Illustration of someone showcasing a light blue set of nails.
Design by Emma Sortor.

When I turned 17, my right brain turned to Lorde lyrics and never stopped. When I get melancholy and reflective, it just happens. She echoes in my head.

Like Lorde, I love to revel in and rage at the endlessness of girlhood. Like Lorde, I have had many pivotal experiences at my hometown nail salon. The small, suburban salon drags my heels down into a messy, glorious youth. 

I am eight, looking at my sister’s French manicure and wishing I was a teenager who knew who I was and what makes a girl stylish. I am 14 and 15 and 16 and 17, preparing for a school dance with a boy I cannot find a reason to care about but cannot not find a reason not to care about. I am 17, distracting myself from college decisions and holding down bile from the nail polish fumes and caffeine hardly getting me through the day. I am 17 and three-quarters, swallowing hidden heartbreaks, and 18, terrified to grow old. 

I remember it all when I sit for my under-$20 manicure. Most days, even when my nails are long-chipped, I live in the girlhood of that nail salon. 

In “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” a newly mid-20s-aged Lorde gives a voice to a pained desire to feel old and settled but young and free. She dismisses these musings as THC-powered rambles, but the thoughts were real to me when I first heard them at 18, and they still are today.

“Got a wishbone dryin’ on the windowsill in my kitchen / Just in case I wake up and realize I’ve chosen wrong,” Lorde sings.

I changed who I was and wanted to be daily. I was ever-ready to take a different side of the many wishbones I had snapped.

I was (and still am) like Lorde, looking backward and forward and sideways at what everyone else does, what I should be doing and what I desperately wish to do or be.

“Well, my hot blood’s been burning for so many summers now / It’s time to cool it down, wherever that leads,” Lorde sings.

This “blood boiling” was a chronic adolescent thing. Every missed opportunity was a door slammed in my face. Every caught opportunity was a fleeting fire. I could not tell if the burn was pain or exhilaration. 

Being a teenage girl means never being present. I walked into the salon wishing I was older, younger, more beautiful, smarter or kinder, and raging at the fact that I was not. I sat at the corner desk in the worn, cushioned leather chair with the kind, beautiful woman whom my mom and I loved, and I just “was.” I was a teenage girl doing a teenage girl thing. I was making myself happy with a hue I decided was my own.

“We’d go dancing all over the landmines under our town,” Lorde sings.

Everything in teenagehood is doomed. Doing it all right leads to crashes, which leads to trying it all again. Fighting with your parents only makes you love them more. Being around a thousand people or five or two makes you feel more lonely. You miss the great loves, joys and successes that never even came to be. 

Right or wrong, all paths were landmines.

And you keep dancing. Because everything is also fun: the dances and the beach days and the sleepovers and the laughs that echo long past curfew and the great books you read under your covers when your parents pass your room past midnight. Even when there is pain, it can be solved by a hug from people who have known you your whole life.

Nothing stayed constant but a few people and my nails. I was green-blue-gray. Green-blue-gray made me feel like myself. It also made me feel pretty, even if others found it plain. When all was out of my control, that was what mattered: what nail color I decided was “me.” It was a pretty color because I said so.

“I’d ride and I’d ride on the carousel / ’Round and ’round forever if I could,” Lorde sings.

Teenage girlhood is a carousel: repetitive yet thrillingly surprising. It is filled with bright lights and an ever-elusive gold ring to catch — a day where you feel loved and fulfilled, successful and finally “yourself.” When you cannot catch that ring, you keep going.

I am 20, but when I listen to Lorde I feel like a teenage girl, and that makes me smile. Being a teenage girl keeps me dreaming, striving, failing and starting again. 

To be a teenage girl is to know what you want and for that to change the next day, for everything to change except the color of your chipping nails. 

Only one of Lorde’s lyrics in “Stoned at the Nail Salon” is wrong: “all the music (I) loved at (18)” I did not grow out of.

Senior Arts Editor Kaya Ginsky can be reached at