I think I’ve said a lot of shit about Melodrama on here, but I thought I’d try to have something concrete and concise, not just shitty metaphors about the rain and other pretentious things, but something more solid, expressive and definitive. This is not a review, neither is it an analysis – it’s something in between? I don’t know.
Melodrama is the sophomore album by New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde. It’s one of those incredibly rare works of art that I’ve started seeing as an entity, a being with a life. I can’t really explain it, but I can try.
I’ve always liked Lorde. She was cool back in the Pure Heroine days, and even cooler during the Mockingjay soundtrack ones. I suppose, I always had her at the back of my mind; I always knew that I had to keep an eye out for her. It was only until Melodrama that I understood why.
In essence, Melodrama is a break-up album. It’s about the heartbreak that comes after your first love and learning to be alone again. There’s a narrative quality to this album: it tracks Lorde’s linear progression as she grows from this heartbreak.
Broadly speaking, you could break the album down into three parts: the immediate hedonism, the following aftermath and the final confrontation with yourself. Because the album begins with the use of hedonism as escapism, Lorde uses the extended metaphor of a house party, and has it run through the entire album. And quite frankly, it’s brilliant. What captures elevated feelings like the rush of alcohol/drugs, the loneliness from being awkward, too much and unwanted in a crowd, and the final slap-to-the-face that is the morning after where you’re left with nothing but yourself and your regrets. It’s this macrocosmic kind of representation.
Because of all of the above, Green Light is the best first single for the album. It captures the joy, anger, sadness and frustration that you feel at a party, and at the end of a relationship. It’s “Dancing on My Own” but intensified and fluctuating. It’s quite easily the best epitome of the idea of melodrama.
And there’s that intensity to the album that I like. In an interview, Lorde describes how it’s these new adult ages (18-25) where you’re truly experiencing new things for the first time, and that’s why every emotional response to these is intensified. Things allegedly get easier as you get older, you’re blasé and nothing is new to you, but at 19, everything is fun and terrifying and incredible.
But the greatness of Melodrama is that this new adult feeling isn’t just limited to love and relationships. The new adult experience is entering the world as your own person in spheres of politics, economics and culture. You’re by yourself. That shit’s scary, and so of course, you’re going to hate the headlines, the weather and feel like you’re on fire. On the other two singles, Liability and Perfect Places, Lorde is conscious of her place in the larger world – as a pop-star and as a person.
Together, the three singles are great summaries of the larger themes of the album. Green Light is the break-up, Liability is the unloved, lonely soul’s ballad, and Perfect Places is the simultaneous ode to and critique of party culture as a response to the shock of the outside world.
But for me, it’s the non-single tracks where the album really shines.
After Green Light comes Sober and Homemade Dynamite. They’re both songs about and intended to be played at parties. They recount the performative and transient qualities of parties. It’s fun until things go wrong, but that going wrong is still very my part of the party. The drinks and fake smiles; the ruses and excuses. Quite honestly, when I first heard Melodrama, these two were my least favourite tracks. But that’s because I didn’t really understand them until a year later, when I was in similar situations and finally understood Lorde’s fascination with parties – the almost game-like quality to it. Of course, she’s not the first person to point that out, but no one’s made it sound this cool.
Everyone I play Melodrama for always gets a little captivated by The Louvre. They go back to it when I’m not around. That makes perfect sense to me – in some ways, it’s the easiest song to hear and enjoy. It’s very easy going, and yet, you feels as if you’re sitting at the bottom of an ocean. It’s bait for music critics. In the linear progression of Melodrama, the song ties into the aspect of hedonism. She’s found herself a new person to obsess over in an attempt to cope with her heartbreak. But she’s very aware of this, and she points out how overwhelming it is. Strange woman says “boom” four times to represent that. And so, everything comes to a halt – the hedonism, the rebounds – with the next song: Liability.
Liability is the moment where Lorde realises that she simply has to face all that her partying is making her avoid. She has to come to terms with her heartbreak, her position (as, you know, a platinum selling popstar) and herself as a human. I still remember the day I first heard this song. I didn’t even know what to feel, how to feel. It was morning and I was stressed and the song brought my feet back to the ground. It’s hard to write about what this song means to me personally. As someone that often falls into spells of feeling unhappy, unloved and unwanted, it was a song that really struck me. I can’t listen to it around people. I can play the piano accompaniment in the dark.
As a person that prefers albums to playlists, I was glad that Lorde drew inspiration from works that prided themselves on being albums and wanted to create such a work. There is a wonderful sonic cohesiveness to the album that comes through in these non-single tracks. But the track that brings the entire album together – lyrically and sonically – is Hard Feelings/Loveless. It’s the 6th track – longest on the album – and easily the strangest. For one, it’s technically two tracks being merged together, like two sides of the same coin. In continuation with the narrative, Hard Feelings is where Lorde really processes the heartbreak – both in the present and perhaps a few months after. Loveless is a play on the “crazy-exgirlfriend trope” and in conversation with the whole song, it’s a joke on how she’s using this craziness to cope with the pure sadness she explores in Hard Feelings. Sonically, Hard Feelings has the more lush instrumental, while Loveless is more bass and beats. Both are the two main sonic approaches this album has, and this track brings them together, reminding you that they’re all part of the same story and they’re two emotional ideas coming together.
While a lot of the music is written in the present tense, it is describing actions and events from the past. Lorde moved to New York City to write and produce the album alongside Jack Antonoff. Most of /Melodrama/ was written and made here. The relationship that just ended was based in New Zealand, and so moving to NYC can be seen as an attempt to run away to another ~perfect~ place. In New York, of course she had friends and colleagues around her, but for the most part, she spent her time alone, and this experience of being alone in this big, new place is also something that comes through in /Melodrama/. These experience of being physically alone is coupled with the lonesomeness that follows a break-up. Not only is she literally alone, but she feels it, so crucially too.
I’ve always found that being alone – physically and emotionally – is something that just forces you to face who you are. There is no hiding or pretending. It is just you alone in a room or in a crowded street or dancing by yourself at a party. That’s what Sober II (Melodrama) and Writer in the Dark and Liability (Reprise) are. They’re these moments of just accepting that this is it – this is who you are – in a very intense, but proud way. Lorde is owning up to the person that she is. She is not fully over the relationship, but she’s making peace with this new life by herself. She’s accepting that she will always have love for herself, that she’s not the burden that she thinks she is and that she has a beautiful life. These tracks are most definitively successors to Hard Feelings: she’s gotten past those really hard feelings and she’s officially on the other side, though not without a few bruises and cuts.
Supercut is another critic bait song. It’s a sister song to the lead single Green Light, but un-single-ified. Like it’s just too all-over-the-place to be a single, and it’s also too narrow in lyrical scope to be a single, especially compared to how wonderfully well the three actual singles summarise the album. But anyone that hears Melodrama chronologically remembers Green Light listening to this. They’re both very similar musically. And part of the reason this song doesn’t have that same manic energy is because it doesn’t have the rawness of Green Light. Lorde has come so far into the album, through the narrative. It’s not as messy anymore. But it’s still very “Dancing on my Own” in the way that it’s a bop, but Lorde is reminiscing and trying to hold onto the good of her previous relationship. It’s similar to Hard Feelings in the way that it keeps moving between moments in time, but it’s very sure in its place is being closer to after the relationship has ended, rather than those moments where it was in the process of ending. It’s that momentary relapse after a breakup where you’re secretly wishing things could go back to the way they were, but you realise that’s just not going to happen. But she’s not unhappy, she’s made it this far.
The closer is Perfect Places. Earlier, I describe it as “the simultaneous ode to and critique of party culture as a response to the shock of the outside world” and I stand by that. The song pans out from Lorde, the individual, to the larger environment she’s a part of. It’s the first time where she uses collective pronouns so much. She’s responding to the trauma the outside world is creating for people like her – presumably like us. And so it’s party culture and hookup culture and other xyz culture that we’re all giving into to cope with these things. The perfect place here is supposed to be parties. You’re drunk/high. You’re with your friends, you’re around people that don’t know you. The stakes are different. It seems perfect until you remember the artificiality of the whole thing, but you keep that thought at the forefront of your mind, and still continue what you were doing anyway.
Perfect Places is a good closer – though arguably my least favourite track on the album. But that still means I like it immensely. It doesn’t have that energy that Green Light does, but I think ending it that way would defeat the entire purpose of a narrative album like this. But Perfect Places is not a conclusive closer. It doesn’t lead with any direction. In a way, it takes you back to those party tracks from the beginning of the album, but with greater awareness of what’s going on and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Unlike a melodrama in theatrical traditions, the end here is not grand. And while that’s disappointing, it’s really okay. It’s one of those “that’s just life” or “c’est la vie” moments. I wonder if it’s because Lorde herself was still in this phase of her life and hadn’t really discovered the next to have it be alluded in the last song. She is, after all, just a kid who just went through a really emotional heartbreak and chose to cope with it by getting drunk with her friends a lot.
And that’s part of why this record resonates so closely with people, quite like Pure Heroine. She’s really just writing from the heart. She’s writing about what she knows and feels – and there is a universality to that. There will always be a place and an appreciation for sincerity. I want to include authenticity to the previous sentence, but I realise that it might come across as naive, but I stand by sincerity. Melodrama is exaggeration, but it comes from a very sincere place.