Pop Album Spotlight: Melodrama by Lorde
Lorde performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2017.
Released on June 16th, 2017, Melodrama is the highly anticipated second full-length studio album from New Zealand pop singer Lorde.
Lorde released her studio debut, Pure Heroine, in September 2013 to critical and commercial acclaim. Critics praised her impressive vocal ability, her minimalist production choices, and her clever lyrical commentary on youth and mainstream culture. Commercially, lead single “Royals” was a major success, topping the charts in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Second and third singles “Tennis Court” and “Team” enjoyed similar commercial success.
Lorde performing “Royals” live on LA-based public radio station KCRW in August 2013.
Because of the impact and challenge that Pure Heroine levied on contemporary pop music and pop artists, the music world has been waiting for Melodrama for quite some time. Lorde began writing material for her second studio album in December 2013. However, she didn’t reveal more substantial information until March 2017, when she announced the album’s title via Twitter alongside the release of its lead single, “Green Light,” and its accompanying music video.
Lorde co-wrote Pure Heroine with New Zealand musician Joel Little, who has worked with artists such as Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding in addition to Lorde. He received critical praise for the bass, loops, and rhythms that gave the album its dark electronica feel.
For Melodrama, Lorde decided to collaborate with musician Jack Antonoff. We know him as the frontman of pop band Bleachers and the guitarist for pop band fun. Antonoff has also co-written songs with artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen, Tegan and Sara, Taylor Swift, and Sia.
This change in songwriting and production collaboration has important implications for Melodrama. It signals a shift in tone for Lorde both lyrically and instrumentally. Fortunately, Lorde continues to stand out on Melodrama as one of the premier pop artists in contemporary music. There are no glaring similarities to Jepsen or Swift that weigh Lorde down.
Jack Antonoff performing with Bleachers at the iHeartRadio album release party for the band’s second studio album Gone Now on June 1st.
I distinctly remember “Royals” and “Team” dominating the radio back in 2013. However, this memory was not a fond one because of my frustrations trying to find a radio station that wasn’t playing either song on repeat. I eventually listened to Pure Heroine in full and understood, appreciated, and enjoyed Lorde’s significance to contemporary pop music. Therefore, I was really looking forward to Melodrama and highly interested in the musical and lyrical ideas that Lorde was going to pursue.
According to Lorde, Melodrama is a concept album that tells the story of a single house party and addresses lyrical themes of heartbreak, solitude, and loneliness. Fittingly, a melodrama is a dramatic or literary work that the artist designs to appeal strongly to the emotions. Melodrama’s strongest defining feature is most certainly the emotional revel, heartbreak and catharsis that seep from every lyric on the album. Furthermore, the lessened presence of electronic instrumentation and the increased presence of piano and strings give the more personal and emotional character to Melodrama that Lorde did not explore as fully on Pure Heroine.
Lorde showcases the intensity of such emotions in her vocals, which remain as distinctive, varied, and powerful as they were on Pure Heroine. “The Louvre,” a dusky electronica track with production contributions from Australian musician Flume, has Lorde coolly dipping into her lower register on lines such as “But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in the Louvre / Down the back, but who cares—still the Louvre” and throughout the bass-heavy chorus. In contrast, the piano and string-laced song “Writer in the Dark” has Lorde hitting high notes in the chorus with emotional power.
Overall, Lorde is just as expressive as ever, but this time she isn’t singing about feeling bored with throwing her hands up in the air. She writes about her personal turmoil all throughout this album, and it’s coming from her heart more than it ever was on Pure Heroine.
Melodrama’s lead single, “Green Light,” is an energetic dance pop anthem whose lyrical and instrumental vibes do a nice job of summarizing the concept of the album. The verses and refrain have an almost livid tone to them as Lorde calls her ex a “damn liar” and questions how he felt when they hooked up on the dance floor (presumably during the house party). In the prechorus and chorus, she laments her awareness that she can and must move on at the same time that she is unable to let go of her heartbreak. A soaring piano riff—my favorite part of the song—accompanies the prechorus in its break away from the dark tone of the verses and transition into the upbeat tone of the chorus.
Actually, said piano riff reappears later on in the album in the song “Supercut.” It plays faintly in the background as Lorde envisions a compilation of sorts of her memories and experiences with her ex and how they are affecting her. To me, the re-inclusion of this piano riff was a clever musical play on Lorde’s part. It makes sense for her to musically think back on the time she was dancing with her ex at the party in a song about downhearted recollection.
The album’s second single, “Perfect Places,” a hedonistic song about partying hard in the face of loneliness and trying to escape it (but not being able to, as the lyric “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?” highlights), closes off the album. Soft piano chords and dance pop synthesizers drive the instrumentation of this track alongside Lorde’s downcast vocals.
When I first heard “Perfect Places,” I wasn’t too crazy about it and thought it was somewhat generic. However, listening to it alongside the rest of the album has brightened my opinion of it considerably. Lorde resigning herself to self-indulgent partying in order to deal with the loneliness that comes with heartbreak makes much more sense now and fits cohesively with the rest of the songs on the album.
Lorde performing “Perfect Places” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on June 16th.
In addition to releasing “Green Light” and “Perfect Places,” Lorde also released two promotional singles to build the hype for Melodrama: “Liability” and “Sober.”
“Liability” is my favorite track and in my opinion the best song on the album. It’s a heartwrenching, stripped-down piano ballad that showcases the most impressive elements of Lorde’s vocal ability and lyrical talent. Moreover, as far as instrumentation goes, it’s entirely new territory for her. Thematically, the song represents the transition from the “party hard with your newfound love and feel good” theme of the first half of the record to the serious loneliness and heartbreak vibes of the second half.
In the first verse, Lorde details the scene where her ex ended their relationship and her going home afterward to grieve by herself. In the second verse, she laments being a plaything of romance for other people and how she’s better off staying away from love. The chorus paints a frank portrait of the fallout of this incident: her friends feel obligated to spend time with her to help her through her time of need. However, this commitment is too much for them, so they leave her—and she is entirely aware of the reasons for this behavior. For many people, this pattern of events feels all too familiar. Lorde’s emotional candor about the experience is what makes “Liability” such a powerful track.
Lorde performing “Liability” live on Saturday Night Live in March 2017.
“Sober” features hints of Lorde’s awareness that her relationship with her love is fleeting, mostly when they aren’t in the party state of mind. These hints manifest more fully on the second half of the album, especially on the companion song to “Sober,” “Sober II (Melodrama).” In the chorus, lines such as “We’re the King and Queen of the weekend / Ain’t a pill that could touch our rush” coupled with the recurring line “But what will we do when we’re sober?”, sung more softly in the background, signify that Lorde has the idea of impermanent romance in the back of her mind as she is getting to know her new love and partying with him. Instrumentally, this song has choppy bass beats and intermittent moments of brass in the chorus—a nod to Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers sound—that together represent Lorde adopting her poppiest sound yet.
However, Melodrama isn’t completely perfect. There are some moments on the album that I find less than stellar. The chorus of “The Louvre” feels somewhat lethargic and underwritten in comparison to the rest of the album, even though it calls back to the electronic instrumentation of Pure Heroine. Similarly, “Loveless” on the song “Hard Feelings/Loveless” feels unfinished, since it only contains two sets of lyrics that are both rather generic. Plus, it comes right after an instrumentally and lyrically cohesive addition to the album, “Hard Feelings.”
In fact, I would say Melodrama’s biggest weakness are some of its lyrics, which feel generic and kind of uninspired. Lorde ran the risk of writing basic lyrics on an album about partying and heartbreak, two themes that have dominated the music industry for who knows how long. However, these types of lyrics are less common than I expected after I heard the teaser tracks for Melodrama, so I am relieved.
For the most part, Melodrama is a solid pop effort from Lorde and a worthy follow-up to Pure Heroine. Although she heads in a completely different direction as far as instrumentation and lyrical themes go, Lorde manages to retain the strong production, vocal, and songwriting abilities that made her stand out in the contemporary pop scene back in 2013. I am impressed and pleased with Melodrama and happy that Lorde hasn’t suffered from a serious case of the “sophomore slump” that so many artists experience after the release of a fantastic debut album. I highly recommend checking out Melodrama.