When Lorde won the Billboard Music Award for Top Rock Song, with “Royals” in 2014, she turned her fists into rocker horns with a confused expression on her face. Her smash single had won her an award in a category that not even she thought she deserved to place in — a testament to her artistry, skill and charm. Her sophomore album Melodrama was released on June 16th, a culmination of four years of work, crafted by a young artist who isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself.
Despite being the dreaded sophomore album, Melodrama surpasses Pure Heroine creatively. The persona of Lorde has outgrown her teenage ennui and has developed into a thoughtful, tender young adult unafraid to embrace her experience. While songs off Pure Heroine repeat a similar theme in a different manner, Melodrama offers a complete experience of thought, emotion and expression.
The sound of her sophomore album is rich and diverse. Singles “Green Light” and “Perfect Places” are energetic tracks comprised of driving percussion and heavy synth. Others like “Liability” and “Writer in the Dark” are made soley by the accompaniment of guitar or piano to Lorde’s voice. These emotional ballads are reminiscent of the compositions that dominated Pure Heroine, but brought to a new level by traditional instruments. Melodrama takes the old formula, mixes it up and adds another step.
Vocally, Lorde stretches herself to embody a distinct feeling on each song. Her voice starts husky on the first track, but by the pre-chorus of “Homemade Dynamite,” it has morphed into breathy sighs. On the deeply poignant ballad “Liability,” Lorde croons in a full, warm voice to contrast the cold sounds of the piano. By “Writer in the Dark,” she coughs and spits each note out, her voice frayed. These two tracks demonstrate the remarkable nuance in Lorde’s delivery that is evocative and powerful. On “Hard Feelings/Loveless” and “Liability (Reprise),” Lorde’s voice is warped and molded by harmonizer.
Apart from her impressive growth as a singer, Lorde has catapulted to new heights as a compositional artist. She manages to balance the tragedy and comedy of the break-up that inspired the record without seeming “melodramatic” or insincere. Lines like “So they pull back, make other plans / I understand, I’m a liability” are mocked by “Are you lost in us? / Have another drink get lost in us / This is how we get notorious.” While in opposition, there’s a tenderness and an edge to Lorde’s candor, that by some sleight of hand rub together to make magic. Other moments reveal Lorde’s flirtatious and adventurous side, as written on “Homemade Dynamite”: “See me rolling, showing someone else love / Hands under your t-shirt / Know I think you’re awesome, right?” She is far from the 16-year-old girl who sang of “craving a different kind of buzz” four years earlier.
Lorde has always shone as a lyricist; every line off Pure Heroine is poetry, and Melodrama is no exception. Multiple songs ditch traditional rhyme schemes in favor of slant rhymes and from her synthesia comes vivid and miraculous images: “I’d get your friend to drive, but he can hardly see / We’ll end up painted on the road, red and chrome, all the broken glass sparkling / I guess we’re partying.” Always incisive, Lorde critiques teen culture while implicating herself. However, we can take the bitter with the sweet, as so many songs are heart-achingly tender: “Blow all my friendships / To sit in hell with you / But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in The Louvre.”
In a pop music market that often feels dry and repetitive, Lorde is as refreshing and original as she was four years ago. Her work has an element of artistry that eschews the mainstream idea of pop stardom. Melodrama, just like Pure Heroine, is filled with hidden treasures: keen insight, a full heart and youthful charm. Lorde is an artist you can put faith in.