I still have faint memories of my first concert. They’re fragmented flashes of feelings more than anything: singing along to Bon Jovi while stuck in traffic on the way there, excitement and adrenaline running through my 5-year-old veins in anticipation of Aly & AJ as the opening act, purchasing the overpriced concert book I’d end up spending hours poring over religiously and wearing my bright pink Hannah Montana T-shirt that would get shrunk in the dryer a week later. Miley Cyrus’s actual set was pretty much a blur, a null and void blind spot in my memory, but the feelings surrounding it have never quite faded.
The memories I’ve retained from my most recent concert are understandably more vivid, but to some extent it’s still that same raw intensity of my feelings overpowering the practical reality of the event itself. It was a classic Michigan April. Most days were rainy and cold, sporadic snowfall still threatening to shower the streets in time for a White Easter. I’d end up hauling my winter coat out five times too many to ever really call it “spring,” but on Tuesday, April 5, the weather was positively picture-perfect. I wore my sunglasses on the drive home for the first time in months. Sunny and 70 degrees, I joked that “the Lorde had come and brought the sun with her.” It felt like magic, as if Mother Nature had intervened to orchestrate an absolute perfect day.
To say I was excited was an understatement. By the time the actual concert rolled around, I’d raided my sister’s closet to switch my outfit about 20 times and had enough jittery energy to light a fuse. At the venue, that energy was met tenfold, the anticipation so palpably intense I felt as if I could reach out into the air and touch it. Goosebumps began to dance across my skin as I heard the opening chords to The Beatles’ “Sun King,” nudging my sister to let her know that this is it, to get ready. I’ve never been one for having a Peter-Parker-esque spidey sense of premonition, but when Lorde walked out on the stage a moment later, I felt strangely gratified.
The vast remainder of the concert plays across my memory in rapid succession, despite my valiant attempts to preserve every bit of that pure, euphoric concert rush, from each inflection of her vocals to the way my heart seemed to beat outside of my chest entirely. Certain moments, however, do stand out in my mental replay of the night. I can no longer listen to the intro of “Buzzcut Season,” my favorite Lorde song, without hearing it get drowned out by the echoes of a crowd screaming in anticipation. Lorde’s laugh after a particularly cheeky line in “Dominoes,” followed by a “That’s true” in confirmation. The emphatically joyous way she encouraged us all to dance to “Ribs” for “our 15-year-old selves” and proceeded to energetically bounce across her sundial stage while fans were scream-singing “the drink you spilt all over me / Lover’s Spit left on repeat / my mum and dad let me stay home / it drives you crazy, getting old.” The outro of “Supercut,” in which she repeatedly whispered the line “in my head I do everything right,” (so simple, yet so devastatingly sad it shatters my soul every time I hear it) and lay down flat on her back as if she were trying to relish in the brief calm and stillness as much as the rest of us.
Lorde’s giddy, vibrant energy was infectious; the crowd was a bit like a honey-starved swarm of bees that’s just stumbled upon the hive. Instead of her usual stadium-arena tours reminiscent of Melodrama, the Solar Power tour featured smaller, more intimate venues that only further magnified the atmosphere. And on that stage just in front of us, dancing and singing with all of her heart, she appeared ethereal, at the height of her powers. She remarked that because the concert sold out in, well, minutes, almost everyone in attendance was likely a fan of hers that’d been waiting to see her perform live for a while now. I recall that when buying the tickets nearly a year prior, well before the release of Solar Power, I wouldn’t have cared if it ended up being the worst album I’d ever heard (which, to be fair, was kind of a risk-free gamble considering Lorde’s killer track record). What I hadn’t expected was Solar Power being the precise summer album that arrived right when I needed it.
Maybe it’s pure cosmic coincidence, or simply me assigning a level of hyper-inflated significance to art that isn’t actually there and just happens to be immensely personal or important to me, but the trajectory of Lorde’s music has always seemed to parallel the ever-oscillating waves of highs and lows driving my teen years.
When Lorde first arrived on the scene with Pure Heroine, she was readily appraised for her propensity to speak in terms of the “we,” the collective teenage experience. Part of her entire brand was appealing to that audience on the cusp of adulthood, stuck in the limbo of wanting to cling to childhood, yet rush full speed ahead into the future. She was heralded by critics as being “the voice of a generation,” but it was more than that. As a teen herself, she was able to put into words ideas, thoughts and feelings that I hadn’t even realized I was desperately trying to say.
For the most part, her early songs in Pure Heroine centered around relatively ordinary experiences that she imbued with the depth and importance everything seems to have at that age. Although her writing talent made her feel wise beyond her years, her music felt relatable, about quintessential teenage highs and lows: singing in the car with friends with no destination in mind, briefly finding everyone and everything superficial and pretentious, wanting your feelings to feel validated, wanting to love and be loved.
With Melodrama, Lorde grew a little older, a little wiser, but so did I. Although her overall focus and vibe had shifted, it was Lorde through and through. With that same effortless eloquence, she ricocheted through pop anthems that left you feeling like you’re the life of the party, at the top of the world, like “Green Light” or “Perfect Places,” and then abruptly sent you reeling back into the deepest depths of your loneliness with heart-wrenchingly sad ballads like “Writer in the Dark” and “Liability.” Her core collective essence remained intact, a keenly perceptive sense of self-awareness juxtaposed with a youthful naivete that allowed you to bask in the glow of your highs and wallow in the profound pain of your lows.
Each of her records has taken on a distinct aura — the small town of Pure Heroine, the eternal house party of Melodrama, the wind-swept island of Solar Power — like a phantom place to visit and temporarily slip back into an old self. That sort of residual, lingering connection to her songwriting and its impact on my teen years is precisely what makes Solar Power so special to me. In a time in which it was extremely easy to be overburdened by sadness, to let ourselves be swayed by the cynic, pessimistic voice that there is no hope for the world around us, Lorde said let there be light (alright, done with the “Lord” puns now, promise).
In all seriousness, with a lesser artist, Solar Power could’ve very easily fallen into the trap of being totally disconnected from reality, blissfully ignorant of the world around it. Yet she masterfully balances timely, multifaceted themes, the perpetual weight of the world we all seem to carry on our shoulders and the age-old nostalgia to seek guidance in the natural world. This level of self-awareness substantially impacts the idyllic landscape of the album, from the way she reprimands the previous generation’s ambivalence towards our planet in “Fallen Fruit” to how she satirically critiques the pseudo-spirituality of wellness culture in “Mood Ring.” On “The Path” and “Oceanic Feeling,” she dismantles the appointed position of “savior” by her fans and touches base on her existence and connection to nature. She explores the impact fame has had on her coming of age with “California,” reminisces on the path she’s chosen in life through “Stoned at the Nail Salon” and assuages her younger self in “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)” that at the end of the day, it’ll all be alright.
Although she makes it crystal-clear that she does not have all of the answers, Solar Power still feels like a soft guiding light at the end of the tunnel. Watching her performance of older songs like “Ribs” or “Liability,” chock-full of fears about growing up and loneliness, affected me in a way I hadn’t really anticipated. The very act itself felt like a warm, reassuring hug from someone who lived through it, who understands, with a sincere promise that it’ll all turn out okay — like that bittersweet relief in knowing that the things that once kept you up at night, that worried or haunted you to no end, will eventually come to pass, like everything else. It’s what my 15-year-old self would’ve given anything to hear, but wasn’t quite ready to accept.
With Solar Power, Lorde took some time and space to breathe, so, maybe, I can too.
By the time we leave the venue, the night sky is blanketed with stars. I can’t seem to stop tilting my head back to stare at it as we pass through the dwindling crowd of concertgoers. It all feels slightly magical, mundane occurrences taking on a newfound luminosity as if my enchanted mood had somehow tinted my surroundings with a pair of rose-colored glasses. The night, the people around me, that warm aching feeling in my chest. In absence of the sun, the temperature outside has dropped a solid 20 degrees, yet I hardly register the cool air kissing my bare skin. I’m aware of my sister ushering me through the crowded street, but my mind keeps drifting in a daze and back to the sky goes my gaze. I keep trying to pause, partly to slow down and soak up every last bit of the feeling in my bones, commit the night to memory, but mostly because I’m terrified of how utterly void and empty I’ll feel once it passes. The solstice was still months away, but I’d gotten a brief taste of summer that night that I wasn’t quite ready to let go of just yet.
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.