In 2013, at age sixteen, Lorde, a then-unknown girl from New Zealand, became an international pop star. Like many before her, she gained stardom and quickly lost privacy. Tabloids body-shamed her, plastering photos of her and her boyfriend across the Internet. “Royals” — her break-out single — debuted in June of 2013, and by October it was number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In five short months, Lorde’s life was entirely public.
“Liability,” Lorde’s second single from her sophomore album Melodrama, details how fame tore apart her relationship. The fame-ruined-my-life narrative is nothing new. In fact, it’s almost expected: Britney Spears had “Lucky,” depicting the never-ending labors of a pop star, while Taylor Swift penned “The Lucky One,” lamenting on the loneliness of fame. But Lorde’s single stands out from her peers in its specificity. Everything about the song is pointed, leaving room for listeners to process the heartbreak. The piano notes are repetitive and simple, a drastic change from Lorde’s typically diverse and electronic production. Even Lorde’s cadences are acute, ending her phrases with succinct pronunciations, signaling listeners to really hear her story.
Aside from the stripped down production, the single’s true merit comes from Lorde’s lyrics, as she recalls a conversation with a past lover. In retelling an exact moment in time, Lorde invites listeners into this conversation. They can picture Lorde “crying in the taxi” while the ex tells her that “he made the big mistake of dancing in (her) storm.” After the breakup, Lorde goes home and returns to “the arms of the girl (she) loves,” an allusion to finding solace in one’s self after losing a lover. Throughout the song, Lorde’s voice is so clear and exposed, it’s almost as if she’s singing directly into your ear. Her voice is intimate and burdened with emotion, dragging the word “poison” like it was too heavy to let go.
For two minutes and 52 seconds, listeners act like an omniscient entity, witnessing Lorde’s breakup and subsequent recovery. “Liability” showcases an entirely new, raw and profoundly introspective side of Lorde, suggesting that Melodrama may not be Pure Heroine … and that’s OK.