has to be done. We survive loss, we survive heartbreak, we survive whatever we have to.
The album ends with “Perfect Place.” The place is anything but perfect. Lines like “Every night, I live and die / Feel the party to my bones,” “It’s another graceless night,” “Cause we are young and we're ashamed” perfectly capture what it’s like to be in clubs and bars, the supposed sanctuaries of your youth, even when they’re itchy and a little too tight.
There’s a rawness to the whole album, no doubt. These lyrics capture her moments, her truth in a way that feels like she just cracked herself open and let us look inside. Or worse, like she cracked us open and looked inside. Despite that rawness, there seems to be a reason behind everything here. The production is heavy-handed when it needs to be, and pulled back at other times. Songs like “Homemade Dynamite” and “Green Light” are pop anthems, while “Liability” and “Writer in the Dark” are a bit more stripped down. Most songs have a wonderful combination of both.
She knows how to use her voice, what tone best suits each song, each line. An edge to her voice, an air of indifference, a break, high, low, auto-tuned, sexy. She uses every tool at her disposal, and she uses them pretty damn well.
Much like your teen years and early 20s is this beautifully, ugly mix of too much and not enough, so is Melodrama. It’s strategically messy. It’s coming from somebody who's lived the mess, and then gave it structure without losing its essence.
Most pop music is the bright lights, neon bubblegum. It’s not that Lorde’s album isn’t. It’s just that it’s a lot more than that. It’s what it looks like when the club lights come on, when you’re sweaty and danced out and still sad and desperately in love and aggravated as all hell.
Melodrama is all of it; the sweet, the salty, the bland, the fucking weird. It’s what a young woman’s life really looks and feels like.
“What the fuck are perfect places anyways?” Lorde asks us in the last line of the album. We don’t know. She doesn’t know. That’s why it’s beautiful. That’s why it’s brilliant.
Lorde took the mess inside her, this stuff that’s inside all young women, and she let it be. She gave it teeth, she gave it lungs, she gave it a heart that’s beating in the catchiest, scariest rhythm you’ve ever heard. There’s no perfect place; there’s no perfect us. There’s just breathing, and the stuff you do during it.
Listen to the full album here:
ontact Marygrace by email at Marygrace.Schumann@loop.colum.edu.